December 18, 2013 in Inspiration
I have been trying to write this letter for days.
Life keeps getting in the way.
It is cold this morning in Indiana. The trees have pulled the thick blanket of snow up around their ankles to stay warm. Winter has found us, again. It has been the year of the road trip for us, and also the year of flip-flopped seasons.
This time last year we were sweating it out by the equator, road tripping our way from end to end of Borneo; a place that has captivated my imagination since I was a child. We rang in the New Year, Gangnam Style, on the wharf at Kota Kinabalu, orang utans, proboscis monkeys, rainforest hikes, jungle showers and a visit to the house of one of my long time literary heros, Agnes Keith. It was her book, Three Came Home, that took me to the land below the wind for the first time when I was a teenager.
We haven’t done the math, but we’re pretty sure that we’ve logged more linear miles this year than we ever have in our lives.
After Borneo, we spent a few weeks knocking around the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia. Our adventures in the highlands of Tana Toraja, around the town of Rantepao were the highlight, by far. Attending a traditional tribal funeral and a cock fight were culturally broadening experiences, to say the least.
In Bali, we ate salad and not one plate of nasi goreng for a week and a half. And we ran for our lives. That’s all I have to say about that! It was an island of rest between long roads!
Thanks to good friends lending us a van and a camping trailer we wandered the coast of Western Australia in February, snorkeling with giant sting rays, enjoying our first kangaroos and climbing a 75 meter high tree. Gabe gave a giant gibbon shriek from the top to celebrate freedom and adventure. It was camped in a eucalyptus forest that we fell in love with Australia.
February is late summer in the southern hemisphere. There is no better time to visit New Zealand. We rented a thunder pig of a camper and spent six months tooling along the back roads of the north and south islands. There were too many things that we loved to name them all: new friends, beautiful campsites, glaciers, bike rides, train adventures and snow skiing in July. The highlight, for sure, was Uncle Dick flying in for a visit to High Peak Station.
August found us on the east coast of Australia. Attending La Traviata at the Sydney Opera House, driving the Great Ocean Road, seeing 12 whales off the coast of Warnambool, and snuggling into village life on the Bellarine Peninsula were unforgettable. Best off all was our month’s long road trip from Geelong, south of Melbourne, over to Adelaide and then straight up through the Red Center of the country with some of our best friends, the Rickard Family. We hiked around Ayer’s Rock, climbed on the Devil’s Marbles, wandered the galleries of Alice Springs, and slept under the biggest skies on the planet. Oh yes, and Hannah got herself four stitches in her right knee playing in an opal mine in Coober Pedy. The highlight of our entire year, however, was SCUBA diving on the Great Barrier Reef with our kids. I have no words for that kind of fabulous.
A week in Hawaii with friends was our deep breath before the plunge. Mid November we landed in North America, bought a Suburban, and began a six week friends and family tour that has taken us through the homes and arms of some of the people we love most in the world. Four days with my brother’s family was not enough. His little boys make my heart sing. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and now, Indiana; for two more days. We’re aiming to slide in to home base on Wolfe Island right before Santa’s sleigh hits the roof top. Full circle. 20 months.
All of a sudden I am the mother of big kids.
I don’t quite know how that happened, but it’s happened faster than expected. I suppose everyone says that.
…is an absolute joy at 17.5 years old. She’s well into her second year of university classes online, through Oregon State University. Her grades are wonderful, and she takes on every new challenge with her signature sense of humor. In addition to continuing her studies, she’s been building her online work this year and is doing some freelance writing, editing, and interviews. She spends hours a day filling our house with music, drawing and otherwise being creative. She made a big decision this year: she’s going to pursue a Geography degree when she transfers her credits to a brick and mortar university, but she wants to wait one more year to make the move, which is fine with us!
She has big plans for her last year with us. In addition to continuing her course work and writing work, she’s getting her driver’s license this winter (the last big item to check off her list!) In the spring she plans to take off backpacking in Europe with some friends. This fall or winter she is planning to head to Central America and get serious about studying Spanish, as she hopes to add it as a minor to her Geography degree. She will come and go from the nest this year, as it suits her. She’s a bright spark in our lives and a very capable young woman.
…has grown at least six inches this year. He’ll be 16 in April and he measures himself against his Dad almost daily. The boy who gave me a run for my money between 11 and 13 has turned into a beautiful shadow of his future self. It’s so much fun to begin to see who he will be. Gabe is the first one to ask me how he can help. He carries my stuff, he works without being asked, takes initiative on behalf of the family, and is a care-taker in every sense of the word. He’s working hard and fast on his high school work. He’ll likely take his first university courses towards the end of this year. He works whenever he gets a chance, he does a little writing for teen travel websites, but he prefers to work with his hands.
