Rock Up

“Abiel!!! Welcome home!”

A few months back I fretted about how I was going to make my way up the North Island. I was fraught with self-made pressure to see things I hadn’t seen. Try not to spend money better saved for next destinations, but still get yourself to those places you ought to check off your list.

I’m so damn thankful I stopped letting my mind spout that BS.

I bought a plane ticket from Queenstown to Wellington. I listed the 3 places I wanted to go because they held people I wanted to say goodbye to. I have hitchhiked and bused my way north, reflecting on how much has changed since I last did this.

I did it. I f*cking did it. I am 10 days short of a solid year away from home and 3.5 months shy of seeing that home again.

And yet, as I rocked up to Howard’s Mountain Lodge, my first workplace, and poked my head into reception, I grinned widely. Man. I made this my home.

“Abiel! You’re back! We have a bed for you upstairs or wherever you like. You know how it works. It’s so good to see you. You’re home now.”

Yeah. I am. I woke up to reggae pounding through the room. I baked cookies and wandered streets I loved so well. I watched snow drenched mountains show off their majesty. I knocked on doors hoping for hellos.

Hugs enveloped me. “You’ve changed Little Blue. You don’t talk down to your hands anymore. You are so confident.”

I guess I just know it will work out now. I actually know it.

I baked one more batch of cookies, watched Romeo + Juliet, curled around reflections of who I was before. “I reckon I’ll hitch up to Taupo for a night.” My manager called the sister hostel. “They’ll give you a bed free of charge.”

If you find a new way to say “thank you so so much” please let me know. I think I’ve exhausted my quota.

I’m the experienced one now. I remember watching the people who had been here for almost a year or more. The understanding they had that you can manage anything. I get to reassure other young women that they can hitchhike. I can give them advice on where to go. I can sit in a corner of the common area and feel completely comfortable with all I have done and seen. I can go to hot pools alone and watch the girls who are there be surprised that I’m doing this without anyone. I’ve done it. With all the work and self doubt that came first.

“Aw mean! When did you get in?”

“The guys who picked me up outside Taupo just dropped me off here. They said they didn’t trust Rotorua to leave me anywhere else.”

“Come in! You know where your room is. You picked the perfect time to rock up.”

And she hugged me, fed me, talked to me, welcomed me.

I will make my home as hospitable as you have made yours. I will model my generosity off of yours. I will always remember the home you gave me. I will always be thankful that instead of pushing my way through new places, I cultivated the relationships who shaped me as I worried my way through the beginning of 18.

“Love ya, girl!”

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This Particular Rotation of the Earth

Happy Holidays!

As any person with an ounce of sense and a family member they dislike will tell you, the holidays can be anything but happy. They can be full of stress, unfulfilled expectations, and a desire to hideaway from all those f***ing commercials that say “BE JOYFUL.”

The holidays are supposed to represent something though. Family. Friends. Food. Goodwill. Etc.

The trouble with being told that something represents good things, is that then we start to expect that this thing will bring good times. It doesn’t fix things. It just. Is.

I listened to a coworker outline what Christmas meant back home. He spoke of traditions that had lasted years, of friends attending Christmas parties, and grandparents who helped spread the holiday across multiple days. The smile was genuine.

To listen to another friend talk of Christmas, they practically spit venomous feelings. And honestly.

I join them.

We hiss at people who have asked us to make a day something better than it was. We tear apart traditions that have been kept for the sake of saving face or expectation. I flicker with glimpses of envy at those who hold the time of year in sincere happiness and magic.

After pain fades, I remember the things I love. I love giving gifts. Creating, searching, finding the things that will show people I love them and see them and care for them. I love curling up with hot chocolate in a pile with my two best friends. I love food and how it makes people happy. I love what the season represents. I’m just waiting to find how I make it represent that for me.

This Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. But I don’t think I needed it to. I found myself missing people deeply. I miss my little brother, Asher, with all my heart. I miss Ella and Judah. And maybe that was because of the holiday. But I didn’t want to be home either. My mind felt muddied, but appreciative of the Christmas we created here at Howard’s Mountain Lodge.

Our Christmas dinner was thrown together from what groceries the four of us had. I believe the total tally was three kinds of sausages, burgers, salad, roasted potatoes, and apples. There were gingerbread cookies for dessert. We watched slept in late and watched Moana. We told each other Merry Christmas and fell into bed early, tired after calls home and busy weeks.

There is a certain kind of feel to overseas holidays. Mainly in the fact that when you are moving so frequently, traditions cannot thrive. They can pound out existences in the care of the stubborn, but it is difficult. Many of us simply sink into a wish for something comfortable. After all that’s why people stay home. The fuzzy blanket of “this is familiar” wraps around us and holds us captive.

