A Few Adventures, and The Horrors of Home

It’s been quite a while since I last put anything out for others to read, but I think now is the time to fix that. This post may be a bit different than the last due to everything that’s happening both in my own life, as well as the lives of people from back in the USA. This post in particular will be dealing with the idea of home, what that means to someone who has left it, and what it looks like going into the future. I’ll toss in a brief mention of some of the things that I’ve been up to over the last few months, but if you really want to know details and such, feel free to ask me about it and I can go more into detail.

So for those of you who were looking to hear about some of the exciting bits of New Zealand, I’ll get that out here first so you don’t have to wade through my random thoughts if you don’t want to. If you’re looking for the exciting and fun bits, feel free to read on and I’ll give you a warning before I switch from the happy thoughts into the deeper ones.

Ok! On to my adventures in New Zealand!

Since I last updated you all, I’ve experienced some of the best things New Zealand has to offer. The first of these would be Milford Sound (which, fun fact, is actually a fjord instead of a sound). I’ve done this twice now and had two totally different experiences (both amazing). The first time I went to Milford, I went with my girlfriend Emma. We took a bus service out there and took a cruise from the end of Milford out to the sea before turning around and coming back. It was an awesome experience as the ship pulled nearly underneath thundering waterfalls (yes of course I stood on deck to be completely soaked) and went alongside the fur seals that frequent the area. The misty weather made the whole place look as if I had stumbled into some remote prehistoric place.

The second time at Milford was quite different. My parents and some of their close friends came to New Zealand to visit me and check out the country, so Milford absolutely had to make an appearance in their itinerary. The weather played out perfectly and we were able to kayak, which was incredible. The few hours spent paddling among the penguins and seals was astounding. The kayak at Milford was only the beginning of the itinerary for the trip. We drove up the west coast of the south island, stopping off at various points of interest including massive glaciers, glow worm caves, crazy geological formations, and interesting little towns. The north island proved equally as entertaining with thermal parks filled with multicolored pools, Hobbiton, and random bits around Auckland. Having family here in New Zealand was AMAZING.

Another fun trip I was able to take was out to Mt. Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Emma and I decided to take a quick weekend trip out there just to see something new, and we were not disappointed. Mt. Cook was incredible. As a climber, I was able to appreciate just how technical and intense the mountain looked even from a long way off. No wonder this is a training mountain for Everest! The hike out to a good overlook point of the mountain was beautiful, winding through grasslands and over swing bridges with the churning river far below. Mt. Cook has definitely been one of my favorite spots in New Zealand so far. The isolation and peace in that place is something that sticks with you.

I’ve taken countless small adventures throughout the last few months, however those are the two that are probably of the most interest to those back home. As I said, if you want to know anything about either of those trips (plus some extra adventures as well), feel free to reach out and ask. I would be happy to share any and all adventure stories with you all!

So this is the point that I warned you all of. The rest of this post jumps from the happy things, into the deeper and darker sections. If you want to remember this post as an exciting adventure in which everything goes well all the time, stop reading here. What follows is not specific to New Zealand, but it does cover the darker bits of what’s been going on in my life and how that relates to home.

First we must define what “home” is. Is it a place? A people? An idea? Being abroad for an extended period tends to bring up these kinds of thoughts. I must admit that I find home to be a combination of those three. A home is where your people are, the place that you identify with, and the ideas that you have about that place and those people. These three things, to me, are what form a home. This may vary from person to person, but I will always consider my home to be California with my friends and family. That’s where my official home is. That’s not to say that I can’t find a bit of home anywhere else in the world, but until I die I’ll always think of home as where I grew up with those I love. They are my people, and that is my place. Home is not a building. Home is a people and a place that you identify with. Home is a part of you.

So now you understand what “home” is for me. When I discuss what has happened to my home you at least have a small idea of the mental impact that it has. Home is woven into you and is inseparable from you. There’s a few things you should hear about what’s happened to my home recently from the perspective of someone that hasn’t been to their home in a while.

