How Ya Goin?

Wollongong Local Rockstar

Halloween. A holiday met with resistance here in Australia. Many people scoff at the idea of dressing up and asking for candy, not fully realizing that only the kids (usually only the kids) go trick-or-treating in America, and the real draw of Halloween is to dress up as adults and hang out with each other. It is just another excuse to celebrate life with your friends, and given that Australians love holidays, I was baffled to hear how they brush off halloween. 

Granted, I am still unsure of exactly what halloween is.

I wish you could hear this wind. It’s 3 AM and the wind is blowing with such force the whole house is shaking. I can only imagine the halloween decorations outside and their current whereabouts. Winds like these have always reminded me of fall, which is comforting given the fact that it is fall back home. Here, Spring is passing its time off to Summer. Storms roll through with a quick and poignant ferocity, leaving just as quickly. The wind blows with a strength that makes me want to get out of bed and run down to watch the sea. I have always loved the way wind howls as it blows through spaces. Tonight is no exception.

My current location is in my new house. I haven’t learned the sounds yet, and the novelty of renting a room as a traveler in a foreign country is bizarre to me. This is the first room I have rented in a house with less than 5 people in it. Maybe I’m finally growing up? The yearnings for home have their fingers delicately balanced on my heart strings. I didn’t realize how much I would miss fall, with its warm winds and crisp mornings. The contrast of the leaves back home turning to orange, vs. the flowers blooming purples and pinks here summons a strange nostalgia for the familiar. I do not know the seasons here, and my body feels backwards with its cravings for the cozy, chai drinking, pumpkin carving, warm scarf days of home. 

My New Home

Then pops in the age old question, “What is home.” Home is where the heart is… Home is wherever I’m with you… Home home on the range… home… Well if you ask webster dictionary, as a noun, home is “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” That is fair, I suppose, though the definition of family seems to be constantly in question as well. There is blood family, and then there are those people who you happen upon in life that make you feel a little more you. Both are equally important for creating the person you identify yourself as. I like the “permanently” part of the definition because that is a word I rarely frequent. Nothing in my life is permanent. It seems that things are coming and going constantly. 

The definition of home that seems more suitable for me comes in the verb form, “(of an animal) return by instinct to its territory after leaving it.” Now I am not sure that I have landed in my territory, but some of me believes that I need the separation from California in order to feel her calling again. My instincts pull me back to the sandstone mountains and Santa Ana winds at the same rate that they push me towards everything else in the world. The freedom of being a human echoes across the escarpment, through the turqouise waters, and into my heart as I bury my feet in the sand and walk home holding hands with strangers and swimming in the ocean with the moon bright above. 

Currently, Australia is a beautiful home. I have fallen in love with the gumtree forest and the way the people here talk in their round lazy slang. I’ve learned that when people ask “How ya goin,” not to respond with how I am doing, but rather just to say hi. I now know that they call squash, pumpkins here and that capsicum are bell peppers and Cilantro is called coriander. Australians put cocoa in their cappuccini, a flat white is made of heaven, and that “afternoon” can be shortened to Arvo. When someone asks “You alright?” It isn’t because you appear to have something wrong, but rather it is just a nice way of saying “All good?” Banana is pronounced with the long A sound, and no longer rhymes with Hannah unless you pronounce my name with a british accent.

My name is maybe the most endearing part of being in Australia. You see, Australians inherently nickname everything and everyone. Shortly after introducing myself as Hannah, I am called “Han.” I have never liked that nickname before, but the accent here softens it up, and the sweetness of having strangers call you by a nickname brings a level of closeness I have only found in a select crew of humans back home. I have never had a nickname that stuck before, and I love the novelty of having one here. For now, this home is one of the best I have ever had.

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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

Flowering in OZ

Gum Tree Flowers
I believe in flowers. Perhaps more than anything else, I trust flowers to exist exactly as they should exist. I believe in color, and the sun, and the way the moon waxes and wanes and the patience involved in it all. Nothing beautiful happens instantaneously. Walking through the tropical rainforest of Queensland, Australia is a reminder of this. The ground is primarily made of clay as if it is trying to say “We have enough water here, we can’t handle any more.” While the trees grow to staggering heights, nearly touching the stars, the roots are the most impressive part of the puzzle to me. The earth is deprived of oxygen in these soils, yet every plant finds a way to exist and grow and compete for that last inch of sunlight slipping through the canopies. 

A week in the rainforest of Northern Australia could never be enough to uncover all of the mysteries mixed into the GREEN that perpetrates everything in sight. Leaves the size of my entire torso shoot up and drop down like umbrellas with ridged leaves to help maximize sunlight and minimize the chance of being weighed down by water. Years of change, of life and decay, of growing and falling and growing and growing. The strangling figs, slipping up the sides of ancient trees while twisting and turning and growing until they completely take over the other tree, enveloping it and consuming it until the tree dies, and all that is left is a labyrinth of the Fig tree that won.

