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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Borax Mines

Four deep, rich eyes filled with curiosity watched me as I answered their questions one by one.

“Is there Borax in America?”

“What kind of cars are in California?”

“Can you send me pictures of the big cities?”

“What sort of music do you listen to?”

“How do you solve a Rubiks cube?”

“Why do you have to leave?”

I’m rarely at a loss for words. And I definitely wasn’t here, but at the same time, it gave me pause.

Why do I have to leave? If I really wanted to, I could have stayed.

And then I remembered, I don’t want to stay.

I’m not good at hiding. Or being quiet. Or subtlety. I hate feeling stuck. I am constantly aiming to expand the places I feel at home so I have more places to return to. I’m addicted to thinking and consequently I always see the possibilities beyond my current place.

With each home my roots grow, and the rest of me shudders with the anticipation of my next move.

Yes there is Borax in America. I’m pretty sure the mines are near where I live.

I think there are more kinds of cars in California than here.

Of course I can send pictures.

Not the kind of music you know well.

You memorize steps and practice.

Because I was not created to simply stay.

.

.

.

And because I’m getting emails from the New Zealand Department of Immigration saying I have to leave…

“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

I entered a travel writing competition on the transformational power of travel. I realized I write because I like to and I hate being judged for it. This is the first competition I have participated in for my writing. Here’s hoping.

“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

My fingers strolled up the neck of my mandolin, wishing for the experience only practice gives. However if wishes were fishes, we wouldn’t have a severe overfishing problem in our oceans, so I set my instrument aside and began learning foreign words from the backpackers sitting nearby.

Bat’se. Czech for “afraid.”

People often choose to tell travelers that we are brave. They act as though our discomfort within the comfortable is something to be deeply admired. They tell us that courage is being fearful and doing it anyway.

But to be honest, most of us just feel like we are backflipping off the tightrope spanning bravery and stupidity.

I entered my first solo venture to New Zealand terrified of ATMs and banks. I knew nearly nothing of cooking and it would be my first experience in applying for a job. I had no clue what I was doing. On the worst evenings, I would curl up beneath the covers of a borrowed bed, tell myself “But I’m doing it anyway,” and find a way to move forward.

Provalo. Italian for “try it” or “prove it.”

Comparisons run rampant through hostels and travelers. The constant appraisal of your priorities becomes exhausting. The drinkers, the campers, the partiers, the hitchhikers, and those who fit all of the above share rooms and subject themselves to the scrutiny of social interaction. But I don’t fit.

I value hiking.

But not as much as the Englishman who chose to hike the length of New Zealand.

I value home.

But not as much as the German who dreamed of being home for Christmas and will likely not return to this part of the world.

I value community.

But not as much as the Irish girl who stayed at her hostel job for nearly the full duration of her working holiday.

At what point will I realize my values will never align with another’s and my achievements can only matter to me? Glancing at dusty camping gear and watching the intrepid walkers taking on mountains, I breathe deeply to remind myself there is nothing to prove and everything to try.

Selbstbewusstsein. German for “self confidence.”

I adore the moments of falling in love with a stranger, not for their body, but for something I cannot explain. I don’t speak to them, but I watch them, glance behind me, and wish I was wearing sunglasses so my gaze could linger. Some strange magnetism, or maybe just their style, drew me in for that space. My favorites are the confident ones. Their stride catches my eye and I wonder what inspired their sureness of self. Who was inspired from childhood and who found it in the satisfaction of jobs well done? Who learned to love themselves from a significant other and who chose to reinvent themselves?

And which of them is just a bit of an arrogant prick?

My gait has changed since being away from home. I walk and wonder if others see the person I have become. The limp from a chronic injury is fading and my shoulders are straighter with the experience of being alone. Even on my worst days, I find myself smiling with the privilege of wandering the world.

For comfort zones expand and life becomes a process of exploring its boundaries.

Jilear. Peruvian Spanish for “flirt.”

“May I kiss you?”

There are many reactions to that simple question. My favorite is the look of surprise. “I mean sure. But why?”

Why not? I find you attractive. Perhaps I just want to know how you taste. Perhaps it is my way of telling you that you are absolutely fascinating and worth my time.

Or perhaps it is a desire to grow a little more aware.