And then the rest of the goddamned year hits, popping and fizzling with its insane passage of time. Burning us, entertaining us, exploding in our faces. And we can’t do a thing to stop it.

So. Might as well spend a Christmas in New Zealand, far from home and the familiar. I’ve heard stories of happy holidays. I’ve had several. I’ll continue to be realistic and I wish you all a wonderful New Year’s.

Just. Don’t force anyone to have a good time. None of us want to be told that because of this particular rotation of the earth, we should feel a certain way.

Superfluously So

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I am exactly one week away from having been in New Zealand for three months. As is typical with such things, it feels much longer and much shorter than the time it has been.

Before I left, my mom told me that the first three months is where you sit there going “What the hell am I doing?”

She was right. As usual.

About two weeks ago, I felt myself settle. Things aren’t feeling quite so urgent. My ideas and plans are stretching themselves to fit into the flow I have created around me. My overarching state of mind is no longer bent on relating my present to the past, but on deciding how I could associate it with my future.

The other day, someone asked me about my plans after New Zealand. I was rattling off four or five ideas I had, when my coworker informed me of a totally new option in a place I had been considering. “That is also something I might do.”

As one of my favorite people here has been telling me “You have time.”

I’m finally getting myself to believe it.

Some days it feels like I tumble head over heels into all the possibilities or places I create in my mind. I lay on my bed and curl up with a pillow, doing exactly nothing, thinking about how I could be learning to do this or that or walking here or practicing this. My mind propels me as I lean against it, wondering if perhaps I’m alright without all this ambitious desire to be, in some cases, superfluously multifaceted.

You know all in all I just get to laugh. I have time. I have the moment. I have a sometimes ridiculously poetic brain, framing my experiences in words that sound nice when typed out.

And I get to make more cookies this afternoon! Gingerbread. It’s my Christmas contribution for the summer.

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Welcome to National Park
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I love watching the trains go by.
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Mt. Ruapehu looks different in every photo I take as the lighting shifts, the snow melts, and my perspective is altered.
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If rainbows mean promise, than I am promised beautiful things. If the end of the rainbow means gold, than National Park is the perfect pot of gold. If rainbows mean gay as frick, than I have some really awesome people to meet. 
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Bush walks and flower crowns
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An unedited photo of a fern. The fern is the unofficial national symbol of New Zealand, and for good reason as the tree ferns can be several meters tall and make up a good portion of the local foliage.
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Icy blue in boiling temperatures
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A cave harboring heated water at the bottom
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Geothermal places

 

 

I Called Shotgun

“SHOTGUN!”

I’ve watched a lot of people float through National Park. They come for the skiing in winter and the Tongariro Crossing in the summer. It’s a wee town. Nine streets. Maybe ten. Full of vacation homes and the small collection of people who hold this place closely.

The guests who catch my eye at Howard’s Mountain Lodge are the ones who choose to stay longer than two nights. What drew them here? What caught their eye or inspired a split second decision to choose the place I love?

“I don’t like staying in one place for only a few nights. I wanted to see what else is around here, besides the Crossing.”

If only more saw it that way.

Three lovely Germans happened to make their way into my world all due to a curiosity of a beautiful place and a love for Lord of the Rings. Having Mt. Doom at our doorstep helped.

Adam, Moritz, and Sören had known each other less than a week when their small blue car pulled into the lodge. As many of my favorite stories start, I offered them cookies.

I’m liking this whole “feed them” philosophy. The older generation really has it down in that area.

Anyways, I mentioned I was going to hitchhike to Whakapapa the next day and received an offer for a ride.

To be completely honest, I would have left a good 2.5 hours earlier than we did the next day, but as usual with such things, it was much better that I didn’t.

With smiles as big as my own, they followed trails and sought places for good photos. And we talked.

As all of my introvert friends know, extroverts can keep their mouths going for far longer than is necessary. It will please or horrify you to know that all four of us were able to keep up with the others, finding stories, comments, thoughts, exclamations, and jokes to fill the air with the whirling atmosphere of youthful adventures.

This is the first time since I left home that I have spent any long amount of time with people my own age. I’m understanding a bit more the feel of my age group. We are earnest in our search for life. Relishing, or perhaps wasting, our desire for beautiful things gone too fast or picture perfect bodies in Instagram worthy moments.

Most of us are not so stupid as to think it will last forever. I am just thankful I came across Adam, Moritz, and Soeren, three young men able to show me that the age I am is not defined by a drowning in the silliness of shallow addiction-driven experiences. It is the chance to grow wings after your cliff jump, back flipping and taking iPhone pics all the way down.

I’m not sure yet what the essence of youth may be, but if it is anything similar to what the last three days entailed, than I’m determined to live every moment of it.

