Welcome to the Whānau

The past few days I have sat wondering if I’m truly a traveling type. I seem to have a hard time with the whole “3 days here, 1 night here, just keep moving” thing. Maybe I’ll get better at it as I move on, but I have a deep need to feel at home. I spent a month in Wellington, three months in National Park, and almost two weeks in Rotorua. Each place I have cultivated friendships and connections and a feeling of home.

I sat and worried myself into a corner, trying to figure out why I can’t bring myself to just take my backpack and stick my thumb out to the next spot.

Today I learned why.

“Abiel would you like to come to my women’s meeting? It’s just a small group of us learning how to rediscover ourselves through this program.”

Of course!

I found myself in a cozy church with a bowl of candies, a pile of magazines, and a large orange piece of paper set out on the table. The semi circle of five ladies each greeted me and settled into the next hour with a curious mixture of obligation and enthusiasm, cutting out clippings representing our identity. (I greatly enjoy things of that nature.)

At the end of the meeting, the things I had said in the middle of it apparently hit home and I got some of the biggest hugs I’d ever received.

From there I went to Anthea’s grandmother’s house.

Upon leaving National Park, I had been given a beautiful NZ jade necklace from my manager and her family. “Have it blessed by a minister and it will never leave you.”

It just so happened that Anthea’s grandmother and aunt were both ministers.

I walked into a home lit by yellow bulbs and papered with photographs of a family stretching further than my Western understanding could grasp.

Five minutes later, my hands were held by the soft weathered palms of two Maori women pouring their belief in God into my necklace and life.

“Would you like a cup of tea? Biscuits? I’ll pick you and Judaea up for church on Sunday. You’re how old?!”

Tears came to my eyes as I pondered the privilege of these moments. Were I simply to move on, drifting only with the wind, the roots I cherish would never land. I could not find myself in situations such as these: cared for by some of the most interesting and beautiful people, willing to love me as I love them.

“You’re whānau (family) now. You’re never getting rid of us,” Judaea chuckled at me when I told her of my evening.

Whānau. I think I’m just fine with that.

Practice Dying

“What is the hardest part of being on the trail with people?”

“They get boring.”

I have been reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It basically talks about death, life, and meditation. I’ve been thinking a lot about these topics and the futility of ignoring and avoiding death. At literally any moment we could die. I had a person tell a suicidal friend that they didn’t want to continue a close friendship because they didn’t want to become close to someone who could die at any moment.
I swear if I was in America that person would not be having a good day right now.
But that’s not the point of this. The point is death is inevitable, anyone could die at any moment, and everything Western culture perpetuates is a facade trying to help us forget that fact.

As I was talking to a new friend who is in the process of hiking the length of New Zealand, I realized that so many people choose to find themselves in the clutches of futile worry and allow themselves to become uninterested in the world around them.

I don’t quite understand.

Perhaps it is because we feel that if we allow ourselves to find everything fascinating, we reduce our problems to the rather minuscule thing they are. (I understand that there are many people who are dealing with actual very difficult problems. Trying to survive war, starvation, natural disasters, and many other things are not small problems. My readership though is primarily made up of individuals privileged enough to avoid such things.)

Nor am I trying to say that life is easy. It isn’t. It hasn’t been. It never will be. Period. Life is change and change is our chance to practice dying. Therefore, life isn’t easy.

But,

Our world is overwhelmingly full of beautiful things and interesting things to learn. I have had two people ask me if I feel fully alive now that I am in New Zealand. I responded that yes I do feel fully alive, but I did before I came. Before coming to New Zealand I was trying to learn guitar (work in progress-will update next time I actually pick one up to practice). I pointed out every butterfly I saw and complimented people with cool hair. I planned a day trip up to Sequoia National Park on the $15 shuttle with my best friend. I let myself love where I was and made it beautiful, even when I was ready to be in New Zealand.

Now I’m in New Zealand, I’ve taught myself to longboard. I weaseled my way into volunteer firefighter training. I still point out every butterfly I see and I compliment people on their hair.

“Though we travel the world over in search of the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Travel does not automatically make you interesting. As someone around a LOT of travelers, I can verify this. It is what you pull from your travels. How are you at conversation? Can you listen? Do you need a drink in your hand in order to be comfortable or can you be drawn into the life experience of people ten years older, or younger, than you? What do you love? You think birds are cool? Awesome! What’s your favorite? Please please please get excited about it!

Have you ever watched someone in love with something talk? Not someone, but something. They smile and gesture and laugh as they speak of clouds, Jazz, herbs, fitness, food, baking, life.

Read. Watch butterflies or documentaries. Be bad at something. Color your hair. Look up a YouTube tutorial on hip hop dance and shut the bathroom door as you move. Go for a walk and wander into a random store. Find a moment and watch the sunset.

