When I travel, the almosts of life are easier to see. More movement means more decisions, more decisions mean more ‘what could have been’ moments. Intricate plans are woven then unraveled, like the braids in my daughter’s hair after a good day’s play. There is an ease and flexibility, but also mini-regrets and what-ifs poking their way into my heart at every turn. These things haunt me sometimes: the sign we didn’t heed for the Tiny Historic Bungalow, the summit hike we were too tired to take on, the rope swing left dangling for another day. It is a feeling that is deeper and more complicated, somehow, than the FOMO of the modern world. I am in love with what happened, but also fascinated by what didn’t come to pass.
Our friends from home came to visit us over Christmas and we spent two weeks in a two family convoy, road tripping around the South Island.
Many plans were made! Some were forsaken (much to Joel’s dismay. He is the chief-numero-uno-plan maker), but many beautiful things went down.
so much swimming,
And all the other stuff, of course: the tantrums and tiredness, the car games, the hanging around, the joy of discovering things together.
And there were some near-misses, some just-abouts, some almosts.
There was the day that Joel and Angela witnessed three tourists quietly drowning in this glacier-fed river at Hokitika Gorge.
Joel and two other guys jumped in and dragged them to safety, but the eerie moment hung over the tourist-filled riverbank for the whole time we were there, even after funny family shots in the freezing cold water, and chatting with a young American painter (here’s his painting of that same spot).
On another day on the trip, Lyla almost fell headfirst down the side of a steep, stump-strewn ravine. We were at the halfway point of a hike and high from Joel and Adam’s feats on a particularly epic rope swing.
We were milling about, getting ready to head back, when there was a loud cracking sound, and as I turned to see its source, time slowed down, as it does, in those moments. At the top of the cliff, I saw only the bottoms of Lyla’s little boots, and one hand clinging to a tiny vine that barely had its scraggly roots in the earth. Then, as I moved towards the edge, her little, scratchy voice: “Help!”
Adam was closest and quickest, and grabbed her foot, pulling her up with only a few nasty scrapes*. After a bit of a cry, and lots of hugs, she was skipping along the trail, holding Grace’s hand.
We all continued on, trying to shake the various awful possibilities out of our heads. As Adam and I chopped veggies for dinner later that night, he remarked on how each of the adults needed to go look at the ravine afterwards, to assess what almost happened. It was true. In the slightly shocked aftermath, we all trod carefully to the edge and peered over, one by one. How steep was it? How much danger? What might have been?
I am not saying that these are things to dwell upon for long. We take risks, we learn, we hopefully use the knowledge as we move forward. Lyla now knows that a branch’s strength should be tested before jumping on it with all her moxie and might (especially on the edge of a cliff). But there is a chaos, an unknowable multitude of forces that we can’t control, no matter how smart or experienced we are.
So now, back ‘home’ in Upper Moutere, I am left holding of the fragility and chanciness of our lives. Everywhere we go, we make choices, and continually, agonies (and ecstasies) are narrowly missed. And those almosts flit around us, like tiny, sparkly bugs**, lighting the way forward.