Of Hot Chocolate Evening Proportions

“What if I’m not the main character?” I think it ought to be more understood that we should be the main characters of our story. I think it should also be understood that we are not the main character in anything else. Your life is a hardly a flash in the span of the universe’s grandeur and time and all of our delusions can be easily removed from the cosmic scale with hardly a ripple.

Scary, isn’t it? All that we are is laughable. For if we don’t at least snicker at the comedic value of living, than we are overwhelmed by its tragedy.

I spent a part of yesterday playing mandolin the park, letting my moment be photographed by passing tourists. I ate dinner with two of the most wonderful people I have ever met. I curled into the warmth of knowing I am loved by forces and people far wiser than me.

And today we hiked and drove. I ran from a bird. I swear to god these Keas are scary.

It was a good day.

Infinitely Futile

I was letting my mind ramble today and I came to this string of thoughts.

Maybe we are infinite. Maybe we are here a moment and vanish for all eternity. Maybe everything matters and maybe nothing matters.

Either way.

It’s a hell of a lot more fun to consider it all and have a good life along the way.

I mean, maybe we are bugs. Literally the bottom of the chain, fretting about something silly like what to eat and if that person likes me and what should I wear.

Like wtf. None of it matters. So all of it matters.

If this life is all we have, I’m going to throw myself headlong into it.

If it’s part of eternity or one of millions of lives, I’m still going to throw myself into it. I’m too small to be miserable.

Life isn’t easy. And I promise you I am aware of the many issues that plague our world. I know not everyone is in any state to be laughing about the absurdity of life. But most of you reading this aren’t in those states of being.

The world is one big joke. Might as well go about making it a better one for those who ended up the punchline.

And laugh along the way.

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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Unedited new year skies
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Grey and gold
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Volcanic alpine terrain
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Mt Ngauruhoe Color No. 78
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Mt Ngauruhoe Color with Hiker No. 3387

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.)

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

 

 

Splitting Rhythms

There is something comforting about splitting wood. Your arms swing in rhythm with your shifting feet and the crack of splintering logs shudders down the ax handle.

And then you miss.

The ax head digs itself into the stump used as a prop. Or gouges a small piece out of the flagstone. Or whiffs completely.

I could make some grand metaphor about life, but I don’t think I need to. Your arms grow tired as you thrust your energy into chopping what once was living. People sometimes look at me a bit funny when they see a small female figure throwing herself into the reduction of a substance.

I smile back. There is too much that is odd and interesting and beautiful in the world to begrudge anyone the curiosity of something unusual.

(Here are some of the photos from the other day’s hike. The featured photo is one angle of my little home.)

 

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Just beyond those rocks the water drops off into the waterfall shown two photos below.

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They used this pool for Gollum’s fish catching scene.

Perhaps the Greater

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“I can’t wait to do the Tongariro Crossing!”

“You girls want to go tomorrow?”

Yes.

The Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. You traverse volcanic fields to see sulfurous craters, ringed by snow streaked mountains. The Emerald Lakes sparkle against the dusty background as you slip and slide your way down loose rocks to meet them. One of my favorite parts was the mist that slunk across the ground to meet the opposite mountain peaks. It curled around us as we made our way up and over the last bit of high elevation before beginning our descent home towards the Blue Lake.

I was simply amazed throughout the entirety of the day. The contrast of the snow, the smell of sulfur, the fact that I was literally on Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings, all of it took my breath away…along with the elevation and large amounts of uphill hiking. One of the later legs of the trip provided a kaleidoscope of golds, reddish browns, blues, and lichen greens along with a desperate desire to reach the next restroom because the last one was over four hours back. We joked and sang as we heaved ourselves over the next ridge. They cursed me under their breath when I ran up a hill because of how excited I was. We got geography lessons about how if you happen to find yourself in a pyroclastic flow, you’re f***ed. (High temperature, high speed death cloud of ash.) Those of us less geographically and geology inclined have taken a liking to Amy’s original phrase “I’ll igneous your rock.”

Off to watch Lord of the Rings. May the Force be with you.*

(All photos are unedited.)

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We hiked to and over the low point between snow capped Mt. Ngauruhoe to the right and the slopes of Tongariro to the left.
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Clouds best served with volcanic craters
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Up to Mt. Ngauruhoe
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Icy footsteps in snowy places
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Shaped by erosion’s hand
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If you placed your hand on the stones you could feel the volcano’s warmth.
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One of the Emerald Lakes
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My favorite part of the hike
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Blue Lake seductively revealed only a small portion of herself to us, hidden largely in the shroud of mist.
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Over the volcanoes and into the lands beyond.

 

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Lichen is the Earth’s way of bringing color to the grey surfaces of the world.
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“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – The Fellowship of the Ring

*Definitely a Gandalf quote.

“Just at the Start of Six”

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My day was highlighted by three random bits today and although I always have more to say, the small things often make the biggest difference.

