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I am finally back.

It has taken four years, but I found my way back to beautiful coastal Oregon and those incredible white wolves. I have just spent my first couple of days up at the Sanctuary, and I can’t describe how wonderful it has been to see those gorgeous, feisty, playful, regal creatures again. I met new, ruffled faces and greeted old friends – I was nervous at first, of course, because I had no idea if the wolves I bonded with last time would remember me or not… but it certainly seemed that they knew. Darling Sakarri smothered my face in kisses, as did Modoc, Nike and finally Tehalin as I greeted them one by one. With Nike and Tehalin it just felt like old times; she ran around being her crazy self, and Tehalin carefully sat down next to the fence, lifted one big beautiful paw and gazed at me sideways as I gave him a cuddle.

As always, the flight from Auckland was a long one – and I had a fellow sitting next to me who kept throwing up in his chair yet simply refused to go to the bathroom. That definitely put me off my food. Just an airplane etiquette note: if you are sick on a lengthy flight, better to get people out of their seats so you can go to the restroom as opposed to making them also want to be sick by staying where you are! Thankfully on the other side of me was a friendly American chap who kept me distracted for most of the flight – I think I even managed to explain LARPing without completely scaring him away from the idea of it!
I had a few hours at the San Francisco airport where I thought I would get rather bored waiting for the next plane, but the Immigration/Customs line was so incredibly huge that it took over two hours for me to clear it. I only had enough time to get my bag, check it on to the connecting flight, wolf down some food and get myself through the security check to locate the correct gate I’d be heading through next.
The flight from San Francisco to Eugene was nice and short – about an hour or so – and by the time I reached Oregon it was roughly 6pm Tuesday (local time). I had left Auckland at about 7pm Tuesday (New Zealand time), so the odd jump back-in-time just blew my mind! Time-zones never fail to confuse me! My plan was to meet up with a friend I had met the last time I was in the United States. Back in 2010 I had been staying in a beautiful seaside motel called Ocean Haven. Ocean Haven sits between the towns of Florence and Yachats on the Oregon coast, and once a week at least for this summer internship I would head into a restaurant called the Drift Inn for dinner – it soon became one of my favourite places to visit; it was bright and vibrant, with delicious food, super friendly staff and regular live local music. I met the daughter of the current owner of the place, and while we didn’t hang out a lot back then she actually ended up coming to flat with me for a few months when she visited New Zealand not too long ago. She incredibly kindly offered her place to me as a temporary home for this little stint of WWS work, and so after my flight to Eugene a few nights ago I picked up my rental car from the airport, and made my way to Yachats to see her.

Or so I had hoped. I was actually making my way to everything opposite the direction of Yachats. The rental car kiosk at Eugene Airport hadn’t had any maps for sale, and hiring a GPS every day for a month was absolutely impossible for my already limited funds, so I tried to convince myself I would be fine if I followed the large road signs along the highway. It worked for about twenty minutes until I realised I had taken a wrong turn somewhere and had to stop for directions and retrace my steps.
I knew I had finally made it when I pulled into the town of Florence, a place I had spent a little bit of time in during my last few weeks of that 2010 internship. By this time it was dark – after 8:30pm – and I didn’t recognise most of the buildings, but as I drove along every now and then a sign would pop up that made me realise “I’m here.” The dunes… Sutton Lake…  the Seal Lion Caves… Heceta Head Lighthouse… Ocean Haven… Soon I arrived at Yachats – I was so tired having left Auckland almost 20 hours earlier, and I’d encountered all sorts of random situations that kept my anxiety levels pumping, but I had made it!
I almost fell into the Drift Inn, and was elated to see the cute and quirky trinkets for sale, mermaid murals on the walls and upside-down parasols still there to behold as they had been for the duration of my last visit those four years ago. My friend greeted me with a warm, welcoming hug in between serving customers, she made sure I got some dinner into me (by this stage the off-putting events from that first flight were not offending my appetite any more), and then I followed her back to her house near the Alsea River.

The next two days I had free before going to work at the White Wolf Sanctuary on Friday. I spent these free days exploring, re-familiarising myself with beloved spots up and down the coast, and spending time with new and old friends. That first night in the Drift Inn my girlfriend and I met a couple of lovely lads from Kansas who were visiting Yachats for a family reunion.  We caught up with them the next few nights until they went home on Friday, and had a real blast while they were here. They told us all about their quaint agricultural town back in Kansas, taught us line dancing (so much fun!), showed us photos of their farm and dogs, and listened to strange New Zealand phrases without laughing at my accent. The night before last my girlfriend took a small group of us to a beautiful, almost secret waterhole up the Alsea River. It was almost 9pm by the time we got there, and I was very apprehensive at the thought of swimming being the lean little thing that I am. We manoeuvred down a thin dirt track strewn across rocks and winding between black trees, and found ourselves at a sandy bank. I couldn’t see well in the dark, but a white tarpaulin shone in the moonlight with a bucket of water next to it – a waterslide into the river!
I can only describe it as a magical night – aside from the sobering cold of the river that is, which was apparently relatively warm (I’m simply a wuss)! The five of us swam to the other side of the river where we then had a beautiful view of the bright, glowing moon. A cradle of whispering trees surrounded us, which I knew stretched all over mountains in every direction. It was peaceful, and quiet. One of the other lads in the group, another of the Drift Inn staff, told us that if we stood still enough the fish would come to nibble at debris on our feet. We thoughtfully sat in the river, pointing out star constellations and simply admiring the beauty of the landscape around us. I hadn’t started back with the wolves at this point yet, but I realised that I had already found the Silence I have been waiting for.

It has only been a few days but I already know that this will be a completely different experience to when I was last on the Oregon coast. In 2010 I had felt very alone, secluded and anxious. I’m not sure if it is the fact that I know more people this time around, or that I feel more confidence in myself, or a combination of both that has put me more at ease already. And I feel far less personal pressure – for my first internship it was like I had convinced myself my life had to change because of that trip, and if it didn’t then things were destined to be mundane and uninspiring (that had probably been depression talking, I just hadn’t known it yet). It is funny how it took me years of being back in New Zealand, not years of travel, to help me finally understand that happiness, balance, serenity and peace can be found in every moment.

Wolf Sanctuary update to come soon. For now, it’s time for bed on the Oregon coast.

Sam.Oregon Coast