A Strangling Fig Stands Where a Tree Used to…

All of this life and growth and abundant nature fills me up in a way I haven’t experienced for years back in the dry homeland of California. The entire four years I spent in the redwood RAINforest only consisted of 3-5 major rainstorms, and while the beautiful sunny weather is hard to complain about, the lack of rain had started to psychologically stunt me. I ached for water the way the earth did, and I didn’t fully realize this until I was standing under the canopy of the Daintree Rainforest listening to the rain pour down from the sky, yet I was barely touched by the drops. The trees literally drank the water, and every plant that grows through the levels of the canopy reaches out for their own sip. The forest is alive with sounds and smells and an energy so vibrant that it is impossible not to feel awe amidst it.

To be fair, it is never right to compare something. Though, I guess I didn’t really know how much I missed rain until I saw it every day in violent storms that would last for about 5 minutes and pass. The climate of Cairns was strangely nostalgic of long days sitting on my grandmothers back porch in Florida. The hot, heavy hair clings to your body and clothes and you cannot escape it. Yet, everyone embraces and accepts it. It is like a never ending hug from the sky. The trip was the apex of my vacation expenditures in Australia. I figure getting the holiday part of my work holiday visa out of the way is a safe way to buckle down and experience the community of Wollongong. 

I have already landed 5 separate jobs, and have had to decline 3 of them as a Barista. It seems the tides are in my favor, and the gratitude I have for the people back home who have trained me and believed in me in the hospitality industry is immense. Though I don’t want to be a barista forever, I enjoy interacting with the community in this way. The two shops I have accepted remind me of home in the way the staff takes care of each other, and puts quality over quantity. Not to mention both shops being decorated with plants and wood. 

Though I would love to continue writing… The next subject breaches into the GReat Barrier reef which I will have to save for another time. Thank you for sharing my journey with me…

Yours,

Hannah

To Float Like a Mangrove Pod

Avicennia marina, Gray Mangrove

A Mangrove seed pod floats through rivers, oceans and bays until it finds a place to land. When it does land, it tries to bury it’s roots down to grow. Unfortunately, it can’t grow everywhere and the brave little seed pods perish upon foreign land. Now, not to be dramatic or anything, but I feel a strange connection to the fate of these pods. I’ve floated across the skies to many different countries, waiting for the one that I could sink my roots down into. Of the places I have been, none have been able to hold me for long enough for roots to grow. There has never been the right combination of whatever’s to keep me in one place. Yet, here I stand on Australian sand, and unlike the Mangrove pods that can’t grow there, I feel my roots slipping down. 

Yesterday, my pen pal and I went for a walk in the Booderee National Forest on a stretch of sand called Green Patch. The sky was cloudy, but the ocean was so ferociously turquoise that it could not hide it’s translucent hues. Our feet, bare in the white sand, walked across sedimentary rocks lined with colors leaching through the soil by the gum trees. And the gum trees grow all the way down to the sea, kissing the salty air with their long fragrant leaves and twisting branches. 


We walk in silence mostly, followed by bursts of random stories usually pertaining to the world around us. As a marine biologist, I often find B stooped down over a tide pool, flipping over rocks or looking for anenomes. This world is very alive for her, and her enthusiasm for the creatures is nearly impossible not to let overtake you. I find a smile on my face every time I check. As the reality of Australia being a home for me settles in, I allow myself to become excited about a place. The desire that is necessary to fall in love with something is there, and I find myself opening to the endless list of uncertainty. 

Our nature count for the day tallies up quickly. We chance upon three separate Wallabies grazing along the beach. The tide pools are full of an assortment of names I can no longer remember, and the sky is full of colorful lorikeets and parrots.  All of this is only a 2 hour drive south from where I plan to reside. It is hard not to be excited about the inevitable approach of Summer. I count myself lucky to be experiencing my third spring of the year, cuddled up in an Australian jumper with my Australian friend. Below are some more photos from our day.

Actinia tenebrosa, Red waratah anenome

Neptune’s Necklace

Tuning in. Tuning Out

A Mama Buffalo

Always leave the banjo tuned and a full cup of coffee left in the pot, and never look down at your phone while walking over tree fall. The next person who comes along to sing to the sky, holding a warm cup of coffee, just might surprise you with their ability to learn everything from nothing. When that first pitch of their breath hits the cool air around you, you might find yourself shaking a little with the unexpected. Always leave the banjo tuned so they can sing on key.