I woke up to a text from a friend talking about the insecurities of being in relationship. “So many relationships are dictated by the insecurities of the people involved. How they interact with each other, how they interact with other people. So much so that things like saying ‘I love you’ are said more to reaffirm the other party and themselves rather than because that’s what they want to say…I was thinking about this trait and I guess I realized the ideal place for a relationship would be to reach a place where those insecurities are no longer present…Anyway…all I really wanted to say, free of any feelings that I have to say it, was I love you.”

I love you.

Not many believe me when I say it, but to have those that do means I am able to start my day with messages such as this. Never pass up the chance to say what you want to a human you love.

On an equally important and slightly less deep note, I have found the place where lambs reside. They are freaking adorable…provided they are on that side of the fence and do not belong to me.

I made two friends at the park today. It’s been a while since I heard the phrase “Do you want to be my friend?” I remember saying it as a little girl, it was the cornerstone of my playground adventures. And just as I remember, it let me leave with a smile.

I make a very good prisoner apparently while playing Cops and Robbers and The Floor is Lava has been modified so I’m a lava monster when I fall in, but I’m healed once I’m not in the lava. I see no downside. The day was made better when I was able to walk away with this lovely bit of wisdom:

“Don’t forget your toilet paper, Alligator!”

Truly words to live by. Trust us.

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Perhaps I will at some point be better able to capture the majesty of this place, but for now this will have to do.
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It’s adorable! (it’s the fence that makes it so. I promise.)
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Beautiful moments in quiet spaces

 

My Humming Heart

“The previous owner didn’ like backpackers, but we want to make it a place that’s real backpacker friendly. Then we’ll still have the lodge bit an all that, a course. So you’re comin’ in in the middle a this transition. We’re gonna teach you the new system. Much more efficient that way.”

When I applied to Howard’s Mountain Lodge in National Park, I knew very little about it. The ad didn’t even have the name of the lodge. I had no idea where exactly I was working until I was accepted. I was aware it was in Taupo area, but not where specifically. On top of that, I did not apply for anything else. I sent my resume to only this place, trusting that perhaps it would be the right spot for me.

It is.

Howard’s Mountain Lodge has just shifted owners and it is being moved towards a safe, friendly, efficient environment for families, school groups, and backpackers alike. Basically it is in the process of remaking itself into something better suited to a brighter future.

“National Park needs a heart. These hostels and lodges should all have at least an eight outta ten on their reviews. We’re gonna make this lodge have a heart. You wanna hear a hum when you walk into the lounge. It’s a place to relax and have fun, you know.”

My new little home is gorgeous. I am able to amble National Park’s entire circumference in about three quarters of an hour, less if I am intending to make it back from the store before the rain soaks through my jeans. There is a sizable play structure which I intend to claim as my makeshift jungle gym on dry afternoons. Blue skies gives you the chance to see the stunning peaks of Mt. Ruapehu and Mt. Ngauruhoe. They take my breath away. A nearby hostel has a full on climbing wall, (which kinda boggles my mind considering this town has a population of literally less than two hundred). I am currently working on negotiating a pass that lets me climb frequently. My goal is to be able to climb routes that are at least New Zealand grade twenty before I return to California. Once I figure out hitchhiking, making friends with people who have cars, and the local shuttles, I will have access to a wide range of hikes nestled within the mountain slopes.

To top off these exciting things, my British coworker and I have learnt quite a bit about the lodge’s new booking system by checking in a wide range of delightful guests. As expected, Chewbacca and Han Solo proved a bit of a challenge as we downgraded their rooms, upgraded them, put them in separate bookings, and then sorted out their payments. McGonagall was charged extra for the cat hair, and Merry and Pippin are enjoying their shared dorm room.

Luke Skywalker checks out tomorrow.

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Our hike yesterday left us feeling as though an elf was going to glide past us on the path.
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Seaweed moss (as I have come to call it) is a personal favorite aspect of this area.

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Seaweed moss believes in a diverse community with many shapes and colors. Be more like moss.
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Still working out what this plant is called, but I love it.
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It’s a jungle out there. Cheers.

 

From Far Away

As of tomorrow, I will have been in New Zealand one whole month. Last week sometime I thought through that fact and freaked out a bit. “Time goes so fast! It will be a year before I know it! Ahh!”

I’m learning how to not be afraid and also give myself permission to be honest when I feel fear. It’s a balance. I spent a good chunk of the past several weeks pulsing with nervous or anxious energy in some form, telling myself that I knew without a doubt that it would work out and be exactly what I needed.

To my delight, I have walked through today without an ounce of fear. I found the correct platform, was thankful for the wonderful bus driver who ensured my luggage and self have been on my destination bound buses, and I am watching the world go by. Or maybe I am letting myself go with the world.

I could not feel more eager for this job and place. I know I will have more hard days. It’s inevitable. I also know that I will only continue to grow in ways I cannot see and collect memories from moments I do not anticipate.

On a side note: sheep are really cute from far away and so are the baby cows. (I do know they are called calves.)

And did you know that New Zealand has one of the most interesting collections of flora in the world? The Ice Ages did not eradicate as much of the temperate vegetation as it did in the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, it is not as homogeneous a native forest as it is across the temperate zones up north. There are much fewer conifers and deciduous trees down here.

I am rather fond of trees.