I don’t measure my growth as time passes overseas, but if I did, I would observe who I was at each kiss. Nervous and unsure. Temporarily infatuated, but aware of my own beauty. Amazed and willing to take the first step. Mutually attracted and curious. And straight up “I wonder what would happen.”

Sometimes I ponder who I would be if I was still home. Possibly searching for some relationship built to last or discovering my polyamorous nature while surrounded by people whose opinion I fear. In its own way, it would still be a journey. But there is something about the average American mentality that avoids those odd girls rocking faded blue hair who ask for a kiss.

Or maybe I just wasn’t looking before I left.

Transformera. Swedish for “transform.”

“You are facing new things all the time, Abiel. People who haven’t had to deal with that will never quite understand.”

Mom somehow manages to say it best.

I worry about coming home. I left just after highschool. I will return God knows when. I chose travel as my first adult lifestyle and the chrysalis I emerged from, cannot be what I return to. I guess it is meant to be just another adventure, another season of transformation.

Yet even with this thought process, you can never go back. Not to a place, not to a memory, and definitely not in time. You can only watch yourself accelerate towards the end.

“Time is relative and linear, but it always seems to go faster.”

“Well maybe time is like a slingshot, eh?”

Maybe so, my friend. Maybe so.

An Asher Service Announcement

My Dear Asher, I know you’re in the thralls of puberty and just about anything self-esteem building is far outside your conception at the moment, BUT I’m going to do this anyway.

When people ask about my siblings, it is always a personal source of pride to explain who each of my brothers and sister are and what they accomplish.

You are completely unique, Asher. Wit, imagination, sarcasm, eclecticism, intelligence, and creativity ooze from your laughter and conversation. I am always proud to be your big sister, whether you be constructing new worlds or impersonating odd characters. I miss you.

Being around a lot of people trying to be cool has reinforced in my mind that my entire family is seriously freaking cool. I like to keep a note of quotes from my life/I find/other people’s stories. Below are a few of my favorites from Asher. When I’m sad or homesick, I go read them and I’m laughing aloud by the time I’m finished.

I am thankful to have a brother who can manage that even from halfway round the world.

My mom was explaining what reincarnation was and how people can apply it to their lives if they choose. Asher gave her an incredulous look and said “Reincarnation? Next thing you’re gonna come to me and say ‘I think we should start sacrificing goats.'”

It was a legitimate fear of Asher’s that he would not be taller than me because of how much he teased me for being “short.” Some of the best insults I’ve ever heard came from him about my height. For example, I missed a frisbee throw from him, (I swear it was half a meter above my head), and without skipping a beat he hurls this my way too: “You can’t play frisbee with an ant, much less you.”

One day Asher discovered the endless possibilities of spouting nonsense and pretending it’s deep. Resulting in “You never question the gender of a kangaroo, right?” and “Roses *dramatic pause* because they know how to live.”

I’m pretty used to frank observations of my appearance. But they tend to be most amusing when coming from him. “Abiel you look like a pink Snow White.” After my hair faded from bright blue to light blue, I was greeted with “You don’t look like Gatorade anymore. More like a toxic mushroom. Maybe a radioactive whale.” When it was spiky, I got “If the sky and a hedgehog had a baby, that would be you.”

Sometimes his quips were best served with others involved.

Asher: I eat souls.
Friend: Are you the devil?
Asher: No.
Friend: Devil’s son? Apprentice– Asher: Yes.
Friend: Unpaid intern? You’re the apprentice?
Asher: I’m the princess. I’m the devils princess. I had to apply pretty young

Asher: Once I crash I’ll slow down.
Judah: I have a great new braking system. TREES!

Asher: The moon hates the sun as everyone knows.
Friend: The sun ruins a perfectly good night by making it day.

*Asher walks in with a poster copy of the Declaration of Independence* “Is this the Declaration of Independence?”
“Yes.”
“Oh good. I thought I stole the wrong thing.”

Friend: Do I look like I’m selling drugs out of your house?
Asher: I was wondering where those went.

And then come all his random comments, observations, and commentary on how the world works and what he thinks of it…or just his randomness.

