The shadowy evening cast itself long against the sign pole. Stirling Point, the “southern-most point of New Zealand”–not even the southern-most point of Bluff–hung there, suspended, like some glorious trophy I would have given back for more time.
My body ached.
Electricity was zip-lining through me, pulsing in the backs of my knees, the creases of my elbows, the temple vein. Max, Arwed, Drew and I had been walking since 4 a.m., a steady thump of feet against compact sand, the New Zealand south coast as mystical and unraveled as we’d imagined. We had hiked 70km today to be here; my legs, strong now from seven weeks of hiking, were sore.
My palm closed around the metal pole.
I felt everything descend.
That which had been fictitious—jobs, the people who did them, currency, the business world, give and take, supply and demand—shattered into life again, crushing me against the weight of its existence.
I could feel the peace within the marrow of my bones shrivel; this beautiful world of simple purpose, this point A to point B, our life, trading packets of oily tuna for spoonfuls of instant coffee, linking rain jacket arms in a misty morning to cross the braided Rangitata, sleeping in ancient wooden huts warmed by the spicy glow of a cast iron stove, kept stoked and loved by Drew with discards of trail maps.
Brilliantly advised against most of it. Doing it all anyways.
My body hurt, but that was nothing. I would wake up tomorrow and be alright. It was my soul that troubled me the most, and it could not be fixed by an adequate night of rest.
What it wanted was for that beautiful, unending sense of being to not be over. I still had time—two months left in New Zealand. I needed self-sufficiency, space, the absence of society. Time to be, to process, to write poetry, to observe, to pay attention to myself.
This manifested as a romantic longing to live like a bum. Hitchhiking took me the long way to Christchurch, through Dunedin, with a nomadic band of Dutch hippies. I lived with them for nearly a week, paying no attention to time, eating what we caught in the flounder-rich rivers, marinating our catch in tahini and lemon pepper and cooking it over pine campfires in Seb’s cast-iron. Sleeping under fresh stars against the whispering river. Finally arriving in Christchurch to say a somber farewell to Arwed.
Knowing what I wanted.
Self-sufficiency. Space. Absence of society. To be alone.
Max agreed to come with me to look at a car; a 1996 Honda CR-V, four wheel drive and expired registration. No WOF, not what one might call “legal”, $1000 cash—Max gave his third-party blessing, so I bought it, dropped him back off, and camped in a field thirty minutes outside of Christchurch. The first night in my new digs.
I curled up that night in my down sleeping bag, which smelled like candlelight from a week of sleeping under the stars. Smooth lavender incense whispered on the dash and Nina Simone sang through my dusty phone speakers. The moon was full, and cast so much light that I could read The Sea is My Brother by it, staying awake in night-breeze solace, subsisting on pressed dates and cups of tea.
My first night alone in months. Months and months. Lifetimes. In my own space. In my car, called Cosmo.
The next night would be spent in Nelson, in the parking lot of a beach reserve, where a crazed fire-spinner would send my heart into a thousand jitters in the middle of the night and scare me off. Then to follow: three breathless nights under singing, dreamy stars in the valleys of Golden Bay with a mystical stranger.
Arwed was back in Germany. Max flew back to Hong Kong. Drew was somewhere in the depths of Stewart Island, running around like primeval Tarzan, catching paua and mussels and howling at the moon. Our fellowship separated, but knitted deep inside.
Now it was Cosmo and I against reality.
He could swing us easily through the empty, backroads of the South Island; bumping up giant hills over rocks and roots, following tracks leading into wide sweeping valleys. I’d spot some obscure multi-day trail in central Canterbury on a topo map, and we’d journey over tussock-kissed 4WD trails to the start of it. The carpark would be empty, a grassy patch at the base of Mount Sommers. Stars untouched by fluorescent lights.
Those days, I lived on vegetable soup and salted almonds. Never going backwards. Not spending the night anywhere twice. I was wherever I was, at every given moment.
I talked to myself, to Cosmo, to New Zealand; I looked at dancing lines of ants and the complex stalks of wheat and wrote poem after poem. I collected deadwood and decaying pine branches and made crackling campfires on the shores of Lake Pukaki, boiling the glacier waters for cups of tea, Mount Cook thundering across the lake, mighty in snow-capped rays of sunset.
The sounds of bird wings and wind through the tussock stitched me together. I read to the light of the fading sun, would fall asleep curled against myself, and would rise, wild-haired, to meditate cross-legged on my prayer rug in the chilly morning, wrapped in my sleeping bag.
I felt it was for this I was made: to wake at dawn, the sun rising over the Southern Alps, the tips of my fingers numb and calm and me, speechless.
I ran barefoot along the trails, my watch somewhere in the folds of Cosmo, letting the beech trees and my sense of breath take me where it would. I swam naked in lakes and rivers cold enough to make my fingernails shiver, completely alone, letting the sun’s fire kiss my skin dry.
In the community free bins dotting South Island towns, I found oversized cheetah-print wind pants, coffee bean printed soft leggings, a bright olive green skirt, a pink corduroy button up, a puffy 1996 Kathmandu goose down jacket. My wardrobe went from drab hiking clothes to fabulous wild-woman prints. I found books in second hand stores for half a dollar, and collected them all.
My life, which, upon reaching Stirling Point, had been dangerously tottering towards civilized, regained solace in its primal state. I danced back into a world of no-bills-but-petrol, reading Douglas Adams and Bertrand Russell and Russell Brand to smoky wisps of incense and scents of coffee. I scrubbed my clothes against coarse rocks to clean them, hanging them from the stones as I ate the mushrooms I’d sun-dried, my feet propped up against Cosmo’s tires.
Space was Cosmo and the wild of New Zealand. Home was my mind.
And it doesn’t end.
I ate all my food, gave my clothes away, sold Cosmo for what I had paid for him, and hitchhiked to the airport with naught but a day pack. A year to the date, I flew from New Zealand to O’ahu, Hawai’i.
Now to spend the next months working in a breezy palm tree hostel, as housekeeper and office clerk. Saving money, learning how to play a mandolin and mapping the route for a cycle tour that will take me from Scotland to Singapore. 16,000 miles over two years, starting May 2020. Busking along the way in order to slow it down and connect deeper.
Yeah–it doesn’t have to end.
Peace and blessings,
Fac, si facis. (Do it, if you’re going to do it.)