The first thing I’ll be dealing with is something that I’m sure anyone from my home town could tell you about in far greater detail. The fires that terrorized my city are still surreal to me. The things that I remember about Santa Rosa are no longer true. From what I’ve heard, the mental image that I have of my city is no longer even remotely accurate. I can say that being on the other side of the world and watching the devastation is incredibly painful. Flying home immediately to help out in any way that I could was a daily thought. Hourly thought. I thought about it every minute of every day for quite a while. The spotty cell service in Santa Rosa made things even more difficult as it was difficult to communicate with those I love. Only those who have witnessed a natural disaster strike family from afar can understand it. I’ll never understand fully what it was like to be in the flames of the city, just as those who lived through that won’t understand what it was like to watch it from here wanting more than anything to be there to help. The two experiences are extremely different and both are painful.

While I sat safe in New Zealand, friends and family battled the fires. The powerlessness that comes along with that was one of the most uncomfortable things I have yet experienced. I will get to see exactly what my home looks like at the end of January, and I’m not quite sure what to expect.

Early on in my travels, I was able to quickly come to the realization that I was going to miss some awesome things happening at home. While that has been unfortunate to say the least, I was able to make my peace with that. I didn’t count on missing the horrors of home though. The idea of my home no longer matches what is real. My people are there, but the place I imagine doesn’t exist anymore. There is room to grow and rebuild what was once my home, and this moving forward is an exciting idea, yet until I can see the land with my own eyes I know that the home in my mind is not there anymore.

The next thing that I need to touch on is, regrettably, political. So if you don’t want to deal with politics, feel free to skip over a few sections or merely stop right here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I must admit, the USA doesn’t sound at all like home from here. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard my country referred to as a joke. While nobody denies that the US still has power, I often hear far more negative things than positive things. A large portion of this is due to our new choice of leader. The way in which our nation has been conducting itself has led it to become the reality TV show for the world. An incredibly entertaining reality TV show since there’s lots of action and drama, yet a horrifying one to watch when you realize that the people and place is real. I know people from other countries that are far more up to date on the States than I am solely because they find it entertaining to watch. I just find it painful. Yes, I’m sure there are good things happening at home, but the overwhelming message that is being sent to everyone is that the United States of America is a bit of a joke. A dangerous joke, but a joke nonetheless.

When I run into other backpackers from the US here, 99% of them agree. People will often ask if I’m from Canada not because I have a Canadian accent, but because it’s more polite than asking if I’m from the States. Someone not from the US could be insulted if they were assumed to be from there. That speaks volumes for the attitude towards the States right now. The idea of my country is being destroyed because of the man who sits at the head of it. I’ve apologized for my country many times over, but now am forced to wonder if it’s worth apologizing for.

The natural, social, political, spiritual, and economic destruction that seems to run rampant across the nation has removed a large portion of goodwill that I feel towards the United States. It is becoming more and more evident that people would rather fight than love, and rather follow blindly than stand up. I do hear stories of some rising up to stand up for love, yet those voices are far harder to hear on this side of the world. The shouts of hatred are heard much clearer over here.

For those of you who are in support of the leader of our nation, I don’t hate you in the least and I’m sure you’ve heard many others who disagree with your views. I understand that it’s possible to love someone without the necessity of loving all of their ideas, views, and actions. You have your right to support the president, and I have the right to disagree with him. Greater fools than he have come to wisdom, and I hope that will be the case here though I cannot support him. He has destroyed the image of my people for me. I view the United States now as more of a dysfunctional family on the brink of disaster than anything positive. Thanks for that.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t hope to one day return to my country of origin (and for those of you wondering, I’ll be back for a short while soon). I do have family there, and while my city has burned they will rise from the ashes. There is enough for me to return. I can only hope that upon my return, my country will prove these ideas wrong. One day I hope to be proud to be from the USA, though for now I feel that moment is a long way off.

I’ll be coming back to family, friends, and a city rising out of the ashes. I can’t wait to be able to come back to these things since they are my home and are a part of me. As for the rest of the country, I’ll have to wait until some cleaning up is done before I’m ready to say that I’m proud I live there.

What is home?

My home is a burned city, an enraged nation, and a bit of shame mixed in for good measure.

My home is my loving family, my loyal friends, and the hope for a new future.

Confused? Yeah, me too.