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Riding the road less travelled

Try as I might, I just can’t get it to feel like Christmas around here. The air is muggy with summer’s heat and the days are long. We’re making popsicles instead of hot cocoa, and eating salads for dinner because it’s too hot to fire up the stove to bake anything. Besides the white blossoms on the manuka trees that blanket the valleys like snow this time of year, this is as far from a winter wonderland as you can get. I’m just not used to holidays in the Southern Hemisphere.

Manuka blossoms and stick insects – it's truly summer here

Nonetheless, Christmas came early for me when a cheap bike I’d ordered two months ago finally arrived on the island. With our old bikes from San Francisco due to arrive in early 2022 when our container of belongings gets here, I was desperate for some wheels of my own. Minutes after screwing on the pedals and handlebars, I was whizzing down the quiet country road to go meet Isaac and the kids at the cafe. Biking allows one to see things you miss when you’re in a car, like the queen anne’s lace flowering along the road and the blackberries turning to early fruit in the ditches. Insects buzzed, cows stuck to the shade. I crested the hill and looked down the east side of the island at the waves and mountains. It was one of many moments I have here where I pinch myself as I think, “I live here.”

I’ve had a lot of those moments lately. We took the kids camping for the first time this past weekend. Despite the campground being ten minutes drive from our house, the effort was monumental and the kids didn’t sleep well at all (so neither did I). It’s sand fly season and the minuscule buggers bite like nothing else, having evolved to tear into tough bird’s feet before humans arrived on these islands. I’d look over to see blood running down our kids’ legs or arms from bites they had scratched into wounds. But I walked out to the nearby beach in the morning with the kids, where dolphins were leaping and splashing in the distance. They sat on the sand whining, uninterested in the dolphins, while I dove into the clear and unseasonably warm water. For a few moments I floated in the water, delighted, and had that thought – this is where I live. Wow.

We were camping with several other families from the island that we’ve gotten to know in the past few months, and it was exciting to feel like we’re part of the community. There is a uniqueness to each family here, partly because everyone is living life on the road less travelled, so to speak. One family is fixing up a boat so they can move onto it full-time with their four kids. Another family is setting off to go sailing for a year with their 4-year-old, and another grows or forages nearly all their own food. A few families are in the midst of purchasing different plots of land to build off-the-grid homes or shelters, much like us.

Back in San Francisco, I read about families like these who were living unusual lives – digital nomads with kids, families who lived on boats or buses, and parents who built their own odd homes in strange places. Looking around the circle of parents and kids we were camping with, it hit me that I am surrounded by people like that now. And it hit me that we are like that ourselves now.

I’ve had a few moments in my life where I’ve paused and realized that I was exactly who I’d wanted to be. The last time I felt that way was when we were traveling in an RV for six weeks in 2020 with the kids. Riding my new bike down the valley through a summer wonderland this week was another of those moments. We have forged a strange path that is right for us, and I’m who and where I want to be.

That said… if I could magically transport myself to the Northern hemisphere for a week I would, just so I could sip mulled wine beside a cozy fire, bake cookies that wouldn’t melt immediately in the heat, and watch holiday movies featuring weather that felt relatable. So to all of you up there in that colder part of the globe, please do and enjoy all those festive things! Perhaps we’ll do a second Christmas in June here for the solstice, just to get a taste of that coziness I miss. And why not – life is a story to make up as you see fit.

Our driftwood tree covered in pohutukawa branches

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