Friday, April 30, 2010

Finding our way home


It seems I've been tagged in a meme by two of my new bloggy friends, the lovely Lulu over at Unperfect Life (and thank you Lulu, because who the hell wants to read about a perfect life?) and the equally lovely E. at Whining at the World.  The rules are to simply repost your first post ever and then tag 5 other people to do the same.  First, the post.

Now if you go back in my archives you will see that the following post is actually my second.  Why?  Because after I posted it I thought it was a little too honest and hardcore for a first post, so I wrote another, lighter one and post-dated it so it would appear first!  But let's be real here.  This post will tell you more about who I am and why I'm more than a little obsessed with Australia.

On Longing and a Sense of Home
originally posted October 31, 2009

Last month I went to Australia, but if you have even the remotest connection to me you already know this. I happened to mention it to everyone I know at every conceivable opportunity, and posted lots of pictures on Facebook (still there, just in case you missed them). You see, I was a little excited about this trip. I had been there once before twenty years earlier and felt an extraordinary sense of connection with the land, and I wondered if I would still feel the same thing when I went this time.

Australia has always been a special place for me for reasons I can’t quite understand. Sometime in my early twenties I developed a strong desire to go there, even though I had never been and didn’t know a soul over there. For some reason, it just felt like home to me. So I began planning a little trip there. Except that it turned out to be not such a little trip. I ended up dropping out of college, giving away most of my possessions, moving the rest into my mom’s house on the opposite coast and leaving the country for what turned out to be six months. I would have stayed longer if my Visa hadn’t expired.

I was enchanted with the beauty of Sydney, the friendliness of the Aussies and the myriad little cultural differences that are always charming the first few months of immersion in a new country (and taxing thereafter), but all that was just your typical vacation abroad excitement. It wasn’t until I got into the outback that my world began to slide open.

I was driving across the country with some friends. We had driven up the coast from Sydney to Brisbane and turned inland, across the mountains and toward the interior desert. In an effort to make good time, we were driving day and night, in eight-hour shifts, doing our best to avoid cattle and kangaroo and other night-time road hazards. I was driving during the wee hours of the morning as we descended the Great Dividing Range and entered the vast interior desert. I could see nothing other than what was lit up by the headlights -- rocks and weeds and the occasional glint of a small pair of eyes. As dawn broke, however, the sun gradually illuminated the landscape and I could see that it had been transformed. I felt a shiver go up my spine. We had left the scrubby forests of the low ranges and were surrounded now by a brilliant, red desert dotted with low brush and knobby, leafless trees. Something deep within me, acute and visceral, responded to this landscape. Something long dormant was awakening inside me. It’s as if I heard the distant cry of some primordial horn, an ancient reveille, calling me to attention. I thought: I am home. I actually cried then, in the car, looking out at this very ordinary yet beautiful desert. The other passengers in the car were asleep but I was wide awake, gliding quietly and attentively through this otherworld, drinking in this landscape that was foreign and so familiar all at once.

We spent three weeks in the Australian interior driving from small town to small town, Mt. Isa and Daly Waters and Tennant Creek, visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta, Mataranka Hot Springs and Kakadu. I never once grew tired of looking at the desert. I never lost my sense of amazement at its beauty nor my gratitude for its very existence. And I never lost the sense that this place at the opposite end of the world from my home was my real home. When I left Australia, I left it as one leaves a lover. I felt the loss acutely, like a shock to my system. All the places in me that had come alive began to wilt again and I mourned my separation from a home I hadn’t known I had and began a lifelong exercise of longing for something I couldn’t quite define.

So I wondered, twenty years hence, what would it be like to return? Had I romanticized my previous experience (as twenty-somethings do)? What would I feel when I stood again on Terra Australis, now that I was a more mature forty-something?

As the plane descended into Sydney I felt a sense of anticipation, as if I were returning to a long-lost friend. And exploring Sydney again was indeed exciting. There was so much new (it had a pronounced international flair that it didn’t have when I was there before) and so much exactly the same (glorious Circular Quay and all the familiar landmarks). Yet it wasn’t until I left the city and ventured into the surrounding countryside that I felt, once again, that same strong visceral connection to the land. This time I didn’t even have to go into the outback.

