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Serenity. Warm air. Trees rustling. Ravens calling. An echoing mountain range – our secret cradle of trees. This is my heaven; the warm earth, white wolf bodies stretched across it with fluffy ears pricking up at the sounds of tiny squirrels tapping their toes along the wooden deck of the visitor’s centre. Turkey vultures circling, stellar jays dancing. The rich smells of the forest; a fusion of diverse life. Calm; peace; contentment.

Months ago I was talking about finding this calmness; my quiet place. So much of working-class life is about searching for a job niche to fill, and surviving on the occasional opportunity to recharge. But I like the belief that there is magic in every living moment, as whimsical as that sounds.

I find Stillness up that mountain with the beautiful White Wolf Sanctuary beasts, and I can assure you that when you are in it the whole feeling of those moments simply encompasses you – although I am again back in New Zealand, I can sit here and feel exactly as I did when I was crouched beside those great white wolves. I am trying to grasp the concept of Time a bit more. My little fast-paced heart races if I allow myself to think, “I can’t believe that experience has been and gone already, how could I let it slip away so quickly?” But that is the reality – time comes and goes. And in truth I did not let all those weeks slip by at all; they are cherished always, I hold them close and they help shape the woman I am. I also know that there will be more.

Admittedly this year’s trip was rather impromptu. Not in the sense that I planned it suddenly, but in the respect that many of my exact intentions and expectations changed frequently. Emotional trauma reared its ugly head at a few points this year and I was incredibly close to calling the travels off completely. I was enveloped in this horrid, suffocating blanket of anxiety and didn’t feel I was capable of doing anything on my own. When I travel I love the feeling of being lost and adventurous, but I honestly didn’t believe I could cope. It took me a while to stand tall and face things head-on, but the best thing I did was work through it as much as I could (even though it felt impossible) and venture back to those great white beasties. Because I changed flights etc. a bit during the process of finalising everything, there were several financial consequences – but I figure money will always be there to be made, whereas the opportunity for experience can be fleeting. Besides; giving yourself to a cause in need is utterly invaluable.

So again in September I lived and breathed Oregonian life, learning more about the wolves (and myself) perhaps than I did the last time. I think I was more open to it all this time around, and of course I also knew what to expect. I love venturing to places I have never ever seen before, but I think this year it was really good for me to go back to my spiritual home so to speak. As always, the animals proved themselves to be true testaments of strength and possibly even forgiveness of some kind – despite their sad stories and the abuse they have suffered, they live on with a kind of light-heartedness, approaching every day with curiosity and contentment. Imagining where they may have come from – a life’s sentence of a tiny concrete cell before being skinned and sold as a coat, or a short chain tethered to the ground where daily beatings are routine – and seeing them still able to enjoy life and put trust in certain beings around them does change one’s perspective.

I did not write nearly as much as I meant to while I was away, but we will catch up on things as time continues to carry us along. A few days into October I said a temporary goodbye to the wolves and my Oregonian friends, and headed up to Canada for the first time in my life. For some reason when I go overseas now I don’t feel like I have completely fulfilled the trip if I don’t end up going somewhere new. My sister moved away from New Zealand a year or so ago with her partner, and after impressive travels of their own they ended up in Vancouver, British Columbia. So after spending some more invaluable weeks with those beautiful fluffy wolves I adore, I traveled to Vancouver city to see my indescribably wonderful sibling.

Those of you who were here on this blog a few months ago may have read pieces here and there about personal depression and anxiety. Traveling – the logistical part – does have the potential to catalyse my anxiety – it usually starts right at the airport and worsens once I’m seated on that first flight, increasing right up until I reach my final destination no matter how many stops we have along the way. I am so much better now, and no longer feel like I’m having a constant panic attack from the moment I leave Auckland (maybe just sporadic ones), but I still don’t find this part of travel pleasant. Waiting in airports is a drag; flying is an uncomfortable combination of “Don’t think about anything bad that could happen,” boredom, lack of sleep and cramping legs; and don’t get me started on rushing to catch flights if your previous one was late. I must admit, though, this year things went mostly to plan (mostly…!), and the big scary airports were nowhere near as intimidating as I have found them in the past. I guess I’m getting used to this international transport thing.

When I flew from Oregon to Seattle to Canada, heading to Vancouver was a mixture of excitement and apprehension. The flights only took a few hours but the time seemed like a stressful eternity. It didn’t help when the airport staff asked me why I looked so nervous and asked to search through my things. None of the silly nerves or anxiety mattered as soon as I walked out of those security gates at Vancouver International Airport, though, and spotted my sister and her partner there waiting for me. It had been over a year since I’d hugged her, and it was awesome. Something incredibly rare, unique and invaluable to me is having people in my life who know me completely. I’d say my sister is the one person on the whole planet who knows me the way she does. She’s been there from pretty much the very beginning of my life and unfortunately for her you can’t choose your blood family so she’s stuck with me! It was so good to see her again.

My sister and her partner are thriving in Vancouver. I could tell straight away how excited they were to show it off to me – we caught the Sky Train from the airport to the city, and along the way they were pointing out different areas and landmarks. I am so glad they love it, and proud that they made their way there after years of talking about relocating. But it wasn’t the place for me. After spending my days on the top of a secluded mountain with only the company of wolves and a select few people, the sudden rush of Vancouver city was a little much. It’s vibrant, it has culture and there is so much to do there – but I missed the forest and the quiet Oregonian coast. I know Canada is extremely beautiful, and I think I should have strayed out of the city more than I did to see that natural beauty – but spending time with my sister was what I wanted to do while I was there, and we had the perfect time together.
I spent the first few days with my overwhelmed eyes widened, seeing so much but not wanting to take it all in for fear of overloading myself. By the end of the few weeks I spent there I had a much better handle on public transport and how to get around (my sister and her partner work full-time so I had plenty of opportunity to go by myself on mini excursions) and definitely didn’t feel as terrified of the city as I had when I first arrived. This has been good for me back home – I even used to steer clear of Auckland city, but now I don’t find it so daunting.
I also caught up with an awesome girl I met in Thailand last year at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Elephant Rescue and Education Centre – we ate sushi, talked about life post-Thailand and plans and dreams, and she took me on a tour of the city. We hadn’t spent too much time in Thailand together, but she’s one of those people I’m sure I’ll get along with no matter what the situation. I also met up with an incredibly inspiring man who does work with Sea Shepherd – it felt so good talking to someone who cares so much about the natural earth. Surrounding myself with people who share a certain ferocity of spirit really uplifts me. I love collecting travel friends along the way of whatever journey I’m on – I know there are so many people I will be welcome to stay with if I’m ever in their area, and likewise the door to my little country studio flat is open to them if they find themselves in NZ.

Saying goodbye to my sister was really, really difficult (though we both did a great job of pretending it would only be a short time until I saw her again), and touching down on NZ soil after it all was a relief – I guess I must have been ready to come home after a month in the smoggy city. As always, I miss the wolves every single day, but I feel somewhat spiritually refreshed after spending a little bit of time with them. I’m hoping to make it a far more frequent thing (certainly not leaving it four years until I visit them again!), so we shall see how that goes. And although I knew before I visited that my sister was happy in Canada, it meant a lot for me to be able to see that for myself in person. I’m proud of the differences she has to me; her ability to thrive in this environment that I perceive as hostile and intimidating; the way she can grasp any situation and make it her own. And we aren’t different in every way; we both care about the people and environment around us – I reckon our parents raised a couple of good kids.
Love you, sis, and see you soon x

Sam.

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