Saturday Morning, Sugaring Season

Chocolate Cake and

Chai at dawn

Your lips, the whiskers of

Your mustache in my mouth and

The whiskers of your beard

On my skin.

 

It’s early spring and

Already you taste of sweat and dirt

All those long days

In the sugarbush.

Lately you’ve been coming home

With gallons and

I taste the sweet maple on your tongue.

I brush flecks of bark from your face and

Feel your gritty hands along my belly,

Giving the memory of smoothness to your skin and

Texture to mine.

 

In the morning, even the dog

Is tired–

12, 13, 14 mile days following you in the forest–

And we must rouse her three times before

She joins us in the kitchen and

We feed her

As we feed ourselves

In the morning light.

Discovering Patriotism

What does it mean to be an American abroad?

When Obama became President I thought oh good, the world will like us again, but I wasn’t completely right.  Since I’ve been in New Zealand, I ‘ve had several reactions to the phrase “I’m from the States,” one of them being “Oh, I’m sorry!”

When I first arrived I was quick to concede to America’s failures and faults.  I found myself describing Vermont’s location by its proximity to Canada and joking (sort of) about the desires of some Vermonters to secede and become a part of Canada.  It was difficult for me to defend a country that re-elected Bush; a country with politicians that ignore separation of church and state and spend more energy trying to make abortion illegal than they do making sure schools have enough funding for an arts department, let alone a sex ed. program; a country that consumes, wastes and pollutes at a fantastic rate.  While looking at the US from afar has allowed me to understand the tremendous impact the country has on the rest of the world, the longer I am here the slower I am to concede to the negativities without balancing the score between good and evil.  As Erin points out, there are 300 million of us, and just as not all Kiwis are friendly and environmentally conscious, not all Americans are money-driven, corrupt media-drones.

The first day Erin and I worked with Gary, our WWOOF host, we were in the middle of a conversation about agriculture, the States, and environmental problems when he said to us, “some people say the world would be better off if we just killed all [Americans],” and if the US disappeared.  Hitler thought the same thing about the Jews.  How can more violence make anything better, though?  If the United States were to disappear what would happen to the countries receiving aid, or who have trade agreements with us, or who depend on Peace Corps volunteers?

Since this conversation we have had many more about Americans and our problems, and Gary does admit that he’s met some great Americans (Erin and I included).  How many “good” citizens does it take to outshine the “bad” ones, though?

When we were in Wellington, we met a Canadian girl named Caroline who said to me, “When I look at you I see a kind, loving, informed person–not a typical American.”  What is a “typical” American?  When I look at my community I see passionate, motivated, caring, intelligent people.  Yes I grew up blessed with a supportive family, with parents who could afford to send my brother and me to private universities and still put organic food on the table, but I do not take for granted the comforts and advantages I enjoy.  I want Caroline, and all the people I meet, to look at me and not see and ugly red-white-and-blue stain on my shirt, but to recognise that I am who I am in large part because of where I grew up.

I will not defend big business, environmental ruin, or war tactics, but I will point out grassroots movements, sustainable initiatives, peace-workers and vast tracts of wilderness.  This trip has opened up a way for me to look at the US with pride again, and looking home I see the countless American communities of people who live with respect, care and love.  For the first time in my life, I say this without flinching or feeling cheesy: I am proud to be an American.

Don’t forget to hug

When I was little my mom said to me, “you need five hugs a day to survive, eight hugs to feel good, and twelve hugs to soar.”  For my whole life I have lived by this lesson, embracing my family, friends, and even acquaintances I’ve just met.  It would be an understatement to say I love hugs.  Despite this, I have found myself in somewhat of a hug-drought since I began my travels (as I write this Erin is promising to hug me more…even though she has a touch of sass in her voice I chose to believe her).  Why is this?  I meet so many people each day, and yet my arms are aching in unwanted solitude.  My body is responding by shutting down–last week I came down with a terrible head and sinus cold, causing my eyes to ache and my nose to sound like a coughing train every time I try to breathe through it.  Okay, maybe I’m being melodramatic.  The cold I got from Erin, not a lack of hugs.  But still. 

I didn’t notice the lack of hugs until this past Thursday when we arrived in Alexandra where we met Alice Evatt, a good friend of my cousins’.  Though Alice and I had been emailing since I began planning for this trip, we did not meet in person until that afternoon.  As soon as she spotted us sitting at the bus stop amid our stuffed backpacks and canvas bags of food, she walked across the street and wrapped me up in a hug that was so strong and welcoming that it counted as three.  She then scooped up some of our bags, helped us over to her car and drove us to the lookout where we could see the mountains rise up like the sides of a bowl to hold Alex and Clyde, the town over.  Wild thyme spread across the land, growing up around rocks in sandy soil and casting a purple color on the land while snow still streaked the mountaintops on the horizon.  As we stood at the lookout the wind whipped our hair and Alice explained the town’s gold-mining history and fruit-growing present.  Living up to the lesson #2 from the Magic Bus Drivers, Alice then brought us to see Alex’s claim to fame:  the clock on the hill, the largest outdoor clock in the southern hemisphere.  It is quite impressive, though no one in town can ever use the excuse they lost track of time. 

