Sunday, September 18, 2011

One Year: Pieces of New Zealand

One year ago, on a rainy afternoon very much like this one, Matt and I flew out of Portland and began our Big New Zealand Adventure. A year later and nearly four months after returning home (!!), I still can't conjure up the words to express the profound change that our time in New Zealand wrought on us as individuals and as a couple. These days, the thought most frequently on my brain is Damn, we were gone a long time! I can't believe we left an entire year ago and were away as long as we were. Here's what I do know: New Zealand will always be with us, in one form or another. We think about it every day, and do a lot of reminiscing and occasionally have moments of heart-ache when a far away memory comes rushing back with no warning. A few weeks ago, out of nowhere, the image popped into my head, clear as day, of a particular stretch of the coastal highway driving east into Opotiki, where enormous and beautiful Pohutukawa trees create a long tunnel of green over the road, with the blue-green Bay of Plenty sparkling in the gaps between the branches. It took my breath away the first time I saw it, and it took my breath away to remember it, almost a year later. Sometimes I catch a scent on the air, unidentifiable, but which speaks to me of our long New Zealand summer. Occasionally I can almost feel the heat of the southern sun or the scorching sand of a black Taranaki beach. Once in awhile, a news item from New Zealand comes up on the BBC, and the accents take me straight back.
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

Aside from the emotions, every once in awhile a simple material craving pops up. I would kill for a good Flat White. Or some Superwines (the best tea biscuits I have ever had). I'll settle for Hershey's, but it's got nothing on a Cadbury's Dairy Milk. I miss the weight of dollar and two-dollar coins, and bank notes in more than one color. I miss the accents, the regularly sunny smiles, "She'll be right" and "Good on ya."

The phrases we use when people ask us what our time in New Zealand was like are insufficient. "It was amazing" and "It was incredible" only go a fraction of the way towards the meaning of our trip. How to you describe something that spanned eight months and every emotion in the book? The struggles, the joys, the surprises, the loneliness and homesickness, the freedom, the moments of paradise, the friendships, the disappointments and the things that absolutely blew our minds.

And here we are, a year down the road, more happy and confident in our relationship than we've ever been, settled at home in Portland, in the house of our dreams, with a big garden and chickens, plans for the future, no desire to move or travel anytime soon, and me about to embark on my second round of higher education. Right now we wouldn't trade this for anything, but we are both so infinitely glad that we took the opportunity to live abroad and travel and face the challenges of that experience. Across New Zealand are plants we planted, things we built and animals we helped raise. And the gumboots we bought last September in a little town on the Bay of Plenty now live by our back door here in Oregon. New Zealand is here with us, and we are still there.

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