|Near Lake Pukaki en route from Mt. Cook National Park|
This last one is based on the idea that, as humans, we remember and make sense of new information by comparing it or adjoining it to something we already know. We all do this all the time. But, migrants in particular, vigorously engage in this process, especially in the early months or years in a new country. We've all done it and certainly heard others do it - for example, chipping in to a conversation with the phrase, "Well, where I come from, it's common to..." Migrant research shows that a continual, subtle comparison between 2 places lasts for an immigrant's entire life. It's how migrants create continuity - across oceans, over time and between what would otherwise feel like disparate lives and selves.
|View from tent, Mt Cook campground|
Kelly and I were perfect examples of this phenomenon this weekend. We took a trip, just the two of us, to Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park. (Side note: the benefits of ditching our husbands for the weekend include, but are not limited to, 1-preparing delicious food and eating it slowly and luxuriously instead of sticking to the cheap stuff and shoveling it in before the boys eat it all, 2-taking 5 hours to do a 3 hour walk including a nap by a river, 3-feeling safe with each other's mellow driving instead of the testosterone-induced need to tailgate, pass other vehicles and not slow down around corners, 4-an unspoken and equal sharing of all chores, 5-reminding ourselves that we do, in fact, know how to read topo maps and operate the camp stove perfectly and 6 - realizing that a sense of urgency and break-neck speed is not an inherent part of the process of setting up the tent.)
|Gourmet hiking lunch.|
On another walk the next day, we climbed steeply above Mt. Cook village and the expansive valley it rests within. We know this kind of territory. The broad u-shaped valleys tell of glaciers past, just as they do in SE Alaska. We recognized the lateral and terminal moraines and glacial erratics left behind by these receding icey giants. Even the feel of impending rain and a cold wind were familiar on our skin. And the rush of water falling down the mountains gulleys under last winter's left-over snow makes the same sound here as in SE Alaska. We observed these Mt. Cook surroundings with comfort and familiarity. This place isn't ours yet, but it's like meeting the cousin of a dear friend who you hope will become your friend too.
Soaking up the sights and sounds from the top of the small mountain, we talked in intermittent whispers. "They just really need some mega-fauna here," I said wistfully. An odd thing to say. Kelly knew exactly what I meant. Her reply, just a small nod, was a knowing, understated agreement. We missed the sight of a moving black or brown dot in the distance - a meandering or foraging bear. The absence of the potential sighting of a bear or mountain goat rendered our habitual scanning on the hillsides somewhat arbitrary. No need to attune our ears for a marmot's whistle either. I must admit, the landscape here feels just a little empty without these creatures, even if sleeping with your food in the tent is convenient. Kelly and I noted where we expected these animals would be, were they here at all. The goats would be on the grey cliffs, the marmots in the open, high meadows turning yellow with autumn temperatures, and the bears cruising through the bushes or along the streams.
Being able to draw comparisons between 'here' and 'there' with a friend who knew me 'then' and knows me 'now' connects this new place with one I already knew. It's exactly the same as writing 3 sentences on what I already know about a given topic before reading a new article - it helps to integrate and retain the new information. These on-going little comparisons make this new land more relevent and reminds me that I am the same person standing here within it. And so this is how reflecting on where I come from helps form a connection to the place I've ended up.
|Looking down along the Hooker Valley, Mt. Cook National Park|