And then just like that, it was over.
What seemed like a great adventure —time does go faster as you get older—that would last forever has now come to a close.
We had gone to Middle Earth and come back. And the two phrases that come repeatedly to mind are that was really fun and I’m glad we did that. And throughout the two years we were gone, I felt more alive than I had for many years. It was just plain fun to explore and experience a whole new area of the world, to meet new and different people, to learn new things, to see strange and different landscapes, and to get out of and away from the mindset of living in the United States.
The whole experience has also reinforced in me the sense that it is good to take chances, to do things new and different, to purposely get out of your comfort zone, to be an outsider, to not always know what you’re getting into. If you have the opportunity—and I guess we all do even in some small ways—it’s good to take chances. Always. It’s a cliché but life truly is short.
Assuredly, the whole leaving-the-US-for-a-few-years-experience has changed me as a person. But exactly how and in what respect, I am not yet entirely sure. Like having a large pile of disorganized papers on a desk, I am not quite sure how the things I have learned and seen will organize themselves.
However, I can already feel some changes.
Certainly, I feel more open-minded, less provincial, less parochial, less bigoted, less prejudiced—not that I felt I was any of those things before. But I feel less so now. I don’t feel quite as sure of myself on all things, and I think that’s a good thing, and one of the benefits of travel. And I look at the United States with different eyes; I am more aware of truly how much we have here, and how much we take for granted.
I feel less attached to things. Again, not that I was before, but less so now. Somehow we survived going to New Zealand with essentially two suitcases each, and didn’t need much more than that for the two years we were there. Coming back and looking at our small storage unit stuffed with stuff, I realize I didn’t need or miss any of it.
Coming back here to Colorado Springs, it is amazing and perhaps even in some small way disconcerting how little everything has changed in two years. I feel like I’ve had tremendous adventures, and coming back here, I see a new highway interchange, a new building where there had been an empty lot, and people—not to slight them—doing the same things with two more years paid off on their mortgages. I feel I have left the village, gone over the mountains, come back, and the village is still the same, but I am different.
Most assuredly, however, after two years in New Zealand, I will never look at the country of New Zealand in the same way. For me, New Zealand became and will remain a kind of a second home, and I like to think I came to understand the people and country itself in some small way. And the part about going to Middle Earth and returning isn’t all just hype. New Zealand is a bit of fantasy world. It is a magical place, and there is an element of having crossed over and lived in another realm and then to have returned.
What do I know of New Zealand? I know the way the gulls pick at the trash bags in Mount Maunganui in the mornings on rubbish day, and then stand non-committal next to the bags.
I know some of the fish—hoki, snapper, tarakihi. I know what a dairy is and what Hokey Pokey ice cream tastes like. I can drive on the left and handle roundabouts. I know what a Warrant of Fitness is. If someone says they are from Matamata, Katikati, Gisborne, Taranaki, Muriwai, or Opotiki, I know where they are from.
I know some of the birds—the pukeko, the oystercatcher, the frivolous fantail, and more.
I know many of the plants—kawakawa, lancewood, kahikatea, manuka, kanuka, kauri, ponga and the glorious pohutukawa. I appreciate the incredible natural history of New Zealand, and have some sense of the events that molded New Zealand into a nation.
I’ve lived next to the sea and heard the ocean whispering in the background as I drifted off to sleep, or sometimes I’ve seen and heard it roaring through the night. I know the different moods of the ocean, like a person, sometimes docile and unpretentious and at other times stormy and boisterous.
I know and have seen the connection between New Zealanders and the sea.
And at night I’ve seen the Southern Cross hovering in star-speckled night sky.
I understand the connection with Australia across the Tasman.
I have some sense of the Kiwis. I know how gentle, kind, fair, brave and proud they are. I know how New Zealanders will act or respond to various situations. I know their sense of humor and sometimes their lack thereof. I know the different slant and inflection of word and phrase, and the lilting upswing at the end of sentences.
I know the seasons of New Zealand. I know the smell and depth of spring where the earth itself bursts deep and rich and fertile and alive. And the rain in winter that blows in from the sea. I know the bush and something of the Maori people. I know day-to-day life in New Zealand. I know PAK’nSAVE, Countdown, New World and Four Square (the food stores)
I know New Zealand decided to change their flag and then decided not to. I know rugby and the All Blacks.
I know a woman at the Auckland airport was sent back to Hong Kong after trying to smuggle ten lemons into the country.
I know all these things and more.
I’ve made friends in New Zealand, and over the past two years I’ve written over two hundred blog posts for movin2newzealand, and taken scores of photographs. And because of all this, I like to think I’ve come away a richer person, and that anyone who has read any of these blog posts have shared in this adventure in some way.
Once I lived in New Zealand.
Life flows on.
Waiau River, South Island, New Zealand