To Soeren, Moritz, and Adam: Being young certainly isn’t everything, and I hope the transition to a different season isn’t painful for you, but in the meantime, keep being yourselves. The world holds many more burgers, free climbs, poses, photographers, sunsets, volcanoes, foggy evenings, beautiful hikes, starry skies, and interesting people.

But perhaps my favorite part of meeting you is

You already knew that.

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Well, Have a Good Life

A Swede, Nederlander, Frenchman, Australian, and American walk into a bar to solve the world’s problems…

Whoever can come up with a punchline wins a high five sent from New Zealand.

Living at a hostel presents a lot of interesting challenges. It is basically one giant sociology experiment.

To be a backpacker means you are alone. You may be constantly surrounded by people. You may be in the middle of nowhere and completely without human contact.

Guess which one often feels the loneliest?

To be a backpacker means you are being shoved in and out of friendships that may span two hours total. Time becomes both everything and nothing in your relationships. You have listened to yourself say where you are from, where you are heading, how long you have been here, what you are doing, and why you’re here over and over. You say goodbye to people by saying “have a nice life,” often certain you will never speak to them again. You are constantly surrounded by the interesting so many degenerate into finding nothing interesting. Life becomes “life” again. Even as they are in amazing places, I have met individuals who somehow manage to sound as though they are in a terribly boring situation.

How you see the world is everything.

So how do you find the people who sound like the start of a bad joke when you go out to eat? How do you find the people to kiss under the stars and talk deep without drink? How do you find the ones who you walk into a conversation with them and think “I am going to make sure our friendship lasts longer than a moment”?

I’m not entirely sure.

But I’m determined to keep making it happen.

This post is dedicated to Stuart, George, Sonja, Viktor, and Pierre. I wish you all the homemade cookies you can find.

50 Kilo Ladders

“Damn it. I left my earrings in the pocket of a firefighter.”

My whole world is driven by possibilities. My mind constantly spins with thoughts of “I could do this! Or I could try that! How do I make that happen? Who should I talk to? Oh, I could totally learn about that! I wonder if I can find someone to teach me how to do this.” I constantly seek opportunities to try something new and experience something different.

I came into this year with the goal of volunteering at a fire department at some point during my stay. I found out that Americans can volunteer while I was in Wellington. Once I arrived in National Park Village, I wandered over to the Fire Service to ask if they might allow me to work with them while I am here.

I was met with the disappointing news that I would need to be here for at least a year in order to become a part of the service.

So I settled into my new home, all the while holding in the back of my mind that I was going to find a way to bring them cookies or sweep their floor or something.

Sure enough I found a flyer asking for volunteer firefighters. You could call, which I already had, email, or show up to training.

I showed up to training.

National Park Fire Service holds some of the friendliest, most interesting, badass, strong people you will find. Immediately I was able to talk to them about my situation and despite the fact that I still am unable to join, I am allowed to return to Monday night trainings.

I watched them lift their 50 kilo ladder, don breathing apparatus’, crawl through the local playground, and clean their equipment. They allowed me to put on the BA backpack and follow their route, gave me ginger beer, and provided me with the info I needed to know should I choose to stay a year and be a volunteer firefighter.

I’ve sifted through many career opportunities, picking them up and putting them down like new hats. I get excited about each of them, but my excitement for this one is unlike the others. Fire Service will take me where I want to go, but in the meantime, I will have a community and lifestyle unlike any other.

And thus I will keep attending training and happily accept rides in the engine. My future’s going to work itself out, but it’s nice to know that I can actively seek things to help it along.

Heady Freedom in Homemade Cookies

I remembered the scent of alcoholic breath as I listened to the waves of voices and laughter coming through my closed window. Beer-induced jokes and youth-induced carefree natures collided in what felt like a cacophony of slurred sounds.
I remembered the faces of individuals searching for a reason to be, something to enjoy, as they moved through a beautiful country. Armed with camper vans and sleepy smiles, they lit places up with the fires of heady freedom and fearing a future of boredom.

My favorite part was bringing them cookies.

They had all returned from the Tongariro Crossing on a day that almost literally swept them off their feet. Wind and rain soaked through jeans and morale as if it were toilet paper. Many were thankful for the experience, but all were weary. Remembering the cookie dough I had left in the fridge, I bustled off to heat the oven.

Thirty minutes later I walked out with a plate of cookies cut in half and still warm. I propose we add a new facial expression to the common ones: “receiving a warm cookie after hiking for too many freaking hours.” Those smiles were some of the most sincere I have ever received. Homemade cookies may not be able to find your path, but perhaps they can coax you just a little bit more towards what a warm life can mean.