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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

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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Even in relatively remote places, life can sometimes feel hectic. A couple evenings ago I felt the need to get out of the house and just be elsewhere. Our household number has grown past capacity, and though everyone is plenty friendly, the house felt crowded that afternoon.

Since the murres are busy laying eggs, I’d wanted to visit my common murres and thick-billed murres on High Bluffs. However, as often happens, the fog denied me the hike I’d been happily anticipating. Probably as a combination of circumstances, something that generally doesn’t happen – my feeling irritable – made me recognize I needed to go for a hike.

Heading out of town, I strolled down the road with my 2 trekking poles propelling me along, “The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began…” running through my head and giving me a grin. In my head I was headed to the end of the road and then beyond to Tolstoi, the easternmost point of St. George.

As I walked along my usual running route, I noticed the various flowering plants we’ve been identifying for the last month. A few rock sandpipers kept flushing from the road just ahead of me, flying 10 feet forward to land, and then flushing again as they led me down the road. The wind brought wisps of fog in that built up behind me to hide High Bluffs from view, but I was walking under light clouds, blue skies, and sunshine.

After fewer than 45 minutes, I reached the Northern fur seal rookery that marks the end of the road. While watching the seals, the closest of which were less than 75 meters from me, I realized I haven’t paid much attention to them yet this year. I alternated between eying the cliffs stretching down to Tolstoi and studying the seals through my binoculars.

Northern fur seals, the primary reason the state of Alaska was purchased in the first place, were lazily waving their flippers as they relaxed in the sun. Soon I decided it looked like they were having a grand time, so I should join them. Obviously I didn’t proceed past the warning sign to be amongst the seals, but I did take my pack off and drop down on the comfortable green grass.seals

Lately I’ve spent enough time watching the same cliff faces as I survey kittiwake and murre nests for the presence of eggs that my pre- true slumber dreams have featured my scanning for eggs and recording data. In other words, I work my way to sleep. While I’m by no means overworked this summer, apparently my brain thinks I need to work when I’m sleeping.

I slipped my Tigers hat over my face cowboy-style, lay back with my hands behind my head, and closed my eyes. In what felt like a short time, I was off in that pre-slumber dreamland of God knows what; I just know I wasn’t dreaming about work. Comfortable and worry-free, I napped in the sunshine of St. George.

When I awoke with a smile, I held my supine position as I listened to the roars and grunts of fur seals, the chirps of gray-crowned rosy finches, the melodious trills of pacific wrens, the calls of lapland longspurs, the raucous cries of kittiwakes, the pound of the surf against the beach, and the wind running through the grass.

As I lay there I thought about how refreshing it was to just be in the present and let my mind wander. Everything seemed so peaceful. In society we seem to always be running to this store or that event, and of course we’re always behind schedule and rushing to make up time. One reason fieldwork is so great is that we work on the animals’ schedule and by the weather’s dictation. We don’t have to make it to some appointment to meet with anyone or rush home to have dinner on the table at a reasonable hour. This is an Alaskan summer; dinner can fall anywhere between 18:00 and 22:00, and bedtime is almost always after midnight.

Isn’t it sometimes said that the best things in life take time? Particularly in America, people need to slow down and enjoy the little things in life. We book our schedules full of activities and forget to relax or appreciate the world around us.

Money and personal gain have taken too much precedence in mainstream – probably primarily corporate – America. Workplaces don’t want people to take time off, and escapes to nature have to be scheduled rather than naturally included in life. Somehow our world has lost its balance, but those of us who work in the field have found our own.

When I woke up from my nap, I was a smidgeon disappointed to not have a fur seal looking down at me, wondering what I was and why I was lounging in the grass. Maybe it’s because they all knew exactly what I was doing.

The world’s just spinning / a little too fast. / If things don’t slow down soon, we might not last. / So just for a moment, let’s be still.    — “Let’s Be Still” by The Head and the Heart

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