As I write this, it’s Boxing Day. I am sitting at the kitchen table of a farmhouse in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, newly showered after completing my farm chores for the day, clean hair dripping over my shoulder. The kitchen smells like coffee and toast and bacon, and there’s a pile of Christmas washing up on the side that I’m doing my best to avoid. A warm wind blows lazily through the house, doors and windows thrown open to the summer’s day outside. Every so often an inquisitive chicken pecks her way into the kitchen and has to be gently ushered out with a tea towel, clucking indignantly.
The air thrums with heat; not the sticky, drowsy heat I’ve grown used to in Asia but a heat that is somehow fresh and living; an evergreen heat that blows warm and breezy through the pine branches and carries the scent of new hay and hot tarmac from the deserted road.
It is so very alive here. As I walk from the kitchen door which stands always open, up the track and into the fields, everything around me rustles and buzzes and hums. The long grasses whisper against my bare knees and the wind sways through the trees, and sun-drunk insects buzz lazily past me. Everywhere there is bird song, and the chickens croon softly as I approach their coop with a bucket of grain.
I make my way through the long grass to the vegetable tunnels, and delicate white butterflies flutter past my face to rest on nodding buttercups and fragrant heads of lavender. I could spend hours out here, kneeling over sprouting green vines amongst the warm biscuit smell of damp earth, casting shards of rainbows across the ground with the stream of cold water from the hose. I love the thought of the growing roots curling under my fingers when I press my palms to the dark ground.
Further along the path, I can turn and look down over the farmhouse to the vineyards and mountains beyond. I swing open a heavy wooden gate, taking care to latch it behind me, and climb higher into the forest that stands at the back of the pastures. There is a deep stillness here, where the trees stand too closely for much of a breeze to get through. Cooler too, out of the glare of the sun, only thin shafts breaking through to warm the soft bark of the forest floor in bright strips.
The summer here is one that is nostalgic and redolent of school summer holidays, seemingly endless days of bare freckled arms and golden fields and cold glasses clinking with ice drifting into evenings in which the sun refuses to set and peeps stubbornly golden through chinks in closed bedroom curtains.
It is a place so grounded and unselfconscious, a place of dark earth and twisting roots and the sun dappled leaves above them, of scratching chooks and still-warm eggs with papery shells and cattle whose ears smell like butter. It is a place of stillness and permanence in which we fleetingly belong, amidst a life of constant movement. I love it here. I needed this stillness.
As I travel further and longer, and concurrently inch closer to turning 30 at the end of next year, I feel increasingly drawn to this way of travelling. To find a corner of the world, as yet unknown, and to find my own way there; living in each day rather than simply touring. To shop at local markets and cook new recipes in increasingly familiar kitchens, to develop routines and adopt ‘our places’ in which to get breakfast or a glass of wine – experiencing a place by exploring the ways in which people live their daily lives there as well as visiting what there is to see. This, to me, is the real richness and adventure in travel, and the place where the real stories are.
I think what I am beginning to learn, on this trip especially, is that when I am home I wander, and when I travel I nest. I have always done it, unselfconsciously; it is an innate instinct of mine and one which I am embracing more and more. It is the reason why I decorate hotel rooms with candles and books, and why I carry a dreamcatcher I picked up in Mexico attached to my house keys. It is, I think, what will allow me to transit into a life of more permanence when the time comes, and the way in which I will attempt to intertwine the two so that I can find adventure at home, and home when I travel.
In the meantime though, I have tomatoes to grow and chickens to feed. And next week I’ll have a new home to live in for a while, and a new corner of the world to explore. And after that – who knows. As Kerouac says, for now at least – ‘the road is life’.