“Head over heels doesn’t make any sense. Your head is literally always over your heels. If anything it should be heels over head”

“The Avengers Civil War is like an intense board game and Black Panther is that one guy that takes it way to seriously”

“I would hate to work at a car wash. Like, if I ever come to you and say ‘I’m working at a carwash’ that’s when I’ve reached my lowest point.”

“Oh I’m so happy!—Hey! Jaywalker! Jaywalker! JayRUNNER!…Oh don’t pretend you’re innocent.”

“Sometimes I’m really happy with society…most of the time I’m not.”

“I don’t fight as much as you. But I like to think I’m better at it.”

“I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I’m saying I’m right”

“I think pi is infinity’s offspring”

“Don’t be ashamed of being ugly. You’ll never be killed and put on a plaque.”

“Milk and juice?! That’s my favorite band!

“I’m uno-dexterous.”

“My daddy only had red hair on Fridays.”

“I know why hearts are considered the emotional part. Because hearts pump blood and when you fall in love, you bleed. And you DIE.”

“I’m not saying you’re gonna die. Torture is also an option.”

“I can laugh and be miserable. It’s called multitasking.”

They don’t always make sense. And I don’t think they are supposed to. He’s just living and observing and talking until we are left wondering how a human could be as creative and witty as this. I look forward to the day we travel together.

Happy Birthday! Welcome to teenhood. It’s awesome.

“Whoa whoa whoa what the hell”

The First Local

“Thank you for being you.”

I have been told time and time again that crying in public is no shameful thing. Yet even with that in mind, I held back my slow tears until I walked out the door.

Saying goodbye is one thing. Leaving home is another. And melancholy is an adjective I have decided to apply to my travels, right alongside humorous.

I leave National Park the day after tomorrow, but with a different sort of feeling than the first time. Like before, I know I will be back. Like before, I am moving on to other homes and more beautiful people. Unlike before, I feel a closure on what was one hell of a wonderful season.

I wish I could introduce you to the humans who chose to come close to my curious soul. All of them deserve far more recognition than I am able to give.

How do I show you what I learned from the fireman who let me listen for hours and ask questions for what was perhaps even longer? Stories and information and ideas all but burst from his eyes as my boundless energy soaked all of it in. “You have time. I’ll see you again.”

Can I bring you to the moments I was reassured into peace by one of the hardest workers I know? I would watch the cigarette smoke spill from her mouth as she told me it would be okay. She will always be there for me, if only I could show how deeply I mean it when I say I will be there for her.”I’m proud of you, Wee Feet.”

Do your best to imagine the hugs I have been held in by two of the strongest women I know. They pushed me further, taught me more, and helped me move forward as I navigated the ups and downs of my first job. “You did it. You did the track you’ve wanted to do since the beginning. Now go get some rest.”

Forgive me for saying that as a chronically positive person with a cynical streak, it takes a lot for me to say “I could have a marriage like that.” (I can literally count them on one hand.) But I met one in National Park and I hope that everyone can know a couple as wonderfully badass, interesting, alive, deep, welcoming, and straight up beautiful as these two. Without them, I would not have been able to do the Round the Mountain Track with this level of confidence and without them, my view of New Zealand would be very different.

And if only I could properly paint the picture of my new favorite tiny home. Incense wafts gently through a space full of promise and wandering possibilities. Instruments are tucked into every corner and fabric attractively and haphazardly drapes itself across most surfaces in sight. Vests, hats, toolboxes, and pillows kaleidoscope themselves into the personality of one of the most brilliantly unique people I have the pleasure of knowing. If you ever find yourself confronted by the feeling that time no longer has meaning, but every fleeting moment is worth more than hours spent elsewhere, than you will understand what it means to be in this space.

It is both difficult and easy to tell those far away that you are sad. It is difficult because the reaction is often “let me fix it,” “I wish I could fix it,” or “come home to fix it.” It is easy because you’re far away. I don’t really have to deal with any of your reactions. Ultimately though sadness is a feeling, a wave of experience bound to return and bound to recede.

I will finish my goodbyes and say thank you to all who love me so well. For it is understood that nothing is forever.

“You can begin again, honey. You can begin again.” – “Begin Again” by Dispatch

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.

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.

 

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’m From California

I never say I’m from America.

There are a couple reasons for this.

