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.

Hitching on the Highway

“There really are no rules. Smile in a big cheesy way. If they shrug it means no room in the car. Carry a sock full of stones. I’ve never had a bad hitch though.”

Sweet as. Let’s do this.

Whakapapa Village is about a four or five hour walk away from where I live/work. It has lots of hikes and is at the base of Mt. Ruapehu, the large volcano. I don’t have my own car, so getting there is a bit difficult unless I hitch.

I figured it was high time we gave it a try.

Rachel, my English coworker, joined me as we set out for the junction that would put us in the right direction.

“We’ll give it 20 minutes before we head back. It isn’t the best time of day.”

Five minutes later, a Frenchman with long hair and California tan pulled his car onto the gravel shoulder.

I mean he also ended up taking us too far, but all good. We were a bit amused by the fact that we were on a stretch of road less likely than before to have people who would pick us up and was frequently without traffic.

I put the Disney playlist on shuffle.

“LIFE IS A HIGHWAYYYYYY. IM GONNA RIDE IT ALL NIGHT LOOOOONG.”

How fitting.

Eventually another sweet Frenchman picked us up. He was also headed to Whakapapa Village and we were able to begin our actual hike to Taranaki Falls.

It’s a lovely waterfall. If you ever head this way, be sure to take a look. I was able to scramble along behind it and you have beautiful alpine views for the whole way back.

“I’d like to be back by six so I can go climbing with a couple of the firefighters. But that depends on whether or not we can get a ride huh?”

“Yup.”

We stood on the edge of the street watching the empty lane stretch up the mountain.

So what we were learning from this at that point is the nicer cars are less likely to pick us up, camper vans have converted seats, and obviously don’t bother with the shuttles unless it’s Tracy, our lodge’s shuttle provider. We figured she’d probably stop for us.

“Someone will stop eventually. We aren’t stuck here.”

“Unless there is no one to stop.”

Fair enough.

Before too long, a Polish couple pulled up. They were ultimately headed the other direction, but we got to the crossroads, saving ourselves at least 7km of walking.

“It should be pretty easy to get a ride from here.”

15 minutes later: “YOU HAD THREE SEATS IN YOUR CAR, ARE LITERALLY GOING DIRECTLY TO OUR HOME, AND ARE CLEARLY A BACKPACKER. We’re two females for crying out loud. We can’t do anything to you culturally speaking! I swear to God I’m picking up hitchhikers whenever I can.”

Then a nice Canadian couple, who were headed to accommodation down the street from Howard’s Mountain Lodge, slowed for two ladies with their thumbs up and somewhat desperate smiles.

“Thank you so so so much!”

We swapped stories about the North Island, passed on advice about the Tongariro Crossing, and expressed deep gratitude for their willingness to give us a lift.

I made it to climbing by 6:30.

Not bad for our first hitch, ey?

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I’m liking these campervans more and more. Although my favorite is still the “Death is Hereditary” one.
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A small water chute on our way to the falls
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Unedited and unbelievably beautiful

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These were growing behind the waterfall
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Totally worth hitching
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Taranaki Falls

Well, Have a Good Life

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

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

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

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

Guess which one often feels the loneliest?

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

How you see the world is everything.

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

I’m not entirely sure.

But I’m determined to keep making it happen.

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

50 Kilo Ladders

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

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

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

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

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

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

I showed up to training.

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

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

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

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

Heady Freedom in Homemade Cookies

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

My favorite part was bringing them cookies.

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

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

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.

North Tomorrow

It’s been a bit since my last post. The thing about irregularity is that your world keeps moving. My thoughts continue at their previous pace and I have so very many things I can say, as usual.

I suppose the best thing to do in such a place is to tell you the bits that will dramatically affect future events.

A bit less than a week ago, I applied for a job at a lodge in Tongariro National Park. It’s the national park where the mountain used for Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings is located. I found the job searching through one of the New Zealand backpacker job sites. To my delight, I was selected and asked to come as soon as possible.

I catch a bus headed north tomorrow.

I spent the past couple days saying goodbye to some of the places I love. Or perhaps it was more of a “see you soon.” For the most part that meant the library and the Quaker Meeting. I’ll be back. After all, when I decide somewhere is home, I don’t ever leave it completely.

My bounding excitement for this next part of my journey has been showing through in my many good days this week. I will be at the lodge for a minimum of three months, working as receptionist, cleaner, and whatever else I can make myself useful doing. And I’ll be near a mountain!

Wellington is one of my favorite places in the world. (A lot of Wellingtonians seem a bit confused as to why.) I have been able to feel safe in a windy, unpredictable, little city snuggled between hills and withdrawn into a bay. I have been able to rest as I sort my thoughts into the many possibilities of my future.

But more importantly, it has given me a fascinating place to simply be in my present moment.

I have rested a while. Time to continue on.