Be alone.

If you can be alone, without music, without a person, without a device, you will watch the world and even as we find ourselves barreling towards a death we do not understand, we will be living.

I Got a Milkshake Out of It

“Oh you used to install these? Can you break mine?”

I curled against the car door, my head braced against my stuffed Eeyore and the glass of the window. Drunk backpackers, teenagers, and homeless mingled in the 3am fluorescent lighting of Taupo’s McDonald’s. My eyes drooped shut as Moritz and I sat waiting for our coworker to come back with food. We were not planning on being awake this late…or early depending on how you look at it.

We’d had wonderful intentions for this outing. My roommate’s friend, Natasha, from his Fiji visit had come to visit National Park and we quickly grew to love her. She extended her stay and one of my coworkers, Amy, offered to take her to Taupo to catch the 1:20am bus to Northland. She figured we’d stop at the local hot springs first and be home by 2:30am.

I’m learning that if you don’t have a plan, it’s a lot harder for plan wrecking shit to happen.

Because, uh, I crawled in bed at 5am that morning.

Taupo’s hot springs are lovely. Even at midnight. I highly recommend it.

Making it back to the car with 20 minutes to spare before someone has to catch a bus and realizing that the alarm is refusing to let you turn on said car is not quite so high a recommendation.

Thankfully, Natasha caught a taxi to her bus and made it with time to spare.

We sat at the end of a back road and wondered what the f*** we were going to do.

Roadside assistance gave us quotes of $800-$1000 and our first call to a friend came up empty-handed.

Throughout this process I thanked my lucky stars that time zones exist and one of the most practical people I know was awake 6 hours ahead of us. She had immediately began throwing out suggestions for dealing with the car.

We managed to get a hold of someone willing to drive the hour and a half to pick us up. Practically singing his praises, we relaxed into the seats, well aware that by the time we got home, we would be exhausted. Hell. We were already exhausted.

My friend in New York was still giving us ideas of possible ways to fix the vehicle. We had come to the conclusion that it was pretty much definitely something to do with the alarm system, but it was suggested that we check our battery cables anyway.

Amy stepped out of the car to lift the hood.

Now there aren’t many people out at the end of Spa Road at 2am on a Friday night, but thankfully, the two guys who did find themselves out there were kind and willing to help. Well, more importantly, one of them knew how to help. I watched the four skull rings on his left hand as he dismantled the alarm system and rewired the car to function without it. “Do you have a screwdriver?” Uh…no. “All good. I might have one.” whew. “How about a piece of wire?”…probably not. “I’ll take one from my speaker. Now when I put these wires back in and jostle it a bit, the car should turn on and work. You won’t have an alarm system, but if you want to put it back in, put these wires back in this order. Here, take a picture.”

I’m pretty sure our jaws hit the floor when he turned the key and the car coughed to life.

I delegated the job of letting our rescuer know our new situation. I had woken him up. I didn’t really want to let him know that it was highly possibly his early morning drive had been for nothing.

“Meet me at the McDonald’s in 30 minutes.”

Adventures like this are never convenient. They can cost money. They stress people out. They are unexpected and frequently tiring.

But they make damn good stories.

And hey, that’s all we have aside from the present anyway. Stories.

I liked this one. I got a milkshake out of it.

Poetic Bastards

We are travelers.

Souls who refuse to be restrained by bodies designed to stay in one space.

We are poetic bastards, the children of vanity and curiosity, cheating on stability and small mindedness to pursue our affair with the unknown.

And oh what a glorious affair it is, unrestrained by “shoulds” as our kisses of hope pull us further into this being we can’t understand.

Volcanic slopes

This past week I have sincerely missed home. Not just people there, but Visalia, California. I miss the river and oak trees. I miss the citrus and Mexican food. I miss my Quaker community and the lovely downtown. I miss my cat. At one point I considered that I could simply go home. The thing is, going home means…what? I have all of those things that I long for. I have family who love and accept me. I have my cat.

But then I find a job. I start classes at COS. I struggle as I build another friend group from the ground up. I try find my place in the world.

When I think about that fact, I take a deep breath and remind myself that things are changing for me soon.

I leave National Park in one week. I go north to Rotorua to visit a lovely friend. At some point after that, I return to National Park to do a 4-5 day trek around Ruapehu before heading south to Wellington. From there I venture to the South Island. There is no timeline on this and when I reach the South Island, I have no plans, I know no one, and I will be going where the wind takes me. After all, I came here to wing it.

And here I f*cking go.

 

Better than a Hangover

I have the option of making this a new year post. Happy 2018 and whatnot. I could share my goals and thoughts, what this year is going to mean for me and the fact that I have no clue where I am going to be one year from now. I could share memories that I love from these past 12 months and gush about how SO much has happened and I’m SO thankful for everything I’ve learned.

