Coming Home

Coming Home

At sunrise we packed up and we left Point Reyes. We hiked up and away from the coast, back into the trees, over hills and down valleys, along rivers and eventually to the car. After farewelling family and loved ones, it was time to board the plane…

It felt monumental. It felt like the end of something immense, and I looked for some acknowledgment of this, some deeper knowing that we’d lived through something beautiful and were new people because of it. But I didn’t find it.

As I settled into my seat, the plane lifted into the sky, turned south and coasted out across the great Pacific that we had camped on the edges of only nights before. I wrote this in my journal:

When I think of something coming to an end, I assume that there will be closure. I expect that there will be time for reflection and understanding, moments when I filter and absorb the reality of what I’ve been through and the lessons I have learned. I expect there to be a very specific point in time where the end happens and I am forever changed, and that in the future I would be able to know that particular point: the point in time that I grew into a new person because of the end of something great. But this is not how it goes…

I suppose I had been looking for something, but I still don’t know what exactly. I had craved moments immersed in beauty, free from others’ expectations of me and free of responsibility, to ease my mind and soul, let them forge a new direction. And I felt I found these, but where was the monumental shift I expected from them? It only occurs to me now that I was perhaps looking for closure at the wrong point in time. My journey didn’t start on a plane, it started on the farm, and it didn’t end that day on the plane either. I hadn’t arrived home yet.

When I touched down, eventually in Rotorua, my parents and sister were waiting there with arms and smiles wide. I wasn’t coming home to the nostalgia-ridden loneliness of the farm in autumn, I was coming home to summer and all of my visiting siblings too. And I moved through stored items in the woolshed looking for what I had left there, and I thought about the bag full of clothes from my youth that I had found months previously, and I laughed with my siblings and played music with my family, chatted with my parents and played with the dog. We told stories and shared pictures and sat around the campfire and eventually, as days turned into weeks and summer tried to push through the delayed windy spring, some feelings finally fell into place.

Traveling the States I was able to appreciate with stark clarity the parts of me that were from New Zealand. I have always been split. I have always been two parts of a whole and have spent my life trying to figure out how those two parts fit together. Fundamentally, New Zealand is my home. It is where I was born and where I have spent the majority of my life. It is my father’s family and all my time with them. But it is not all of me. America is my other half. It is where I spent two weeks of the New Zealand winter visiting a blissful Californian summer and my family and friends there every year I was in high school. It is the place I was always running away to. It was my reasons for why I felt out of place in high school in New Zealand. It was where I did run away to after high school, and then when that didn’t make sense of who I was either, it suddenly became where I was running away from.

This is how my two halves developed, with me chasing each of them looking for answers to questions I couldn’t frame, without realising that in fact describing myself as two parts was not accurate. I have realised this now, on coming home. I am not two parts that are trying to learn how to fit together. I am one whole part. I am an American New Zealander, or a Kiwi American, perhaps a minority as far as my heritage and upbringing are concerned. But I am not conflicting parts. I am one woman with the experience of growing up between two countries, and loving both.

Traveling with Simon through America helped me to see this. Watching his progression from visiting America for the first time through to road tripping the northwest, west, and southwest across a range of environments and social inequities, through one of the most polarising and tumultuous elections of history, it helped me understand my America. The parts that I have glorified in my mind. It helped me cut through the idealism of childhood visits, the dream of that endless summer, and really see America. And at the same time, see the parts that I loved. See the parts of my American family that live on in me. See the parts of me that are my New Zealand family and from a different time and culture. See that I am not two isolated New Zealand and American parts, but one girl that has grown up with two homes and therefore developed exposure to and understanding of both cultures. I encompass one large world that spans across the Pacific Ocean to hold the United States of America, all of the United States, from the east coast of my ancestry and mother’s birth, to the Alaska of my childhood, to the California of some of my and all of my mother’s childhood, and my home, New Zealand.

When I came home to the farm, I caught up with a high school friend who said to me that she read my blog while I was away, and in particular had read my first article: I didn’t come home to learn about myself. It made her cry. She said, in her own words, paraphrased by me here:

I always thought that Jenny was just happy wonderful Jenny. It never occurred to me that she had the same thoughts I had or that she went through the same emotional struggles. And I had a little cry about that.

This was telling. It was probably the most endearing thing that she could have said to me. This friend who I love dearly and have known for more than half of my life, it was as if she was really seeing all of the girl beneath the exterior, seeing all of me, truly, and for the first time. If that is what this journey has given me, then I am changed.

I cannot point to a specific moment in time when it happened, because if one thing is ending another is already beginning, and this is how life moves, transient and forever in motion, between moments and experiences, endings and beginnings, along the gentle coursing manifestation that is life. But I know now that all of those moments in the wild, and in the cities, in the tent and on the road, they have settled somewhere deep inside me, and I am changed because of them. And that change is simply that I can see parts of me, truly, perhaps for the first time as well.

3 thoughts on “Coming Home

  1. Jenny – Scientist, world traveller, first-rate photographer, and an articulate and skilled wordsmith. A lifetimes worth of adventure enough for ten people, seeing and feeling – with acute clarity – places most of us can barely imagine, let alone experience. Your skills are worthy of an amazing collection of coffee-table books! You have dived among sharks, scaled mountains of height and breadth, traversed cities, rambled forests and acreages, scaled canyons, and with a tremendous laser-focus, captured breath taking beauty.
    I have absolutely been taken by your prose and pictures, and sincerely hope you seek what you find. You should be justly proud of all you have accomplished, and seen, and experienced, and feel blessed to have done it; for others, such as myself, you are the eyes and ears of the world we cannot always experience. There is an almost melancholy tone of the journey you seek, and I sense it is not the world outside you seek, but the world within you. For me, as if a Buddhist paradox, the harder we seek something, the less we are apt to find it; I have learned that many things must find you!
    Please keep writing, exploring, snapping, (Please publish a book!) but most of all, for you alone, keep experiencing. Be safe (this to a lady that swims with sharks!), be happy, and be blessed.
    I’ll leave you with a saying I have always been fond of by Nikos Kazantzakis: A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.
    Cut the rope, Jenny.

    1. Mike, I have just come across your words this morning. I have been taking a break of sorts from my blog, and I felt I had to return to it today, which is when I received your comment. It moved me deeply. Thank you for taking time to reach out. It is so easy not to do, but it can have a profound impact on someone’s life, as it did on mine this morning. Thank you. It means a lot to me. x
      (could you have known I am working on a book?!)

  2. My pleasure, Jenny. You are a very talented writer, and for me, it is a great pleasure to read your words, see your pictures (which I first saw in Nat Geo), and live in that moment.

    I hope you do produce a book, as I am sure it will be great reading!

    Count me in as a Jenny Oliver reader, and hopefully, proud owner of that First Edition! I’ll be watching the bookstores!

    Be well.

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