A few weeks ago, Toby and I completed our epic adventure abroad and returned home to the east coast of the US. We have since been figuring out where we would next live (the full second floor of an old house in Montclair, NJ, it turns out) and dealing with the complicated process of moving in and setting up. Toby is looking for a new job as a software engineer in NYC or the area, and I’ll be doing my PhD research on the 9/11 Museum in NYC once we get the apartment more set up than its current half-done state. In the meantime, we’ve been happy to see our families and friends again – and to keep reflecting on the experiences that we had while traveling. This trip has been thrilling, calming, restorative, thought-provoking, challenging, cleansing, educational, and definitely a welcome break from the stresses of grad school. It was also pretty consistently a reminder of the privileges and positive aspects of our own lives, and an eye-opening experience to other ways of living in this world.
We met people for whom survival means subsistence gardening and fishing without reliable access to enough food or clean water or working toilets (but who had a supportive community to keep them alive and smiling), a woman who was pulled out of school and married at 13 (but who was valued as a contributing member of the family in her role of mother and wife), a woman who was ostracized from her family because of her religious conversion (but whose faith gave her guidance and strength), a woman with profound physical disabilities (but who had an even deeper desire to learn and be engaged with and contribute to the world, and success at doing all those things), and a family whose children were going progressively deaf (but who were determined for them to always know they are loved and supported).
We marveled at coral reefs both teeming with life and yet dying off from pollution and climate change driven bleaching, with rubbish floating amidst the brightly colored fish. We spoke with an Australian Aboriginal man who was a leader in a 44 year long protest staged in a permanent tent city outside the Australian Parliament in Canberra, where he fiercely seeks to get the government to rectify crimes they have committed against his people. We spent a day with another Aboriginal man who brought us on a walkabout along ancient sacred song lines through the forest, in his efforts to pass on knowledge about his people so the culture can live on beyond his dwindling clan. We observed vast sheep farms in land that used to be filled with massive trees and flightless birds, and visited beautiful glaciers that are shrinking at astonishing rates. We paid our respects to ancient places of worship and creativity, and to places of tremendous life and death.
And we got to revel in the glorious might of the Earth’s forces where it has driven up steep peaks of stone and red-black volcanoes, interspersed with waterways so pure they are bright, bright blue. We walked in ancient forests dense with palms and vines and ferns, as well as new ones planted to restore lands that had been made naked from logging. We witnessed geysers shooting up water boiled from the magma within the Earth, and met Maori who are working avidly to keep their connections to these volcanic lands and their people’s cultural history alive. We walked on beaches strewn with massive driftwood trees, scattered about as far as we could see like some endless graveyard for their gnarled wooden bodies, roots reaching into the sea and the sky and the sand. We met elephants who had been saved from logging operations, and witnessed monkeys who have adapted to life in a city with surprising aplomb (and more than a few bared teeth). We walked some of the lands of Middle Earth and marveled at seeing these fantastical places in reality. We saw dark skies illuminated by stars we’d never before seen, and we got to freefall through a sunlit sky from 15,000 feet up, having the privilege of leaving the airplane safely and of our own volition.
We were often awestruck by all these things and more. Grateful for the opportunity to stand witness to the beauty that is this world, the humanity of its diverse cultures, and the ability of life, whether flora or fauna, to adapt in so many really cool ways to the range of landscapes that have risen across the Earth.
These stories will be worth writing up and sharing, along with some of the many photos we captured along the way, and so we intend to do just that. It will take some time, given our other responsibilities and just how many cool experiences we had along the way. But we’d like to do justice to the people, places, and wildlife we encountered. We hope we can do so through the reflections we will share.
We are also trying to keep present the restorative qualities of our journey, and find ways to keep them going as we return to more of our usual lives. As many of you know, I particularly tend to get stressed and overwhelmed easily, particularly in these years of grad school, but this trip helped me feel healthier and happier than I have in a long time, and I am actively seeking to bring more of that balance into my usual busy life.
This has meant creating time for “being here now,” and making more space for quiet, as well as the reflective conversations that Toby and I have been sharing since we first became close 8 years ago. We’ve been better about going on long and contemplative walks around town regularly than we were before (all the walking and hiking on this trip were great!), and are looking forward to spending a lot more regular time out in nature, despite the fact that both of our jobs require a fair amount of time at the computer. Our intention is to keep that sense of movement and exploration – as well as calm, happy stillness – part of our life in whatever ways we can. It has already been somewhat challenging to do these things, given all that we have to do to be responsible about moving forward with this next adventure (in the NYC area), but we’ll figure it out. We also are looking forward to spending more time volunteering and helping people out, given how much we were struck by people in need during our journey, and how much we have deeply enjoyed bonding with the young man Toby supported through Big Brothers, Big Sisters over the last few years. All in all, there will be a lot we would like to balance and do alongside our usual plans for work and time with friends and family, but this trip has given us new tools with which to do those things and we look forward to using them throughout our future.
And speaking of the future, we are already day dreaming about what our next trips might bring.