And all those things would be true and I would make them come from a real place. But I have stories I would rather tell. I’m just going to trust that 2018 will be shaped by moments like the following

“Walking at 0230”

I had the pleasure of watching 2018’s first sunrise from the top of the Tongariro Crossing. Pushing myself up hundreds of steps beneath moonlit clouds and sparkling stars, I thought of the insignificance of my very big problem: my camera was soaked by a leaking water bottle and refused to turn on. I did my best not to be worried, (even when I lost my instant camera and my phone ran out of storage space). I was wandering through Mordor to watch the sky paint itself red, orange, and pink in the chilled morning air. Truly a camera can’t be that important.

(Okay it can and if it hadn’t started working after being left in a bag of rice for two days, there would have been tears and some very upset cussing. All is well now. I’m still leaving it in the bag of rice for two more days though.)

We huddled into a soft shell shelter waiting for the sun to peer over the horizon. My hands defrosted slightly when I stuck them in a small culvert that spewed warm steaming air. Volcanoes definitely have their uses. I had no profound moments standing at the top. No overwhelming “oh my gosh. Life. It makes sense” kinda feeling. Just one big smile.

As my friend said on the way back down, “Better than a hangover.”

“You’re sure you don’t want a beer?”

Pretty sure. Yeah. Thank you though. However, I’ll definitely take the hamburger. I’m starting to really appreciate the philosophy “Laugh louder and eat more.”

A Filipino group pulled me into their dinner of barbecued meat and vegetables. I let myself be carried by the conversations that overlapped and circled each other, punctuated by echoing bursts of laughter.

“Hey when you’re in Welly, hit us up. We’ll show you around.”

Topics ranged from vegetarianism to the German pronunciation of Volkswagen to how much snoring took place in the guys’ room. I didn’t necessarily understand every comment, nor could I hear about a third of it. But I really didn’t have to. We were really just there to laugh.

“I’m thinking about being a kindergarten teacher.”

It’s crazy the people who happen to waltz into conversations with you. Or maybe it’s not crazy because I talk to everyone. But I’m still amazed by it.

You can tell when people know how to talk. I’m not referring to those who simply destroy silences with words. I mean the ones who ask questions, tell stories, supply facts, experiences, and thoughts to a conversation, creating an entity that is able to move all its own because of the people who care about it. They make eye contact as they learn about and from you, all the while teaching about themselves and their world. I love when I meet people like that.

A mathematics major with bright blue eyes and a consideration for being a kindergarten teacher happened to walk in as we made dinner, beginning a discussion that quickly outgrew us and became its own curiosity of politics, country comparisons, and New Zealand experiences.

The next morning brought about a discussion of long distance friendships. While backpacking, you are surrounded by fascinating people. You soon have to understand you cannot stay in contact with all of them, but one of the hardest feelings is finding a person who you would love to keep knowing, but doesn’t seem to want to know you back. Messaging them makes you feel like a bother and you begin to wonder if it’s even worth keeping up with some of these people.

Long distance friendships are effort. They require a desire to know someone, a willingness to continue contact, and a certain amount of diligence. In some ways, long distance is the fastest way to weed out real friends. Who do you choose to text when you’re far away? Whose life interests you when you don’t have to see them?

Basically backpacking shows us time doesn’t rule friendships and technology shows us space no longer has to either…

So long as you’re willing to put in the effort to know and be known.

“You made the list of people I want to stay in contact with.”

“You did too.”

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Far More Useful than a Chocolate Teapot

When I first arrived at Howard’s Mountain Lodge, there was a grand total of three people here.

And I was one of them.

The other two were our boss and a dignified English woman who sort of intimidated me at first.

“Everything comes with a cup of tea.”

I shouldn’t have been in the slightest deterred.

I have often thought how lucky I’ve been to have had Rachel as my first coworker in my first job. Her enthusiastic spiels, knowledge of theater, love for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Disney were always delightful. I gleaned new music, trivia, and films from her love for these arts. She sang and began to learn ukulele. She danced better than all of us and happily told stories of students she’d taught, concerts she’d attended, and places she loved.

I’ve watched her work hard and grow happier as we shared cookies, cups of tea, cooking duties, and nice walks. We hitchhiked together, singing along to “Life is a Highway” with our thumbs out. I was always thankful for the research she never failed to do on the locations we chose to visit. Basically she’s just absolutely bloody amazing.

And today she left.

I’m not quite sure how to properly express my disappointment at her absence. And I doubt I will figure out how to. But we will miss you, Rachel. You’ve left a print here at Howard’s Mountain Lodge. (Seriously. I’m going to be saying “can do,” “go on then,” and commenting on the improper geography of Harry Potter’s London routes for a very long while.)

We love you!

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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.

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.