How New Zealand Has Changed Me

It’s my last morning in New Zealand.

As ready as I am to leave, I’m also scared of leaving.  Leaving worries me because I know that this time spent still like this has changed me in profound ways I have yet to understand.  I won’t have a way to quantify those changes until I depart New Zealand and spend some time away from it.

I’ve been officially removed from the rat race for so long I’m not sure I’ll understand anything anymore.  I wonder if I’ll have to readjust to a fast-paced world with a clenched jaw, just as I reluctantly adjusted to the slow island-time of life in New Zealand.  How has my time here changed me?  Has this experience prepared me for what’s next or will I be left ill-prepared?

I don’t know.

All I know is I’ve done things here in New Zealand that I would have never done elsewhere.  Like hiked a glorious peak ten times in the last twelve days.  Gone to bed religiously before nine o’clock.  Eaten in for every single meal for months on end, not even so much as buying a cup of coffee out.  (Eating out is expensive here and the service is so slow it’s rarely worth it.)

I’ve sat still more, and for longer.  I took a mindfulness course.  Picked grapes for six weeks.  Went white-water rafting and was flushed down the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall.  I’ve written on a daily basis.  That to me is the biggest miracle New Zealand has produced for me–giving me sufficient time, taking away the distractions of the world and just allowing for simplicity.  Living this forced simplistic life has compelled me to be more disciplined, more consistent.  Somewhere in these months I learned a hard-earned lesson about loyalty to myself and to my craft.

I hope I don’t forget it.

This is why I’m scared to leave New Zealand.  I’m afraid I’ll get distracted.  I’m fearful that I’ll lose the focus I worked so hard to achieve here.  I’m afraid I’ll suddenly have less time to devote to writing and blogging because I’ll be too busy living.  I’m afraid I’ll again feel pulled in a million directions instead of just being content, not resigned, to where I am for the present moment.

If anything, New Zealand taught me how to stop racing forward and quit constantly looking back.  Being here taught me how to settle with a deep breath, still, relax into the moment. As I fly over the Tasman today, I know I’ll feel sad at leaving this greenscape dappled with unconcerned sheep.  But I know it’s time.  My career as a grape-picker is over.  Summer’s over.  Autumn is announcing itself in full-blast crimson, ocher and orange.  Everything has run out–the summer, my lease, my shampoo, my conditioner, my hair mousse, my facial moisturizer.  All signs say: time to go.

Next stop: Australia’s Gold Coast for ten days.  After that, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.  After that, Europe.  After that, I don’t know.  This is theme, isn’t it?  I Don’t Know.  Unsolicited Certainties.

I can’t even begin to predict what I’ll miss about New Zealand.  I’ve learned that it’s never the things we think it will be.  If I were to predict what I think I’ll miss, I’d take a gander and say I’ll probably miss the very things I loathe about this place right now.  Like the way the shops close at 4:30, the nothingness there is to do.

Yet, I know I’ve adapted more than I like to admit. (Scary.)

I will miss getting up at 5am and feeling refreshed and fully restored because I went to bed at eight.

I will miss the sheep and their stoic glances as I trod up the peak in the morning.

I will miss the playful tuis, swooping dangerously close, flapping their feather-fluffed wings loudly, unlike any other bird I’ve ever heard.

There are things I say I miss about the outside world.  Things like museums and the bustle and hustle of a nearby metropolis.  Or things like looking through shop windows and seeing people with shoes on.  Even if I didn’t take advantage of all those things on a regular basis, I miss having the luxury of having the option. I’m sure I’ll miss having the luxury of NOT having the option soon enough.

In my adult life, I’ve never been as stationary as I have been in the last nine months. I’ve never traveled more than twenty minutes by car to go anywhere. I can count on two fingers the last time I sat at a stop light in the last three months.  (There are roundabouts here.  Roundabouts, yield signs and stop signs.)   I’ll miss endless roundabouts without a traffic light in sight.

I’ll miss the quiet, still nights.

I’ll miss hearing the rain gush over the tin roof.photo(16)

I’ll miss the tin roof.  The way the birds hop loudly around up there at dawn, basking in the sun, waking the house up.

I’ll miss the views that unfurl in every direction.

I’ll miss living as if it were still the 80s.  People still actually ask whether or not you have internet and an email address.  People still use home phones more than mobile numbers and people still use answering machines that you can hear throughout the house.

I’ll miss the fierceness of the sun and how it warms everything fifteephoto(17)n degrees in an instant, causing the house to creak.

I’ll actually even miss my ’88 Nissan that I bought for $450NZ and just sold for $250NZ.

Today was my last hike up Te Mata Peak.  I think when I started doing these hikes I had complicated intentions.  I believed the physical difficulty was going to teach me some big lesson.  I set out to do these hikes as a way to live part of my mantra of this year, which is (I think I’ve mentioned) to “see something through for myself.”  But in these last few hikes, I’ve realized it’s not so much about me, or even challenging myself to follow through or explore resistance.  It’s about something far more simple than all that.  It’s about paying tribute to the moment and to that which is available to you in that moment.  It’s about honoring something instead of taking it for granted.  It’s about not wanting more or wishing for something different or thinking about being somewhere else.

This morning as I hiked there was a light mist shrouding the peak.  There was a streak of rainbow beyond the sheep, lighting the valley.  As I hiked for the last time, I was filled with something I can only describe as gratitude.  A full, overwhelming awe at how totally and completely thankful I am to have spent this time here in this far-flung magical place.  With each steep step upward, I felt gratefulness and thanksgiving with my whole body.  Gratefulness for the moment and for the last nine months.  Not a lick of fright for what’s to come.  The Peak taught me that.  New Zealand taught me that.  And that, to me, feels like an achievement, a pencil etching against the doorway that marks my growth.

At the top, breathless, I stretched my arms out, speechless.  All I can say is I won’t miss you, New Zealand.  I’ll long for you.  And for that, I should say thank you.  Or, as the Kiwis would simply say, ta.

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