Posts Tagged ‘home’

Discovering amazing places in the world is a gift and a curse. It’s a gift because it shows travelers the beauty and diversity of the world, a curse because it leads to this draw away from the comforts of the settled life and a struggle to choose where to call home.

When I was at The Pub a few weeks ago, I chose to wear my New Zealand All Blacks shirt from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which NZ hosted and won while I was working and traveling there. The man seated next to me asked me the reason for the shirt, and I proceeded to happily talk to a complete stranger about my country for a chunk of the evening.

Over the course of our conversation, this father of a first year college student and a free spirited teenage daughter heard tales of my travels in NZ, China, and Mexico. Some of my adventures worried him as he thought of his own daughter, but mostly he seemed entertained by my tales. Toward the end of the conversation he asked, “Since you love New Zealand so much, what’s keeping you from going back?”

After my usual bs mumbling about visas, needing a job, and the cost of living, I stopped and reflected on how I’ve compiled excuses for not making a move to my favorite country happen. A few years ago I read a blog post about dreams and whether we pursue them or not. Unfortunately I can’t recall the exact line or find the post, but it said something like:

When our dreams seem too difficult to realize, we convince ourselves we never really wanted them that badly, and then we force ourselves to not want them any more. In making up excuses and moving around our dreams, we abandon them and never know what could have been.

The Importance of Big Dreams – similar yet different post by a great blogger

As someone who still gets more fired up to talk about New Zealand than anything else, that idea saddens me. I haven’t let the dream die, but I’ve realized that something else has gotten in the way. To explain, we have to return to the South Pacific.

Wanaka, a cute town in the Central Otago region of the South Island, wanted me to slow down and stay awhile during my travels. I arrived with only 5 days left in my ~4.5 weeks of wandering everywhere I could squeeze in down south, and I was greatly saddened that I had to catch a flight so soon. Though it’s a town situated on a beautiful lake and just down the road from ski areas and the Southern Alps, Wanaka seemed rather unassuming and quiet compared to the nearby tourist-saturated Queenstown. I quickly decided that its character and 4 season climate made it my preferred area to live.

While walking down the main street, I noticed The Picture Lounge – NZ Photographers Gallery, home of what I discovered to be a gorgeous collection of landscape and adventure photography. Naturally, I went inside to check out the beautiful images. As I took in the pictures hanging on the walls and flipped through the many albums, the unexpected happened. I began to cry.

I cried because New Zealand is too unfairly beautiful. I cried because I’d fallen in love. I cried because I had just about 2 weeks left to spend there.

As I struggled to contain myself, an employee walked over to chat with me. When I looked up from the album and he saw I was in tears, his expression changed to concern. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” I smiled through my tears as I worked on wiping them away. “Sorry, just give me a minute.”

Once I’d closed the albums, I was able to walk up to him and explain I had no interest in leaving his amazing country. He was relieved to know that was the only reason for a teary visitor, and of course he appreciated my mentality. Kiwis know how fortunate they are to live in a gorgeous country and be so distant from the rest of the world; one simple t-shirt design reads “Living in a better place… New Zealand.” I bought one.

Despite not wanting to return to America, I left New Zealand on schedule and have spent the last 5 years frequently daydreaming of my hobbit home and when I will return. Alaska – specifically Fairbanks – has been my home base ever since, but it hasn’t necessarily felt like home.

Being a homeless couchsurfer who typically floats into town for just a week or so between jobs hasn’t allowed me to establish my post-college life. Yes, I’ve found time for backpacking, dogsitting, biking, The Pub, and visits with friends. Until recently my stints in town have been too brief to really feel like I’m part of the community, though.

Now I’m back in Homer – home of the headquarters of Alaska Maritime NWR – and just a week away from leaving civilization for another summer on Buldir. After visiting Saturday’s indoor Farmers Market, I decided to step inside businesses I’ve ignored on my last 2 seasons’ worth of stays in Homer.

Enter Ptarmigan Arts, a co-op art gallery full of Alaskan photography, paintings, drawings, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, and woodworking. While browsing through the gallery, a feeling hit me as I realized…

Alaska. Alaska is why I haven’t focused my life on returning to New Zealand. Although I shed no tears, my visibility grew fuzzy, and I had to hold myself back from light crying as I gazed at the beauty – and more so the character – of Alaska captured by cameras and carved in wood.

I love Alaska’s mountains, glaciers, tundra, trees, flowers, and hot springs; its boats, lakes, rivers, islands, and ocean; its moose, bears, wolves, otters, and other furry animals; and its birds. I love its small towns, breweries, dry cabins, outhouses, plaid and Carhartts, hiking boots and XtraTufs, potlucks, and puppies. I love its funky daylight cycle and aurora borealis. Perhaps most importantly, I love its people who have welcomed me to stay for almost 10 years.

I love New Zealand. I don’t like being American, but I do love Alaska. Even though I don’t really have a home, friends always welcome me back.

