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January 6, 2010

Twenty three days ago I stepped off of a plane in Boston, trying to hold in a smile as I walked toward the baggage claim until I saw my mom waiting at the end of the hallway and gave in.  She wrapped me in her arms and swayed me side to side, letting out little yelps of joy, and then my dad came over with his digital camera set on video to document my return.  We laughed as I waved, dazed from twenty-eight hours of travel, and my dad hugged me and said, “Welcome home, Kathryn!”

I look at that video now and think, wow I look tan.  I miss the long hours of sunlight in the Southern Hemisphere.  I had prepared myself for the cold–I was excited for the snow–but the sudden onset of nighttime at 4:30 p.m. took me by surprise.  How could I have forgotten this?  It had taken me so long to accept the lengthening days in New Zealand when my body was still adjusting to my return to springtime in October, to summer in November.  When I left the beaches of Fiji, the burnt orange and reds of sunset took hold at 9:00 p.m. and the warm ocean water lapped lazily onto the sand, mirroring the slow swing of vacationers in hammocks and the light beat of island songs strummed by kava-drinking locals.  I admit, I was ready to leave the islands, get off “Fiji time” and back to a place where things make sense and you pay for your hotel room before you sleep in it, and the front desk gives you a lock for your room when you ask instead of four hours later, and when lunch is scheduled for 12 noon it’s actually served then.  I don’t mean to sound up-tight; it was wonderful to forget the way time works in the rest of the world (at least in the places I’ve been to) and lay around for a few days.  I guess what it comes down to is that I didn’t need a vacation from my travels, and I missed Tasmania already, wishing I could have still been there.  I am far away from Tassie now, though.

Vermont has welcomed me home, has cradled me in the gentle rolls of mountains, and after traveling so much I do want to know this place better.  I also want to know so many more places.  It is true that traveling has wetted my imagination and increased my desire to travel again, but I want to take my time now.  I want to dive into a place and soak up every moment and see so much more than two days worth of a town.  I want to forget The Lonely Planet and learn from the locals instead, to give myself up to chance and follow the opportunities that follow.

I will do these things.

How does one travel and still tread lightly on the earth?  The answer is this: travel not for escape but for enlightenment; stay in one place long enough to love it, but if you don’t love it that’s okay; give back to the people who live there, share in their community in any way you can; stay in hostels, at campgrounds, anywhere that breaks your seclusion from community and allows you to share resources with others; and pay attention to how you get around–walk or bike as much as possible, you will see so much more.

I learned these things while traveling, and now I bring them home with me.  For the next three months I will walk in the woods, walk to the library, walk around town.  I will pay attention to the land and my family and discover again the harmony between us.  Mostly, I will be in one place again, listening to the silence and noise, to find where I fit in the rhythm.

When these three months are over, I will head out on my next journey, this time to Fairbanks, Alaska, to begin my job as a School Garden Supervisor.  There I’ll be, in a new place, falling in love all over again.