Growing up in Iowa, I developed an insatiable desire to see the broader world around me. I would look through binoculars over the cornfield that stretched out behind my backyard, blinking and squinting and imagining the lives of the families living on the other side. At dusk I could see lights go on and off in little window specks. Were there kids inside those windows, making faces as their parents sent them to bed? Did they read the same stories before falling asleep? Those houses felt a world away, but, similar to the worlds inside of books, gave me a hope to one day see what else was outside my little town tucked inside the fields in the heart of America.
I was a quiet kid obsessed with stories. TV shows such as Full House introduced me to big city life as well as big family life, sending me into daydreams of a lifestyle very different from my own. I wondered what it was like to attend a three-story, fenced-in school on a busy city street, to travel by subway, and to grow up living in a high-rise apartment with no yard for dogs or flowers or tomato plants. Anne of Green Gables sent me dreaming of the opposite, of a place where I could be free to wander and roam in the country surrounded by acres of animals, wildflowers, hidden paths, and nothing but time.
I remember when my great aunt Lorraine told me she’d been to all fifty states. I wanted to know if she’d seen the Grand Canyon, the coast of California, the White House. She helped my travel dreams seem attainable, especially since she was someone from my own family.
The Midwest is the perfect place to foster a dream for travel. Especially small town Midwest, where kids grow up curious about the other side of the cornfields. When you have to travel 70 miles for the nearest (substantial) mall, or for the restaurants advertised on TV (Oh the days when The Olive Garden and Chile’s sounded like luxury cuisine), even Starbucks carries with it an extra special appeal. Sipping a mocha Frappuccino during a Saturday shopping trip to Sioux City felt like turning a page in the proverbial book of life experiences—a book with chapters not limited by distance. Every city, every neighborhood has its own character, each street and structure, down to each person.
When I travel I look for the ubiquitous, that little something that helps me connect to the world around me. While acclimating to New Zealand’s summertime in January, I was thankful for the familiarity of the English language. When handling money in Japan I took comfort in the 10 decimal place to know how much I was spending. These connections aren’t to say I didn’t look further, but they did serve as a basis for seeing where I’m from in a new way—whether politically, educationally, by cuisine, or otherwise. When I see how other places function, I question if things here are the best they can be.
A similar outlook is sparked when I read. For example, dystopian literature such as Brave New World, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Hunger Games series feature fictional worlds with (quasi) believable futures. If this is where we’re headed, then how can it be prevented?
I believe that when reading and travel are combined, there’s no end to inspiration and understanding. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road inspired me to keep pen and paper with me whenever I leave home. I don’t snap a lot of pictures when I travel but instead rely on words to bring me back to a specific time and place, and to the people I interact with. This is what gives me hope in the modern day world—recording what I see and know and learn—and it’s why I plan to never stop chasing new scenes, in life or in the imagination.
6 Comments | tags: 1984, A Handmaid's Tale, Anne of Green Gables, Brave New World, creative nonfiction, Full House, imagination, Iowa, Japan, literature, Midwest, New Zealand, On The Road, small-town, St. Augustine, Storm Lake, The Hunger Games, travel, ubiquitous | posted in Narrative Nonfiction, Travel, Ubiquitous
Off the coast of Auckland, NZ
“Hell of a long swim,” the old man laughed from his dinghy at the opposite end of our survival rope. Our motor had died on the Hauraki Gulf while heading back to our group’s sailboat, and we had no oars. But the old man spotted us idling in the water before panic set in—the rope he tossed as strong as the Island wine.
Our teammate with the short-cropped hair, the oldest student in our group, thanked the old man as he pulled in his rope.
“No worries,” he said.
No worries: the slogan of a nation.
A slogan for the previous night spent on Waiheke, where there were only open skies, a row of sleeping bags on a hillside, and a basket of seashells at my feet.
Kia Ora, we said at sunrise to the sound of zippers punctuating the dewy morning. Kia Ora, said the heads behind the zippers.
We docked after two days out, and for two days more felt the gentle rock of the Gulf with every step we took on land. We tried the local fare—breaded cod, with chips, wrapped in that morning’s newspaper. We bent the stalks of native foliage to our noses, breathing in memories of a place we may never return to again.