You sip your own coffee, standing on the edge of a bluff looking over a prairie nestled in between mountains. It nearly aches, the way the river bends through the willows and reminds you that your body is a series of rivers moving from the mountain of your heart. Another note, higher than the Osprey slips into the coffee cup and into your mouth. Warm, it slides out to your fingers and toes in a smile. A small group of buffalo walk along in a seeming dance. They move quickly, slowly, leaving land behind them covered in footsteps. You put your feet in their steps, feeling the flex of their muscle moving their two ton bodies moving your two toned body, pale from winter. 

The banjo plays on, a tinny vibration blooming in the countryside grass. You notice a buffalo never eats an entire grass plant. The world has natural lawn mowers. They are gentle. Gentler than you are. You find yourself wistful for a touch so gentle to take only what it needs, while leaving enough to grow. There are bare places inside of you, forgotten and hidden, where others were not kind. Where you gave more than you had. Then you slip away back into the cup of coffee. The patches of sadness you carry aren’t heavy anymore. They have become scars tucked into the folds of your existence.

But the buffalo keep walking, and the banjo keeps playing, and you are tuned in. 

(Meaningless Meaningful Musings in Montana)

Falling In Love With Strangers

Ojai Farmers Market, Roots Organic Farm

In the blank spaces, imagination rushes in to create what it will. It is as if there is no choice but to fall into the void left by unknowns. That first time your eyes meet another’s, their color flashing into yours and staying a moment if you are lucky. Opia n. “The ambiguous intensity of eye contact with a stranger,” pours a warm rush of adrenaline to spike your heart rate and make you gulp. At this moment the other person is pure potential. They are everything you ever wanted and never wanted simultaneously, and you are not sure whether to approach them or let your fantasy be the only reaction you ever had. There are unexpressed parts of you that begin to bloom, hoping someone will notice them and honor them. This stranger could be their scapegoat! Though the fear of not being accepted had an equal weight of dread attached. So you sit there stuck in the middle of a “what-if” and decide to walk away. The final “what-if” lingers on your fingertips as you create stories that you trail behind you. 

I realize the stories you and I both write. I, maybe more so, end up designing narratives so vast and detailed I end up loving people I have never met. My weakness is the men who write. Whether it is songs, or essays, or letters, words are the way I process my world. I find myself writing to strangers, waiting for the response that triggers me and keeps me close, and pulls me closer. Closer to them and closer to myself. I find myself opening unintentionally, as if my inner world has been begging to be seen. Maybe we all have inner worlds that have been hidden because we don’t think they are safe in the open, and the attention of a stranger ignites hope in those worlds. Our stories end up with new potential to run in a completely unpredictable direction.

The unpredictable becomes an addiction. And the lines across the screen from a stranger you don’t know, and the words on the page from a friend you are learning, and the random shirts and orchids left on your bed, and all of the art of the dance keeps you dancing. Though you would love to find a partner, you are happy with the ones you have had. There hasn’t been one yet who could pick up on all of the tempo changes and wide ranges of emotions that are within you. So you wait and dance your own dance, flailing limbs and all, hoping that you might booty bump a stranger accidentally that can climb the mountains, and sing the songs, and love your friends with you. 

Falling in love with strangers can happen daily, monthly, minute by minute. It hits you at the moment you feel recognized. When it does you’ll find yourself running, either to or away from whatever caught your attention. If it is that glimmer in their eye, or the way they used the word “Ranunculaceae,” lean in and breathe. For all of the negative “what-ifs” there is the what-if of never trying. There are the good maybes and the bad maybes. Maybe the human on the other side of the hemisphere has a thing or two to teach you about hard to get Or maybe you feel so cherished and loved, you aren’t sure you care about how they loo. Or maybe your stranger snores, and maybe they can’t carry on a conversation in public, maybe they are so caught up in their own egos that they run on chasing strangers to achieve a storm of raining hearts falling behind them. But maybe they’re the ones with rain buckets out waiting to catch you and your storm where you are dancing. 

This is why I fall in love. This is why I don’t mind admitting it. This is why I run and jump for that triple spin pirouette and end up falling and bruising both knees only to get up again. This is why I let love go. I hold onto the hope that one day there will be that crazy stranger who understands. Because I understand that no one really understands, and the gentle door left open in that stranger’s curiosity is what will keep you alive. This is an invitation to all the strangers to go find the other strangers. Whether your connection is through words or music or punching in numbers for the boss man, let it shine out so that glimmer in your eyes means something.

When you get caught, don’t fight it. If you can’t dance their dance, run to get a breath of fresh air and jump back into your own. There is only one thing you really have to remember. No matter what, no matter how long you end up staying strangers or lovers or friends or anybodys with your stranger, never never lose your curiosity. Each person is a universe that you will never know fully. So jump dive and dip into that longing glance. It is yours. 

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?