He’s still passionate about boats and sailing and has plans to further those dreams this year. He’s taking a course in Seamanship and Small Boat Handling and will be getting his boating license, in addition to his driving license, as soon as we get to New Hampshire. His plans for this year, if all goes as we hope, is to keep the truck and bop between Indiana, where he has a farm job, and Canada, where he has a boat in May and June. He’s organizing his other responsibilities around spending several months August into fall living and working on Good Life Farms, where he has an internship with the mid-west’s largest hydroponic lettuce grower. We’re having a great time watching him flex his muscles toward manhood and test his wings.
…is almost ready to shave. I noticed a little fuzzy caterpillar growing on his lip this week, a sign that he’s chasing hard after his older brother. He joined the ranks of the teenagers this year when we were in New Zealand and, like everything else in his life, he took it in stride. He continues to be a creative and outside the box thinker. He has a deep love for little children, which has made him a popular guy among our friends on the road this year. He’s an echo of his Dad in so many ways, I love his heart of compassion and his willingness to join in any work or play. He’s stepped into his big man shoes this year and carries his weight, as well as anyone else’s who might need it.
Elisha is diving into his high school work this year in addition to pursuing his own interests. He reads a lot, enjoys creating things with his hands and making new friends. He’s the most social of our kids, and here I thought he’d be the introvert when he was little! He has plans in the coming year to stay on the continent with Gabe and travel between his grandparents homes in the USA and Canada. He’s got a job working with Tony’s parents at their pizza shop in Indiana whenever he wants it and he’s hoping to make some money while he’s there!
…continues to be the entertainment committee of the family. If you’ve read any of our stories this year then you likely know that he was caught yellow-handed smuggling lemons into New Zealand, got himself locked into an old bank safe, somehow flushed a toilet knob down a toilet, made (and lost) a bet on a cock fight and blew the horn of a semi-truck, INDOORS, at a farm show… among many other capers. At 11.5, he still does his best to wear me out every single day. He is extremely diligent about his school work, he loves to draw and paint landscapes as we travel and he is not afraid to ask ten million questions to get to the bottom of something he needs to know. I love that about him, even when it drives me crazy.
Ezra’s biggest hope for the coming year is to survive without insult or injury. No wait, that’s my biggest hope for him. He’s adventure boy at his core and he’s up for any and every scheme we can dream up. He’s saving his money to add the Nitrox certification to his SCUBA license and he has big plans to dive extensively. He informed me recently that he really wants to work hard and “become a great writer.” His passions, at the moment, include lego, reading, lego, adventuring, lego, art, lego, and also lego. If all goes to plan, he will hang out somewhere in Europe with his Dad for May and June, eating out as much as possible!
…is as advertised: working hard, adventuring hard, spinning the plates that keep us moving forward. He’s had plenty of work this year and the foreseeable future looks good. This freelance thing is always a tightrope walk. He fell in love with New Zealand this year, he says if it wasn’t so far from everyone we know, he would move there. He’s spent most of the year behind the wheel of whatever vehicle we can manage, which seems to be his favourite place to be; on a long road stretched out to the horizon. He misses Thai food, but not so much Indonesian. He loved the Outback and diving the GBR as a family. He turns 42 this year… that magic number that’s the answer to life, the universe and everything. His life still fits in his backpack, and he never travels without a towel!
…well, I’m still here, still writing, still doing too many loads of laundry, still cooking for an army; on camp stoves, half the time. I tell stories. I knit things. I work hard to spin simple things into beautiful things and to create a life that will be unforgettable for my people. There is one thing, I’ve realized this year, that I no longer do: I no longer chase children. Now I’m more of an orbital point which they spin by from time to time with an update from some star flung corner of their universe. I like that. What it means, practically, is that for the first time in very, very many years, I have time on my hands. I’m filling it with things I’m interested in: writing, art, creating beauty, teaching, small things that cultivate happiness.
What does the next year bring for me? I’ve learned not to try to predict that too assiduously; everything is flexible. I do have one rather firm plan: to walk the Camino de Santiago with my friend Jade. She called me last year, in Thailand and asked if I’d be interested in sharing her dream and marking our 40th birthdays by hiking 500 miles from France into Spain. I’m quite looking forward to a month of putting one foot in front of the other with my friend.
And so our year draws to a close and a new one opens up before us.
This year will find our kids scattered across countries and continents without us, for the first time. We’ll take a cruise in Alaska with family as a “last hurrah” of childhood. We’ll spend plenty of time on Wolfe Island as our lives begin to bend that direction. With a little luck, we’ll see many of you in the coming year as well.
Thank you so much for loving us, for living life with us, for adding to the richness of the fabric of our lives. The more places we go, the more dots we put on the map, the more we realize that life isn’t at all about the external adventures, it’s about the people we love… that’s you.
Wishing you the Merriest of Christmases from our home continent to wherever you are in this big world.
The Miller Family