So what to do? Beats me.


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For people who have homes, reminders of memories are typically visible all around. Photographs, trinkets, books, music, and artwork decorate the walls and shelves that surround lives. There’s the photo of the family in front of the U.S. Capitol from one of our 3 free trips to D.C. for the National Spelling Bee. There’s the book about the the creation of the national parks. There’s the Taco Bell hot sauce packet – with the line “Will you marry me? – that was given to me by Taco Dave the night of a somewhat annual backyard campout. In front of the fireplace stand 3 pictures of our Polish, German, and Belgian exchange students. Back in my parents’ house, practically everywhere I look reveals objects that hold memories.

Thanks to my nomadic, seasonal lifestyle, I have no home of my own. I affectionately refer to my storage unit as “home” – although I have yet to sleep there. When I’m living in a field camp, I typically have minimal possessions with me. I don’t have much “fluff” beyond the obligatory clothing, camera, music player, computer, and books/Kindle. The touches of home are fairly absent from camp until our crew creates inside jokes that give the camp personality. Thus, I don’t see many visual cues that trigger memories for most of the year.



Today I ended up working on unpacking from my latest travels and organizing in my unit for a few hours. “Lost in My Mind” is a song by The Head and the Heart that I frequently find running through my head. Being an introvert and often on my own, I get lost in my mind all the time. When I’m digging through my possessions, my mind bounces along on various tracks.

One box in storage contains mostly things I feel inclined to save from my college years + field seasons. Contents have been pared down, so the remainder has meaning. All I have to do is open the box to see the few pictures and signs that decorated my dorm rooms and cabin. Opening the black raspberry scented candle sweeps me inside my freshman dorm and into a bank of memories surrounded by year-round, in-room Christmas lights. When I open the small bag of NZ-related travel information and unscrew the cap of a tiny bottle of manuka oil, I’m instantly transported to the East Cape of NZ around New Year’s. A whiff of a liner glove takes me back to last winter’s fish processing. Skimming my field journals reminds me of how goofy some field crew members have been.

I look at my photographer’s backpack and think fondly on the North American Nature Photography Association’s Summit in McAllen, Texas, I attended on a college student scholarship. One tour of my box of outdoor gear makes me reflect on recent backpacking trips and the stories behind various pieces of gear. As a result I find myself practically hugging my backpacks and dreaming of the next trips. A look inside my boxes of dishes and cookware (oh how I miss using you, crockpot!) elicits a sigh of desire. Just pulling my bike out of storage and walking it around town brings back memories of my summer working on the Riverboat Discovery.


Bands I replaced on black brant on the YKD in summer 2014

The specific moment that almost evoked a slightly red-faced response came when I saw my field maps and color bands from black brant work on the Tutakoke River. Each band has a story and belonged to a bird with a unique life history; each dot on that map represents a specific nest I found and followed through to hatch. That map shows part of my coverage territory from last summer, and it’s killing me to know I won’t be back there checking to see where nests are this summer. The Tut camp impacted my life, and I’d like for nothing more than to be right there and on St. George at the same time this summer.

The general result of all this digging around is exhaustion. Going through the stuff isn’t physically exhausting, but it sure is emotionally as my mind races from one memory to the next. Most of the time I end up slightly sad as I try to relive episodes from the past. While this sounds strange, a part of my core must appreciate it. Recently I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test and was categorized in the INFP group known as “The Idealists.” Previously unbeknownst to me, I’m part of a group of people who are often attracted to sad things. I’ve known for awhile that quite a few of my favorite songs could be classified as sad. Somewhere in the psychology of thoughts and emotions, making myself sad must actually be fulfilling.

My guess is that – in this case – essentially looking at my life thus far makes me recognize how fortunate I’ve been for the variety of experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met along the way. I’d love to be able to call up friends from various stages of my life to just hang out whenever the way normal people do. Unfortunately that’s not how my lifestyle works. My time with everyone is compounded to a degree where I have to enjoy every moment deeply, whether good or bad, and then remember it later. Living with Kelsey again over the winter confirmed that we really do lead rather lonely lives. (We’ve seen each other more than anyone else over the past year, and I’d say it’s rare for 2 field techs to spend seasons working together on various projects.)That’s why time to see friends is so satisfactory. I’m an introvert when I’m in town, but I crave to see the people and puppies I care about. (it’s actually another trait of INFPs)

Fairbanks is as close to a home as I really have, and it’s been good to me. “Stubborn Love” by The Lumineers has a fitting line that I think about frequently when I face these strange bouts of sadness … or whatever I should call it:

It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all / the opposite of love’s indifference.

My gratitude for friends and experiences can sometimes border on pain, but that’s how I know I’m alive and human. If I was indifferent to Fairbanks, Alaska, New Zealand, Washington, Alberta, or California; you wouldn’t know me.

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