A) America is so freaking huge that saying the country does very little to put you into scale.

B) America is a shameful nightmare of politics led by one of the most abominable human beings who the whole rest of the world recognizes as such.

C) I love California and it makes me happy to be from that particular state.

While hitchhiking the other day, I got picked up by a lady who had never left New Zealand, but she had traveled up and down it many times. She loved exploring her country and was in the process of traveling for the heck of it. I was pleasantly surprised by this. More often than not, people either travel far, or very little.

California is chock full of absolutely incredible places. We harbor deserts, cities, mountains, forests, beaches, fields, wet, dry, hot, cold, and people of all kinds of beautiful and heartbreaking backgrounds. We are also the sixth largest economy in the world. It is a privilege to live there. Where my family lives, they are an hour and a half from Sequoia National Park, two and a half from Yosemite National Park, and four hours from two of the most envied cities in the world. I tell Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders of where I have had the pleasure of living, and they are amazed.

A friend asked me not too long ago “Do you feel fully alive?”

“Well yeah. But I felt fully alive before I left.”

To be Californian means I am louder and more open than many I meet. It means my blue hair makes sense and my loud laugh is a bit more understood. I am able to relate numerous camping adventures to the crazy things I am currently doing and I encourage every kid who goes on those trips to enjoy and appreciate them. They are traveling. Camping is traveling. Moving is traveling. Being fully aware of the intense diversity of a state that is bigger than the whole of New Zealand, is traveling.

After all, for us Americans, a five hour drive is nothing.

(That can get some Europeans through 2 or 3 countries.)

Necessarily Normal

This is for all of those lovely individuals born into the female expectations of the world, especially those I have had the pleasure of knowing at ERCLC.

You are brilliantly worthy of being yourself in whatever form that may take.

As I find myself surrounded by many different cultures and even more individual ways of seeing life, I am ever more grateful for the community I have had at ERCLC, my old school.

Create. Keep creating. Keep taking the opportunity to learn something new.

And give yourself grace for all those moments where you feel anything but good at what you are doing.

I was recently told that perhaps I am intimidating. I asked why. I’m surrounded by people doing the things that I thought made me intimidating at home. Firefighters, rock climbers, hitchhikers, guides, travellers, multi-talented women and individuals of all sorts of badass kinds.

“Actually I think it’s because of how curious you are.”

I had told this person that pretty much everyone I come in contact with is peppered with questions. Could they teach me? What does this mean? What do they know about the area? How likely is it for me to be able to do this?

ERCLC is a place where that is encouraged. You want to learn how to use a laser cutter? You want to learn about the biology of a horse hoof? You want to learn how to code games, sew, cook, act, run a country, travel the world, fence, or pretty much anything you can think of? We will get you the books, point you in the right direction, find someone who knows, figure it out with you, or answer your questions.

Go for it.

So what happens when you put someone who has lived that for most of their life into a place where asking so incessantly isn’t necessarily normal?

You know I’m still trying to figure it out.

I’ve sat on my bed many afternoons wondering if I’m somehow throwing myself way too far out there. Maybe I ought to back off. Maybe I ought to somehow make myself more manageable. I’m louder, more easily excited, younger, and less experienced than many around me.

I’ve had a lot of “ah crap. Maybe I ought to have kept my mouth shut.”

Oh well.

I’m finding the lovely people who listen to me, but perhaps I am more thankful for those who let me listen to them.

All this to say, if you are brave enough to do anything, start by being brave enough to ask a question. Because I am spending a good portion of my days looking like I don’t know much so that I can learn a heck of a lot more.

For those little girls and individuals in general who are finding themselves caught in an expectant tangle of gender or society expectations, I have some encouragement.

There is nothing more beautiful to a real person than another real person.

I am taking up space. I have shaved sides and blue hair. I am asking questions. I am announcing my presence with echoing barefooted footsteps in the halls. I am laughing loudly, excitedly introducing myself to people, sheepishly running off a longboard when I go too fast, watching people with wide eyes as they tell stories, and happily proclaiming my personal favourite accomplishment of the day.

And it certainly isn’t always accepted or encouraged.

So I’ll keep being myself again tomorrow.

I absolutely love it when you do the same.