Backyard Ponder

Views From a Bike Ride North
I sit here in the backyard of a house is mine for 3 more weeks in a bikini and a hat that I traded for a hat this past weekend at a festival. The hat is approximately 3 sizes too small, but just big enough to fit over my long sand laden hair, salty from days spent in the ocean. The wind is blowing the water out of my drying laundry and threatening to blow the hat off my head. The sun is gloriously warm, taunting me with the hints of a sunburn. I am proud to say I haven’t been burnt yet down under, which comes as a surprise due to the impressive number of warnings I received before coming here. That being said, there is always today, and I haven’t applied my usual 3 rounds of sunscreen. 

Well. What is there to be said about living in a town, full of amazing people, with a cool job that pays a living wage and easy access to endless beaches? Should I start with how wonderful and strange it is to consider almost-strangers my closest friends? Or how I now give directions to places without pulling out the map to decipher it all? Or should I start with the fact that homesickness still exists, though it comes and goes like spring storms? There is so much and so little to say at the same time. 

The balance of work and play is forever in question as a working holidayer. The traveler in me wants to savor every second of every day with as many different kinds of people as possible, learning their stories and their lives with limitless amounts of “yes.'” I want to say yes to everything. I want to go to as many social events, as many national parks, as many beaches, and camp trips, and adventures as possible. I want to do it all, though the reality of time and money seem to always be singing melancholy tunes on my eyelids drooping from not enough sleep and too much sun. Something in me keeps going though. As a barista, I question whether my happiness comes from the world around me or the espresso inside me, and usually I just accept the happy synthesis of the two. Without my undeniable attraction and addiction to espresso, I would potentially be one of the least productive humans out here. I am forever amazed by its simple power.

Painting with Friends After Work

So, what am I doing here? I am an American girl with a college degree working as a barista in Wollongong Australia. Is there any order to the chaos? Do I doubt my decision to jump into something so huge with so little forethought? Sometimes. Honestly. It is not easy to not have answers to the questions everyone seems to want answers for. I wish I could paint a pretty little map with a timeline of my life. The current section would be titled “That time I went to Australia to live life for a while because I wasn’t ready to commit to adulthood.” Cause the truth is that I am not ready to sell myself to a 9-5 in an office or to additional schooling that I may need for “Whatever I am doing for the rest of my life.” I am happy to be in a country, quite honestly doing what I love while being immersed in one of the most wonderful communities I have come across to this day. 

You see, coffee for me has always been a way to connect. A warm cup of coffee in the morning is one of the simplest and kindest gestures you can do as a host or friend or lover. So, making coffee in a coffee shop is in a similar way giving people a space to slow down before they speed up into their days, and catch up with the people that matter. Even if those people are just themselves who need to sip on a warm drink in a comfortable arm chair. I enjoy the rush of caffeine-crazed individuals, and the precision of weighing out each espresso shot, and the madness of grouping orders with milk types and numbers of shots. I love watching the community move in around me, just detached enough to watch everything as though I am living out my own personal drama. I love the coffee culture and I don’t regret for a second being immersed in it. In a sense I am living out my degree too. 

Environmental studies is the awareness of the environment around us. Working in high quality coffee brings awareness to high quality ingredients and therefore the quality of care which went into the products that eventually enter our bodies. The care it takes to make each individual drink is nearly magic in itself, and that people are willing to wait the extra 5 minutes to get their orders shows the attitude of patience that is being cultivated through the understanding that things take time. Great things take time. Great coffee takes time. Healthy bodies, minds, and nature take time. Time takes time to heal and change and craft everything in its path. And as I take time to make the perfect coffee, I take time to let myself become whatever it is I will. No matter how winding the path, I trust that time will get me there. Even though it is scary not to know, I know I am learning all the while, and enjoying the ride the whole way. 

Beach cafe before the Bike Ride
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Why Am I On the Road Again?

The IChing Way of Life

Another airport. Another checked bag to worry about. Another couple of hours of trying to figure out how to prop a pillow between my shoulder and head in order to struggle through turbulent upright sleep. Another person who pushes their seat back as far back as it can go. Another takeoff and landing mixed with coffee that is only palatable on airplanes. Another layover. Another airport. Another another. Then there is you, in the middle of it. You can get lost in your world, or you can get lost in theirs. The other stories around you are blossoming and blooming and dying in tiny bursts as you bump the arm next to you and make eye contact with the elderly couple across from you on their IPads. 

There is the monk who sits in the window getting his shoes shined, and the man with Nike Velcro sandals, splayed across four armrest-less seats, and the young moms in micro-puff Patagucci holding onto their already too-cool kids hands. There are pilots, puffed up with importance and fatigue simultaneously, and the stewardesses who kindly decline interaction as they gather up themselves again after being enclosed in a tube in the sky with needy and uncomfortable strangers. There was the couple next to you on the plane, sharing their Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal as a pillow between their Coachella Clad attire. There are business men and downright dirty backpackers. And there is you, still there amidst it all, sweating through the layers of clothes you couldn’t fit into your bag and were afraid to leave behind because you’re from California and Yellowstone is cold and unpredictable. You laugh at yourself for the lengths you took so you didn’t have to check your bag. 

If there is all of this discomfort and chaos why do you travel? It isn’t luxurious, though it is, if you look at the cost. It isn’t comfortable sitting crammed next to strangers. The food is never good and is always expensive. Yet, you find yourself totally in love with it all. The ache in your back, the constant motion, the heat generated by your baking body, the skylines and terminals, the world stretched out below you… It is all a part of it and you are in love.

This is how I feel when I travel. When I ask myself why I am traveling, the answer is not obvious. For me, the thought of traveling is somewhat exhausting, but once I am in it, it becomes a trance. There is a push and pull of timings and connections that I have to solve like a puzzle. And there are the stories that flit around me in the open air that calm me down and remind me how small my story is in comparison. At the the same time I am filled with an epic sense of wonder for the strangeness of humankind and how many ways there are to live a life. Traveling helps me feel less alone and okay being alone simultaneously. On my flights and buses and Lyft shares I find there are a myriad of people going to the same places to do different things. Convergence and dispersal. 

And aloneness and loneliness have become separate things since I have begun to travel. I am comfortable being surrounded by people I don’t know because I never have to worry about the niceties of small talk. If I end up talking to someone, which I usually do, we graze through the entry conversations with genuine curiosity and if time allows we enter into deep conversations about many things I wouldn’t talk about with many of the people who know me well. There is something reckless about the ambiguity of strangers that allows me to open deeply quickly. Perhaps it is because there is no commitment. Perhaps it is my own fear about being held to what I express about my emotions, knowing how quickly they change. I couldn’t really tell you, but I can say that traveling allows me to express the unexpressed parts of myself.

So, when you are alone in a place you don’t know, which I hope someday you will be, remember that there is power in your aloneness. You can be anyone and anything you desire to be. When no one holds you to any preconceived notions, who do you find yourself to be?