After a brief sightseeing venture through the town, we arrived at Alice’s house.  It was such a relief to relax after our 9-hour bus ride!  My cold had a tight grip on my head by this point and I was grateful for a large supply of toilet-paper tissues and a cold glass of water.  Alice and her boyfriend Anthony made us feel so much at home; Alice cooked a great meal of lamb with Anthony’s family mint sauce and wild thyme, kumara, mashed potatoes, peas, asparagus, and a bottle of local Riesling from Black Ridge Vineyard.  It was the best meal I’ve had since I left Vermont!  For dessert she made pavlova, two meringue type cakes with whipped cream and kiwis, or as Erin calls it, “the dessert of the angels.”  Needless to say, we ate the leftover pavlova for breakfast. 

There are times when I feel I should always be on the go because I’m in New Zealand and have to take it all in.  But being in Alexandra gave me the time to slow down and remember that part of experiencing a place is having a day or two to do nothing but bake bread and lay on the couch.  Our time at Alice’s recharged me; my nose no longer sounds like a train, my sinuses have stopped aching, and I can sleep without worrying about snoring again.  Sleeping in a house instead of a hostel, having a fantastic meal and conversation, and giving myself permission to be lazy all contributed to my cold recovery, but I think the most important thing was the hug.

Falling in love with a place

I am 22 years old and traveling, looking for a way to empty my loss and open myself to the world again.  My reason for travel didn’t start out as this–I was going to come to New Zealand with my boyfriend, and we were going to finally be in the same place again after almost two years of long distance.  Before, during, and after our break-up I shut down for a while.  But here I am again, a tabula rasa, looking for whatever is in front of me. 

All of my moving around in the past few weeks has got me thinking about place.  I’ve met so many travelers who give us advice like “stay at the Purple Cow,” or “You only need one day in Christchurch.”  Erin and I welcome the hostel tips, but each time I hear how long a place is worth in days I wonder what I am giving up by moving at this pace.  How can one possibly do everything in a whole city in one day?  Is it worth seeing many places if it means I’ve really known none of them?  I believe knowing one place well is more special than glossing over hundreds of others.  How can I make up my mind in a day unless I make it to believe I need to see more?

With this in mind, Erin and I agreed to extend our stay in Nelson and bypass Kaikoura instead of rushing through both cities.  This has been the best decision of our trip.  From our first dinner at the House of Ales–fresh local grouper over asparagus (it’s springtime here!), bok choy, and potatoes with Hollandaise sauce, plus a local bottle of Sauvignon blanc–to seeing a bluegrass band called the Two Oceans Trio on our last night, I started to fall in love with Nelson.  We took Sunday to explore and window shop since most stores were closed.  After walking through the city center we made our way through Queen’s Park, and then up the hills on the outside of town through well-worn paths leading up to the geographical center of New Zealand.  From that vantage point we looked out over Nelson to the snow-capped Mt. Arthur range to the south and the Tasman Bay to the west.  Surrounding us from the other directions were steep hills and grazing sheep.  Without the typical view of suburban sprawl, nature seems to cradle the city.

I woke up early and anxious on Monday.  After talking about it since we began our journey, I decided this was the day to skydive.  The hostel manager called the skydiving company at 8:15 am and a shuttle picked me up at 12:00.  My nerves settled down in the hours leading up to my jump and I felt serenely calm.  Once I arrived at the airfield, everything happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to worry.  Within 20 minutes I was geared up and flying up to 13,0oo feet with a Tandem Master and camera man.  When it was time to jump we slid to the door, waved to a camera on the wing of the plane, and tumbled out on the count of three.  Even though we sped downward at 200 km/hour, time didn’t exist during the free-fall.  Before I took off, the woman who explained the process of skydiving to me said she couldn’t describe the feeling, and she’s right.  There is nothing like it.  The whole endeavor lasted only about six minutes, and when my feet hit the ground again so much adrenaline pumped through my body that it is still hard to process.  One thing is definite: I would do it again in an instant!

Tuesday brought its own wonders as Erin and I kayaked and hiked through Abel Tasman National Park, which I had seen from the sky the previous day.  The park is gorgeous with golden beaches, penguins, seals, cormorants, and so many more birds!  It is the smallest National Park in New Zealand and there is a four-day trek through it that I want to come back and do.  There is so much to explore! 

Tuesday was our last day in Nelson; we left early this morning to make our way down to Alexandra in Central Otago.  As the bus pulled out of the station at 8:30, I felt sad.  This is the first place we’ve been that I really didn’t want to leave.  It’s the little things about a place that makes me fall in love with it: lemon trees in front yards, cars stopping for pedestrians, art galleries, river walks, public schools with big greens in front, fires on cold nights, and the delicate smell of flowers and fresh spices everywhere.  I am excited about the next places we are heading, but the wonder of what else there is to know here tugs at my mind and begs me to return to Nelson.

The Journey Begins

“One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began”

So here I am.  Beginning.  I have left the stage of my life that centers around school, I have left my boyfriend of two years, and soon I will leave this country.  So many endings are converging, wrapping around each other and forming a coil for me to balance on.  Some days I cry with the twisting ends and feel myself constrain between the strands.  Other days it’s as if I have already let go, and I look back to see the wire begin to rust and weaken like the tips of old onion greens.

Now I sit alone with so much emptiness that is slowly transforming into incredible space.  In her poem “Blue Iris”, Mary Oliver writes:

my heart panics not to be, as I long to be,                                                                                        the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

Sometimes one must be empty before becoming fulfilled.  Sometimes one must wait before running breathlessly toward the answer.  I am letting go of the panic of wanting to be a certain way.  I am learning to accept that my dreams may change and the vision of my future may wobble until it comes to focus on a new light.  With these lessons I begin again, and already excitement is growing inside of me.