January 27, 2012

Heaven's Called Okarito

I wanted to do a second little posting about just 2 days of my West Coast trip - just about a little place called Okarito.  It's about 20 km off the main West Coast road. 

I can't remember where I first heard or read about it, maybe I just saw it on the map and headed that way.  But I knew there was a campground - and a beach - so I decided to check it out.  Before seeing it, I just had a feeling it'd be the kind of place I'd stay for 2 days, rather than 2 hours. 

I was right. 

Okarito allowed me the space to think through a lot of things that have been going on in my life.  It was small, quiet and safe.  The community-run campground had just the kind of vibe you might imagine a community-run campground to have.  Cycle touring families, hippies in vans, locals just passing through, tourists who got off the beaten path a bit - we all shared this nice little patch of grass by the sea with a small shelter covered in painted murals.  Fresh herbs were offered for sale to spice up your camping cooking. 

The old wharf.

I walked a lot, I had a quick cold swim and I even rented a kayak on the spur of the moment and paddled around a gorgeous protected estuary and up a small river for several hours.

I read, skipped stones, chatted with a little Swiss boy about the lion on his T-shirt.  I drank coffee and got out my new watercolor paint set.  And I mulled some things over.  At some point I found myself thinking, wouldn't it be nice if there could be some sort of sign to let you know that everything in life is going to work out alright?  Not to say there won't be challenges and hardship, but you know, just something to offer that vague reassurance?  Then I looked around myself and chuckled -- what more of a sign could I want? 

January 23, 2012

Inevitable Comparisons

A bit of West Coast 'highway'.

I think it's natural, even unavoidable, for a migrant with two or more countries to compare 'here' to 'there'. I try not to do it TOO much, at least not out loud, because I know it gets old for people to hear.  But I believe it's a necessary and common way for many migrants to create links between what are otherwise often disparate 'lives.'  

And yet, while I value this comparison, and believe it will (and should) continue (to some degree) for many migrants throughout their migrant existance, I also find myself not needing to do quite as much of it lately. And I recognize that to be significant too.  In some ways, I am more able to let here be here.  This place, any place, just is what it is.  And lately, in many ways, I've been able to live a bit more in just this time and place.  This year, my 5th in New Zealand, I have been feeling - at best - more enjoyment and comfort in life here, or - at worst - simply resigned to life here.  (Hey, being "resigned" to something may not sound as nice but it is still a form of acceptance that I will embrace!)

Last week I had a chance to do a bit of comparison -- between 'here' and 'there' (Alaska and New Zealand) and between 'now' and 'then.'  "Now," is January 2012 and "then" is 8 years ago, January 2004 when I first arrived in New Zealand. Within weeks of showing up at the Dunedin Airport with a suitcase and a backpack, I had bought a $700 car and started driving around the South Island by myself.

This road trip included some time on the West Coast of the South Island - known for its wild terrain and narrow, windy roads where 2nd gear is common.

Its notorious for its heavy rainfall and dense temperate rainforest. 

It's famous for magnificent mountains rising from the sea, with glaciers pulsing down the valleys.

 It is remote and sparsely populated.  Sound and look familiar?  Hm, just like Southeast Alaska.

I have not been back to the West Coast much at all since 2004. Until last week. In 2004, I was a bit homesick.  I was a little bit nonchallant and unattached in relation to the staggering beauty of the West Coast.  Afterall, I'd come from, dare I say it, a place where the glaciers flowed even grander, the forest grew even more densely, the weather was even worse, the population was even smaller and quirkier, and many things could eat you.  Maybe.  I suppose, in hindsight, I had a bit of trouble just enjoying what I was seeing on the West Coast because I was so freshly removed from Alaska -- and, I knew I'd be going back.

Now I have been away from Alaska for 18 months - this time - and perhaps more significantly, I don't know when I'll return, either to visit or to live. So last week I visited the West Coast with less-biased, less divided eyes.  And what I found was SO wonderful.  I found that the West Coast is strikingly beautiful.  It's wet and wild and remote.  It's covered in native New Zealand bush with kea flying overhead and fantails buzzing you.  I found that driving my little car along the only bit of space between the sea and peaks was breath-taking.

I walked to hidden lakes and remote beaches.

Koru, or a fern frond and a NZ icon, with lake. 

I watched sunsets and hung out under the full moon. 

This time, I was just a little bit more "here." 

But I'd be lying if I didn't mention that along with my new-found appreciation for enjoying the West Coast for just exactly what it is, I love that it just feels so... Familiar.

This could be SE Alaska or West Coast, New Zealand!!

January 6, 2012

Happy New Year!

Only in the Southern Hemisphere can I write a blog post about Christmas/New Years and making a pie from freshly picked cherries!  

It’s been an awfully long time since I wrote a new blog entry about anything at all -- and my excuse is not a novel one.  Things have been busy!  We’ve moved into a new house in Dunedin (photos to come) and we absolutely love it.  We bought a new (to us) car – a simple 2002 Toyota and my absolute thrilled excitement about it is justifiable when I explain that my previous car was a 1989 Toyota that we paid $200 for! I’ve been studying and working and these things are going well…  My mom has come and gone – she came for 3 weeks to experience the oddities of Christmas in mid-summer.  And last but surely not least, I was recently diagnosed with a health condition that requires some managing.  I won’t write about it right here right now, but it has been a significant experience.  

What do all these things have in common?  They have all greatly impacted and primarily advanced how “at home” I feel in New Zealand.  Indeed this last year, overall, my 5th in New Zealand, has been some sort of a turning point in feeling more peacefully settled in this country.  More on some of these things later…  But for now, a couple of little things.  This year, I got to make Christmas sugar cookies with my mom just like the old days, but with some New Zealand flare.

And, on my way home from my in-laws at the end of a lovely Christmas Day, I realized that it didn’t feel quite like Christmas was complete yet – because I hadn’t been to the beach!!!  Goodness, I am turning a little bit more Kiwi afterall.  

So on the way home, I made a quick detour and felt much better.

And what did I do on New Year’s Day?  Well I went for a long, hot tramp (hike). 

 And on January 2nd I picked gorgeous, fresh cherries straight off their abundantly covered trees at an orchard in Cromwell.  And on January 3rd, I made a delicious cherry pie.   

Now that’s a good start to a new year in mid-summer that I could turn into a tradition and get very used to!  

 And Happy New Year!