When you leave home your head and heart fill with adventure and hopes. You imagine a life filled with the new and exciting, the inspiration of difference. You imagine how changing your environment can change the way you look, feel, and move in the world.
But taking your family to live in a mythical-seeming land on the other side of the world is not all kayaks, sunshine and pavlova.
We have all the regular everyday annoyances: crying over times table practice, fighting over dishes, worries about money.
We go grocery shopping, Joel swears at his computer, the internet sometimes drops out. I still lie awake some nights with discomfiting thoughts: North Korea, sexual predation, and the thing that someone said yesterday at the barbeque that stung. You get it. Life in New Zealand is still life. Last week I had the feeling that the everyday grind was starting to make us all feel a little less magical.
On top of the usual stuff, there are new stressors: trying to fit in, navigating a new, small community with all of its inherent politics, wondering how we will feel when we return, if our lives will be changed for the better or worse.
A new place sloughs off old identities, but sometimes leaves us with our darkest spots exposed; we are vulnerable here, and it can be lonely. I felt like maybe the stress of being new was starting to outweigh the delight of this gorgeous place we had landed.
Why were we here, exactly?
So, we planned a day out. We would drive over “the hill” to Golden Bay, and hike to the Rawhiti caves, then hit the beach. The day started a little cloudy, but as we drove out of town and up the windy mountain road, the sky cleared. Still, as we started the steep climb on the hike, Lyla complained a lot, Joel got snappy, and Camille and I sighed our way up, wondering why we couldn’t all just get along.
Why was no one noticing the huge Jurassic ferns that lined the trail? The electric blue sky? The simple joy of being on a sunny hike, with nothing to do but move your muscles to the top?
Okay, here they were looking up, at least.
Finally, we made it up the mountain and it seemed worth it. The ancient cave opened its mouth to us, lined with pinkish grey stalactites, like too many weird monster teeth.
As our eyes adjusted to the dark, you could see that some of them curved out of the black pit, making their way towards the light, the way a tree branch might grow towards the sunniest spot of the forest. These were phytokarst, a strange mix of mineral and algae, which gave the rock an almost living quality.
Normally, gravity is the only force acting on the minerals in a stalactite as they form over hundreds of thousands of years. But these are stalactites with a difference! The mineral-laden water that drips to the tip of the rock formation is attracted to the tiny bits of algae on the sun-facing side. Eventually, the mineral hardens, following the path of the algae and creating a light-seeking finger of rock.
It was the kind of thing that screamed out for a metaphor.
We hope that travelling will let a new, more brilliant, better version of ourselves come through. We hope we will gain new perspectives. But we carry our dark bits around with us: our old ugly habits, insecurities and fears. And sometimes, far away from the people and things that shore up our identities, those demons grow, like a shadow slowly growing as the day grows long.
But here were the phytokarsts, growing slowly but surely out of the dark, turning their faces towards the sun.
On the way back down, Camille was filled with questions about the nature of truth, setting off a philosophical discussion that will last years, I am sure. Lyla led the way back to the car, singing to herself as usual, and only getting into one, short-lived huff.
The cave had reset the energy, brought us back to the wonder of our new home.
The rest of the day was literally golden. Joel found us shelter from the wind on this little private gem of a beach.
We ate a smoked salmon pizza, slathered with garlic aioli in a café with cool murals.
We drove home as the sun set into the windows of our trusty car (now with roof racks!)
So we are still here. Doing homework, taking out the garbage, fighting with our darker selves. Trying to keep growing towards the sun.