We had taken a train into the Blue Mountains and were setting out on a hike through the heavily treed, rugged tablelands. It was morning and the crowds were thin, the weather was clear and crisp. As we walked deeper into the forest the air was heavy with the scent of eucalyptus and other than the occasional bird call, we were closeted by silence. The smooth trunks of the gum trees seemed to ask to be touched and I slowed so I could run my hand down their length. The air, the trees, the dirt beneath me, everything felt suddenly electric. So very alive. Again, I felt that sense of close familiarity with the land. Something within my body remembered this place. Something inside was standing at full attention, rooted to the ground, not wanting to move, not wanting to leave this exceptional place. That entire hike seemed to happen in slow motion. My senses felt heightened. I remember the smells and sounds and just the feel of that path. When I did leave, I cried. As the train wound its way down the rocky cliffs toward the coast, I stared out the window and watched the trees disappear behind me and tried to hide my tears because I didn’t know how to begin to explain to my friend why I was heartbroken.

I felt this sensation just about everywhere I went in Australia. On the rural footpaths of Kangaroo Island and in the hills of South Australia and, of course, in the outback. Uluru and Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon and all the nameless dirt roads that splinter off and go nowhere. I spent a lot of time driving around and looking out the window and crying (are you tired of me crying? – I am). Oddly, I felt nothing in Cairns and the tropical north. It was pretty there, in a picture-postcard kind of way, but if I never go back to Cairns I won’t miss it.

So I know that Australia still feels like home and I know that I want to go back. Again and again. I don’t know why it feels like home and perhaps I don’t have to. Life needs its mysteries. I know that home is not merely a place but is defined by the people who fill our lives with love and meaning. None of these people, for me, live in Australia. They are here in Kansas, living and breathing and swelling my life with love. And yet.

I’m no closer to defining what home means to me. I know it as a sensation deep within my body, but when I try to lift it up to my mind and give it form through words, I’m at a loss. Maybe someday I’ll succeed. Deep in my soul I still hear that ancient reveille and I can’t ignore it. I don’t know what else to do but to keep returning and experiencing the land and wondering at the mystery of it all. Life is something else.

********

And now I'm going to pass this meme along:

In Real Life
Madmother
Mummytime
So Now What
Views of a Star Child

Tag guys, you're it.

25 comments:

  1. Wow - what a powerful post. Do be aware you have bed(s) booked in the "South Wing" as Wise Woman calls it, next trip. If you troll back through my posts you may well find photo and more details...

    And as Ms E. also tagged me I have already fulfilled your command, lol.

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  2. I totally love the desert. I've never been to Australia but I'd LOVE to go. I really just can't wait to move to the desert. When I went to New Mexico last year I fell in love with it. It felt like home even though I'd never been there before and knew not a soul. I understand that connection. That need to cry. I remember telling both Jason's about fighting the urge to just cry one day. I couldn't explain why I just knew that this was the place I *had* to move to.

    Actually, I left there a year ago tomorrow.

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  3. Wow. Great post--I could sense your longing for this strange, yet very familiar (to you) land.

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  4. I had not read this entry before. I did read a lot of your archives and am not ashamed to admit that most of the entries I went back to read had 'bad' words in the titles such as:
    'nipples'
    'hussy'
    and
    "Sarah Palin" (the dirtiest words of all)
    There is something magical that happens to you when you are in Australia. I would LOVE to know the secret of what it is. Reincarnation? Who knows. Awesome!

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  5. I only wish that more Australians loved and appreciated this land as you do. I was born in Mt Isa and while I have ,ived most of my life in Brisbane, I am never more at home than when I am in the gulf country and there is not a living thing from horizon to horizon. That solitude is so honest and absolute.

    Fantastic Blog and any time you wish to come back to my beloved Australia just let me know, you will always be welcome in this house !

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  6. Someone needs to pack up and move here...

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  7. Ummmmm....Wow! That's your first post?! It's fabulous! Your descriptions are so vivid, it felt like I was there with you - both times! What an amazing experience! It seems that your soul does indeed have a strong connection with the land.

    Thank you for tagging me. I am afraid to look at my first post - I think it's a bit overly simple. I'm off to check it out now!

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  8. Aussie Aussie Aussie! oi oi oi!
    Get your arse over here lady!

