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California, New Zealand. Two passports, two homelands. And detours.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Summer so far..

Six weeks ago - which was beginning of summer for me - was Boxing Day. I was up with the sun and a box of birds, keys jangling in my hand, down on Oreti Beach before 7 am.

That morning, the beach was magic. The waves ran through my ankles; the sea to my left; sand, warm and firm under my feet, Fiordland just there in a haze, a swinging door of wild weather, closing and opening to a new year, new adventure. I dove into the water for my first swim of the summer. It was like washing off 2011. Christmas: good riddance.

It didn't even really matter that I had drawn the short straw for work shifts and that an hour later I was straightening my skirt, brushing sand off my shoulders and putting my salty hair up with a bank pen as I ran up the stairs to work to expose the injustices of the world (then settling for writing about Boxing Day sales) .

And can you hear the freedom in my voice?

Besides the sudden appearance of summer, it was my second day of being cut loose from a five-day special series that ran in the newspaper, called Home For the Holidays. Under the heading there were a few sentences about Southland Times reporters doing a series on people flying home to Invercargill the week leading up to Christmas, and how we were there to capture all that joy.

That week, if you came in on any 1.40 pm flight from Christchurch you would have seen me - or at least felt the darkness coming from my corner of the terminal - in a long black jacket, dark sunglasses, black tights and boots, sitting icily in the waiting area, looking like I might be the point person for a assasination. But no, actually, I was there to find happy people reuniting with the ones they love. (To interview them, not to kill them).

In winter, the holidays are easy and effortless for me. And if it is Christmas in the winter, it means I'm in California, staying with my parents, usually in between jobs and usually comfortably hopeful in my natural state of transience. Its painting by numbers. There are traditions to fall in line with. There are the cards and letters from around the world my mom has out on the table at breakfast every morning after Thanksgiving; there is the standing with my dad and brother at Christmas in Los Olivos, when all the shops stay open late, to serve roasted walnuts like my mom and dad have done, with or without us kids, every second Saturday in December in my hometown for 30 years.

There is the early twilight across the street over the alfalfa field. The calls on the message machine from old friends back in town who want to walk up to Mattei’s for coffee and mud pie then come back and sit in the jacuzzi under the walnut trees, our toes above the steam, with a glass of wine and talk about life and where we are in it, and are we living up to the expectations we set for ourselves at age 8 (I am not a cowgirl and I am not married to one of the brothers from Bonanza, so F for failure from 8-year-old self).

In New Zealand, the season is different. It is summer and this is the bottom of the world so there are these long days of light that I will crave in seven months when it's just bed to car to office and back to bed in darkness.

But along with all the light there is also this wide open space of time, Christmas eve to December 26, then to New Years, full of absences in my life I maybe don't feel as much in May or September.

That was six weeks ago.

The light that was lasting until 11 pm on the beach is gone by 9:30 now. I don't feel so much that resentment when there were hugs and tears and packages in the airport terminal last month that weren't for me. I am back to missing specific people when I need to miss them and when it is right to miss them.

On Boxing Day, after I walked around in the heat and interviewed flustered salespeople and sullen shoppers, I got to go back down to Oreti Beach for a story on the lifeguards down there. I had finished, and was walking back to the car, trailing behind the photographer, when I saw an elderly man in the driver's seat of a parked truck on the beach, facing out to sea.

He had his head down and he was reading. In a frame on the dashboard, on the passenger side, facing the ocean, was a picture of a woman. I only glanced at the picture as I walked past, but in that glance I knew it was that picture that captures everything about her that he loved. And that sitting on a beach in the car, reading, was something they used to do together.

So I write about absences and missing people I love, and being jealous of people who have all that obviousnes right there with them at the correct times of the year. And then I remember how rare that is, and there are years you have that warmth and years that you just remember it being there. And that I think I know so much about loss but I don't really, yet.

It is February now. I know the light in the sky is lessening, but it is still a light to do things under. More weekends to new places with new friends that I need to remember to stay open to; we have more roads to discover before the light fades.

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