Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dispatches from Middle Earth, Part III: I Belong on Land

(alternatively titled: How I Accidentally Signed Up to Water-Torture Myself)

(This post is the third of a five-part series on what I saw, experienced, and learned during mine and Carrie's honeymoon to New Zealand by way of San Francisco and Hong Kong.  Yes, this was a time of rest and vacation for the both of us, but it is in fact quite difficult for someone who deals in profoundness for a living to escape such depth of meaning simply because he is off relaxing in another country.  I was moved in many ways during my short time away, and I hope at least a faint morsel or two of that impact shines through in my words to you here.  Finally, all pictures in this series are taken by me unless noted otherwise.  I'm not a great photographer, so be gentle.  You can read parts one and two here and here. ~E.A.)

In gym class my freshman year in high school, I got a B.  How does one get a B in gym, you ask?  How can anyone not get an A?  After all, those who can't do teach instead, and those who can't teach, they teach gym (apologies to gym teachers everywhere :) ).

I got a B because I was the slowest swimmer in the entire class.  Even though I had near-perfect attendance and did everything else in the class just fine, my swimming was so glacial that a preschool swimming teacher at the Y would probably have marked me down for it.

Now, please don't misunderstand me: I *can* swim.  If thrown into the proverbial deep end, I can tread water like a pro, I can swim both forwards and backwards with the breaststroke and backstroke, and I can make physical motions that vaguely resemble a sidestroke.

Carrie, though, remains unconvinced of my rudimentary swimming prowess and keeps swearing that she'll sign me up for swimming lessons one day.  Meanwhile, I remain perfectly happy and dry on land.  Until our honeymoon, that is.

We joked that the theme of our honeymoon was "Let's see how much water Carrie can throw Eric into," because we did swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling during our time away (we also did hot tubbing, but even a klutz like me can manage that, so that doesn't count).  On the predawn drive out to the Milford Sound for our kayaking adventures, we passed the Mirror Lakes.  Can you guess how they got their name?

(that little sign in the middle says "Mirror Lakes" in reverse so that it reads correctly in the water's reflection!)

There's plenty of fun outdoor sightseeing to do, including things you come across quite by happenstance, like a pro cycling race (which I maintain is still an exciting thing to watch, despite my pop pop's protestations that "all they do is pedal.")  Here's the breakaway quartet:

...and then several minutes later came the peloton (the main pack of cyclists):

I even snapped a decent pic of the poor chap in last place:

I feel ya, mate, I've been there.  In high school gym class almost 15 years ago, but still.

C and I also went snorkeling with the dolphins and seals off the coast of Kaikoura.  Or, rather, we both went snorkeling with the seals, and C went snorkeling with the dolphins while I managed to inhale loads of salt water *near* the dolphins.  For my first-ever snorkeling experience, we had inadvertently chosen an open ocean dive with swells of one or two meters and quite choppy water...which meant that, even though I was in a fully-buoyant wetsuit, I still didn't last more than a minute or two on each dive as I fought the sensation of drowning (part of which I am sure was exacerbated by my Lamaze-esque habit of forgetting to breathe when I panic, or by the fact that I had my head down too low to the swells, allowing more salt water to enter, which rather defeats the purpose of a snorkel).  The entire sum of those factors was that it felt, I imagine, like what drowning might be like, even if I was in no immediate danger of doing so.

And that is how I accidentally ended up waterboarding myself on my honeymoon.  Fortunately, when we went back out snorkeling in the afternoon to see the seals, it was very close to the bay and the water was much calmer.  I did just fine.

I will say, though, in my defense, that going out in the water can be quite scary, especially if it looks like this, the rapids in the park near Milford Sound called The Chasm (again, guess how it got its name):

And water--via snow--is capable of the massive avalanches that leave utterly bare paths in their wake, like these that we saw above the Blue Lakes on our climb to the Tasman Glacier Lake on Mt. Cook:

Nevertheless, it was difficult for me to relax enough to even go back out onto the water...I had to be cajoled into it by the well-meaning folks running the seal swim, and I have to think their effort was all part of the more relaxed, informal nature of New Zealand.  I mean, how many of us worry about making our flights on time here in the States?  Well, in NZ, this is how the flight monitor in Auckland reads:

That would be a digital sign telling the passengers for eleven upcoming international flights to relax.

And while walking around the Parnell neighborhood of Auckland, C and I came across this business, whose office hours notice I had to photograph, since I really need to make them my own office hours here at the church:

It's always reassuring to come across establishments that clearly don't take themselves too seriously, but that's part of the Kiwi culture, I think.  Across the country, C and I encountered loads of people whose good humor and geniality would put even the most jovial of Yanks to shame.  Certainly there are outliers and exceptions to every rule, but the impression we both came away with was that there is more concern here for the overall person rather than simply what they can produce or contribute or manufacture.  All of it led to less visible stress that we could see, even in places off the beaten tourist paths.  And coming from one sometimes stressed-out American, even when he is on dry land, that is a lesson I am trying to carry back with me to the US.  Which naturally stresses me out even more.

It is a deranged hamster wheel I run on.

Stay tuned for part four--a much more serious post--on the many monuments and memorials we saw in NZ, commemorating both European and Maori history, and on the importance of memory as not just an individual trait, but a social trait, entitled "The Cloud Piercer's Lament...Or, On Monuments to Memories")

Yours in Christ,

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