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  9. I was born in Kalgoorlie but grew up in Perth. I've spent my entire adult life in the bush - Leonora, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Kalkaringi, Boroloola and Tennant Creek. I know exactly what you mean, I remember my parents taking us on driving holidays as a child to the North West and feeling I'd come home, I was lucky enough to be able to make it a reality. It is timeless but ancient, peaceful and beautiful. I wouldn't live anywhere else.

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  10. WOW! What a wonderful post! as i was reading it, i was visualising everything you have written here.. Beautiful. Love you.

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  11. I dub thee...Kristin, Queen of the Desert. (insert a shitload of Abba songs here). Hehe.

    Thanks for the tag, sweetness. Mwahs.

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  12. This is so hauntingly beautiful. I understand and have experienced the same feeling. What an incredible gift to find your "home".

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  13. OK, so, I've always lived on the Gold Coast my whole life and you've seen more of Australia than I have. Bad, bad Australian.

    Thank you for your tag, I have been very slack at returning these but will now and go and (eek) check my first post.

    Thanks mate x You are welcome anytime.

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  14. Yeah, what she said. You've seen more of Australia than I have!

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  15. I was born on the Gold Coast, and live back there now, but there is something truly magical about the Outback. I did some Jillarooing (google it) after high school and still feel a sense of awe whenever we cross the mountains and hit that red plain with the never-ending sky.

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  16. Awesome post!

    There is not one place here in Oz that I don't love like crazy....

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  17. This was such a moving post. You are such a gifted writer. Seriously.

    I have felt this way about two places: Ireland and Arizona. We spent two weeks in Ireland, and I felt such a connection there. When we came back home, I actually felt homesick for IRELAND.

    We winter in AZ, and I just love the mountains, desert, and plant life. I feel calm there, and even though my loved ones live elsewhere, I just love the area.

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  18. What a thick post. What I mean is - dense with good writing. A rarity, perhaps, in blog land. As always so impressed with you!!!!

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  19. Oh my God.

    Oh. My. Goodness. Gracious.

    I am completely enchanted, in awe of your words. I ..... shit man, can't cram enough of what I want to say in one teeny comment. I have been wondering, for the past few months, where "home" is for me, why I don't feel it where I live. (In the Blue Mountains, no less) Then I recently went to Bali and felt all of that stuff you just mentioned there, and I have no idea why.

    (Cool that you are writing about your "home" - and you live in Kansas aka There's no place like home Dorothy)

    You make me feel like I want to explore the middle of Australia - something I have NEVER felt any desire in doing. It's never interested in me before.

    We will meet each other Kristin. And get on really well. I offered you my offer yesterday and I was thinking, "She's going to think I'm a weirdo!" (Which I totally am, heh) ... and now I know why. The mountains are calling you, baby! It has nothing to do with me!

    I have to go - but see you in the computer. XOXOXOXOXO Eden

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  20. I am so tempted to say "just swap with me already!". Can't say I really have any idea of where Kansas sits in a US landscape, but hey, it's the other Oz! I really, really want to go to the USA right now. I can't explain it. I love Australia, I love the regional areas. I'm just bored :)

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  21. Wow! I am Australian & have never had any ANY desire to visit the red centre, until I read this beautiful post! Home to me is the beach, although for some reason I cannot explain I feel an absolute connection with New Orleans. Hopefully one day I'll get there. Look me up if you ever pass by Brisneyland!
    Mrs BC
    xx

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  22. Do you know, that when you were in Tennant Creek, 20 years ago, I was living there? I was a 15 year old, in high school. :D Small world Kristen. It was a town of less than 3000 people back then. Imagine, we could have met, crossed paths and never known it.

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  23. Melissa - No way!! Small world indeed. Probably not a lot of Aussies have been to Tennant Creek. What a place to go to HS, eh?

    One day in the near future, our paths will cross. I just know it. xoxo

    Also, it makes me sad to look at this again and realize this was a post that Lulu tagged me in. RIP beautiful girl. :(

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  24. What a beautiful post. I'm a new visitor to your blog, and this post has made me incredibly homesick. Don't feel bad, though - the images you conjured were so accurate, I feel like I've just been home for a bit.

    Thank you!

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