Living in a Castle in the AirChristchurch, Spring 2012
It took me longer to fall in love with New Zealand than I expected. It takes time to adjust to traveling in a new place and missing people from other parts of your life, not to mention that this period of time is so temporary. As a result, there is always that question of- how comfortable do I really want to get? You can adjust all you want but when its over you just have to go back to what you were, leaving parts of you in other people and places scattered across the globe. But as the weeks keep passing by, these questions have fallen on the back burner and I’ve fallen in love with New Zealand- for better and for worse.
We have a lot of time to think here. With long runs and long drives and long hikes, there is plenty of time to make long lists of things to worry about. So I go through mixed emotions: On the one hand, I have some of the world’s most incredible scenery in my backyard, I get to spend my weekends literally living the lifestyle that a fantasized about as a child, and I have an awesome group of friends who have become such a critical part of this experience. On the other hand, I feel like this is completely fake. My connections with every person in my life up to this point are through typed characters on a screen or the occasional skype call. I go to classes, but in reality my weeks revolve around planning the next trip or recovering from the last. It’s like living in this weird bubble that will pop as soon as that plane lands in LA in 35 days
This past weekend I hiked up to a small hut that overlooks the Pacific with three of my closest friends here. We spent a pleasant afternoon next to a wood-burning stove, reading and writing and listening to the wind outside. My book was Bill Bryson’s comical account of hiking the Appalachian Trail, entitled, “A Walk in the Woods.” I had started this book before, but the page I resumed on was so incredibly relevant that I interrupted everyone else’s reading to make them read it as well. Here is part of it:
“Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot… Life takes on a neat simplicity too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When its dark, you go to bed, and when its light again, you get up, and everything in between in just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.
You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation… There is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere.”
This not only perfectly describes the way we spends our weekends, it is also a pretty accurate representation of my entire time in New Zealand. No engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties. I’ve lived this way once before, and I haven’t seemed to master the happy medium yet; it is either living on a constant caffeine buzz with two jobs, two degrees, and too many other commitments, or living in a bubble of serenity and simplicity to the point where coming out of it makes the most “normal” things (like using a cell phone or going to a shopping mall) seem completely overwhelming. So why the drastic change? Is it actually logical to keep putting a life of goal-oriented work on pause for stints in the woods, making little or no money and becoming completely isolated from the rest of the world?
My conclusion is yes. Maybe I’ve been wearing the same three shirts over and over, and yes, it will be nice to make money again, but I’m wealthy in so many other ways. In my more chaotic life, every step has to have a purpose, a direction, and an estimated time of completion. The night we spend in Mueller Hut two weeks ago in Mt. Cook National Park, I ventured out alone after everyone went to bed; I sat in the midst of snow-covered peaks with more stars than I had ever seen, and I had to hold my breath because breathing alone was the equivalent of screaming during the silent scene in a dramatic movie. While this was a sensation I’ll never forget, it also made me deeply sad that so many people have never heard, and may never hear, true silence.
Likewise, this past weekend we did a relatively small mountain for here- Mt. Fyffe, a little over 5,000 feet. I had some time alone on the summit before my friends made it up, and it was another moment that felt like an out of body experience. All the peaks were covered in snow, there was no sign to be found of other humans, and I just stood there looking out at the Pacific Ocean thinking- is this really my life right now? In these moments, you are completely invincible. You think so clearly, you are simultaneously connected and disconnected to everything, you are ready to take on the world.
Every day here is one day closer to the one where the life I live and the air I breathe will once again get reduced to a faded photo in a picture frame and a distant smile that no one else really understands. The last time I had to make this transition, it was in a total panic that resulted in a lot of frustration and impatience. But this time, I’m taking a different approach. These moments will stay with me; they have been defining and invaluable. But the dreams born from these moments need to be put into action at some point, and I know that can’t be done here (nor do I want them to be here). Characteristically, I bring you Thoreau: “Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
New Zealand’s Maori name is appropriately Aotearoa, which is roughly translated as “land of the long white cloud.” To me, that is exactly what this experience is: living in the clouds, finding inspiration, building castles in the air, and when the time comes to put the foundations under them, I’ll have a better sense of direction that ever before. This sounds like a concluding blog; its not, I still have another month to embrace all of this. These are just the things I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few weeks, and in the midst of missing important people in my life and starting to think about life after this, I thought it was time to share.
On a slightly different note, I always hear people say that college is the best time of your life- live it up while you can. No offense if that’s your motto, but I absolutely hate that saying. The best day of your life should be the one you’re living, and then the one after that. As long as you’re building castles, building the foundation, or doing a little bit of both, it’s a good day to be alive. Thanks for reading, I hope you’re having the best day of your life.
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