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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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.

Nomadic Resilience

“Ahhh. You’re a proper nomad. You live seasonally.”

Oh. Perhaps I am.

As usual I find myself slipping between the groups that surround me at the moment.

I am not quite backpacker. I choose to stay in one place longer, I move slowly through the country. I am looking to make my homes seasonal.

I am not moving here though. I am not permanent. I am creating and finding communities, putting down roots that ground me, but still support my transitions to elsewhere.

When I was younger, I wanted to belong everywhere. I wanted to continually move and not have to stop. I thought that had changed. I left California confident that it would always be just my home. No matter what, I would make it a place to come back to.

But as I live here, my world is shifting to see new possibilities, the possibility of being nomadic. Someone who designs their communities and is truly home in a place for as long or as short as they choose. It is not belonging nowhere. It is belonging everywhere.

California is where I am from. It is one of my homes. I have people and loves and opportunities and memories that thrive within its borders. New Zealand is where I live. It is one of my homes. I have people and loves and opportunities and memories that thrive within its borders.

I wouldn’t trade either for the world, but I will likely leave them for a different part of it.

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At the top of Mead’s Wall, one of the LOTR filming locations near the Black Gate. Mt. Ruapehu is the background.

 

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Volcanic, alpine, expansive. It is no wonder that I have fallen in love.

 

 

 

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.

“I Choose this Madness”

“You are weird!”

I have never been so happy to hear those words together. An Australian friend had walked out on me splitting wood, after I had brought the group some cookies, asked them to take part in a personal project of mine, and explained my old school to them.

I was seen.

The day before was very difficult. I felt slow as I continued training, I made mistakes, and I went to bed just wanting to be back in California. I slogged through the moments wondering if all the things I believed about myself being an interesting individual worthy of being seen as an equal to everyone was really true.

After all, so much of the world seems to want to shove it down my throat that “You’re young. Wait till real life starts. Too many people think they are above average when in reality they just need to learn to work hard and understand they aren’t being coddled anymore. Life is hard. You’re young. Wait till real life starts.”

Those words played through my head on repeat. I struggled to fight them off, but went to sleep with tears in my eyes.

Tomorrow would be better. I was sure of it.

I woke up knowing that I had to start my day with my full routine. I meditated for ten minutes, practiced a qigong exercise for another ten minutes, and did some body strengthening exercises. I told myself I was going to have an amazing day. My life is beautiful. I am interesting and worthy of being known.

I am not here to take people’s bullsh*t.

And my day was absolutely fantastic.

My work was more efficient and better quality. I met people from Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and France. I baked cookies. I attended fire training again and was told to put on a uniform so I could participate in the exercises that weren’t potentially dangerous. I used one of the hoses and learned techniques to deal with the pressure of the water.

I went for a walk alone under the stars and breathed deeply.

“I am mad/but I choose this madness.” – Gloria Anzaldua

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.

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.

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.

Yellow Flower Frames

While gazing out the window on our drive to and from town today, I searched for a way to express just how beautiful the sight before me was. One sentence that came to mind was “I want to wrap my soul around it and give it a bear hug.” I wistfully pondered finding a way to integrate this vista, these mountains, that sky into my being.

My train of thought drifted into wondering why we desire to own what we love. Why do I scramble for a reason why this belongs to me. Why do I crave the right to a private piece of a world that was never meant to be mine? I was meant to be a part of it, stride across the future creating my path, but never lay claim to something that has been here so much longer than me.

I notice myself grasping for justifications of my love for people, locations, hobbies, even fandoms. As if proclaiming my devotion will somehow make it my own.

It doesn’t.

I could understand the desert and its powerful silence through and through and it would not be my own anymore than my neighbor’s home is mine. I could write my mountain devotion in verse after verse and my words would not give me right to its slopes and wisdom. I can mention that one of my closest friends has been a part of my world since I was 13 and our lives will continue to collide for years to come, but that does not give me claim to their life and soul. No significant other will belong to me. No friend will belong to me. No part of this world will belong to me. I simply am here to celebrate or enhance or help or be subject to it.

And if all this is true,

Than I do not belong to the world.

I am my own.

And I will not sell pieces of my being just so that I can say I have purchased a part of someone or something else’s.

(All of the photos are unedited.)

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Thermal pools are a world all their own

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I have people who get as excited as I do about stopping to take pictures of the lookout!
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Honeybee-autiful…eyyyy

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Mt. Tongariro
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Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe, (Mt. Doom)
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Mt. Ruapehu
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Mt. Tongariro