1 Comment | tags: creative nonfiction, creative writing, Kia ora, New Zealand, no oars, no worries, travel | posted in Creative Nonfiction, Travel
Franz Josef, New Zealand
Dedication is the Franz Josef Glacier site workers who re-cut the ice steps every morning.
With a stitch in my side I look out over the river and its crying cliff-faces. I don’t blame them—words here are not enough.
More satisfying than softball cleats, my crampons lodge me in fearless position. I test my balance, like someone strapped into skis for the first time, able to bend backward without falling.
Blue ice is something I’ve only seen in pictures, like the ombre autumn mountains in Vermont until I moved there.
We start our hike in t-shirts. By glacier’s top, triple layers—more as protection from ice burn than chill, the strenuous cardio sufficiently warming my skin.
There was no preparing for this.
When I do something I fear, I learn more about myself than in any college psychology class.
I meet my fiancé’s eyes, both our backs flattened to an ice wall, shuffling sideways on a narrow shelf. I want to take his hand, but there’s a deep trench at our feet just wide enough for an average-size adult to slip through.
He takes mine anyway.
When I conquer something I fear, it usually starts with a suggestion from Derek.
It’s not the ensuing muscle pain that I remember—though I know it was there—or whether I was sweating or shivering.
What I remember is feeling small and more involved with this Earth than I knew I could be–amazed by the landscape of a country that for half my life I didn’t even know existed.
I remember promising myself: never stop exploring.
Leave a comment | tags: conquering fears, creative nonfiction, Franz Josef, Franz Josef Glacier, hiking, New Zealand | posted in Creative Nonfiction, Creative Writing, Narrative Nonfiction, Travel
Waiheke Island, NZ
The vineyard owner lived under a corrugated tin roof with his young son. Sheet metal and two-by-fours served as their home. Insects scuttled through the three-inch crack between sliding door and wall—where at night, a rusty padlock hung.
Their house resembled a makeshift shed from the outside, and from the inside it looked much the same. The walls and floors were bare. No paint, no rugs. A wooden divider separated the kitchen from the main room where the man and his son sat with their stew dinner watching Pirates of the Caribbean on TV, getting up for seconds during commercials.
They didn’t mind the dirt and spiders in the shower. They didn’t mind waiting for the ferry when supplies ran low. Life was simple, and they were happy.
Leave a comment | tags: island life, narrative nonfiction, New Zealand, Travelogue, Vineyards, Waiheke Island | posted in Creative Nonfiction, Narrative Nonfiction, Travel
It’s January and I’m sleeping in my jeans on a stranger’s floor. Well, not so much sleeping as scanning. Scanning my fiancee beside me. Scanning the floors, the walls, the furniture. By the room’s primary decor, I see that at least one member of this household is more than a fair-weather NASCAR fan.
My first trip to another hemisphere starts with a pre-flight night at a classmates’ mom’s house in Lincoln, Nebraska. My fiancee, Derek, and I are taking advantage of our university’s New Zealand trip, and since we’re from a town with no shopping mall, let alone an airport, arrangements like this are a necessity.
Beside me, Derek breathes steadily from inside his sleeping bag. Apparently he was able to ignore the musty scent of cat hair and stale cigarette smoke mingling in the carpet under our heads. The noxious smell mixes in my travel-anxious stomach with my last meal. Breakfast may not happen. And with a 12-hour trans-Pacific flight looming in the near future, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’ll be a couple days before I get any significant sleep.
Looking up at the shadowy TV stand before me, I wonder at the variety of huddled NASCAR coffee mugs. Were they ever meant to be out of the cupboard and on display as a room’s focal point?
I turn to look at Derek, who’s separated from me only by the closed zippers of our sleeping bags. His face is relaxed and I think, This is going to be okay. This will be a trip I won’t ever forget.
Leave a comment | tags: creative writing, J-Term, narrative nonfiction, New Zealand, pre-flight jitters, Travelogue | posted in Creative Nonfiction, Narrative Nonfiction, Travel