“Is caffeine okay to include in my day? According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, moderate coffee consumption — up to three to five 8-oz cups/day or providing up to 400 mg/day of caffeine — can be incorporated into healthy eating styles since it is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases (e.g., cancer) or premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease. However, the Dietary Guidelines notes that people who currently do not consume caffeinated coffee or other caffeinated beverages are not encouraged to start.” — ChooseMyPlate.gov
“I simply imagine that my skeleton is me, and my body is my house, and that way I’m always home” — Jared, Silicon Valley
I’ve been in New Zealand for two weeks, and I can safely say that ‘abroad’ is, at the very least, exciting. I’ve found myself entirely enrapt in my surroundings with much greater frequency here. Whether walking through the nearby botanical garden, or the farmers market, I’ve found myself in states of serene awe and total engagement. Nagging thoughts subside. I forget that I have homework, or a bank balance, or a blog to write. I just am. I just do. These short-lasting, addictive states are like caffeine for the spirit. They make me feel like I’m taking full advantage of my time here, and that I’m connected to the area in a way that’s difficult to evoke with words.
But I suppose I’m getting paid to try. So without further ado, here’s how to get high on life:
There’s a botanical garden a few blocks from my flat. It’s expansive. Dozens of trails snake through its forested hills. Plants from New Zealand and around the world inhabit every nook, denying entry to land beyond the paths. Even now, in midwinter, lush foliage abounds.
Stay here and rest in the shade of towering trees. Look out over the lazy north end of Dunedin. Say “Wow” out loud.
There’s an aviary here at the end of a gravel trail. It’s quaint. An introduced Australian parrot, (the eastern rosella) flies freely around Dunedin’s hills, but the garden’s cooped-up locals don’t seem to mind. Colorful parakeets are content to chatter and flap away the early mornings in their sloping cages. If the visitors are quiet, these birds get to nap in the afternoon. “Hey eastern rosellas, do you get to nap?” they chirp.
Discover this place unexpectedly. Mouth “Wow”, the birds might be sleeping.
There’s a road near a back entrance to the garden. It’s steep. Pleasant houses and small farms dot its winding ascent to the top of Signal Hill. Views are no longer of the city, but of sprawling natural country. Placid sheep in pale green fields stare with square eyes at the emerald grass on the other side.
Walk this road slowly. Wander down a side street, and another for good measure.
There’s a native plant nursery along the road. It’s green. A knowledgeable gardener will recommend a few ferns that will take to a desk in a damp flat. He’ll throw in some advice about the best local hiking tracks, and some friendly chitchat, no charge.
Wish this man well.
At the end of the road there is a view. It’s pleasant. Seagulls scuttle around the harbor below. Cars weave through university buildings and skirt the wild peninsula. They drive the wrong way. Trees from the forest below have grown up and obscured a small corner of the picture. “Let us see!” they shout.
Stay here for a few minutes and take it all in. Help the other visitors take their Christmas card pictures.
There’s a mountain biking track here that ambles down the hill through the forest. It’s muddy. Native many-fingered ferns and invasive plants with buttery bean-like flowers wave to friendly cyclists as they slide up and down the path. Wild birds roost among the trees, and flit around the understory. One makes a reverberant staccato call in perfect descending intervals. “No time for naps when there are possums about!” they sing.
Stop here and smell the yellow beans. Gotcha! They don’t smell like much.
There’s a city at the end of the path. It’s laid-back. The roads are filled with cars driving the wrong way. Damp flats filled with friendly students line the sidewalks. One of my American friends said the locals were so nice that being in New Zealand is like being in chik-fil-a all the time. They’ll invite you in, and offer you beer (no charge), and they’ll point you in the right direction home if you drink too many.
Be merry. Stumble home grinning.
The wild peninsula is on the outskirts of town. It’s sandy. Hikers plod up and down its scrubby dune’s trails. It’s easy going on the way down, not so much on the way back up. A paraglider perches in the air, riding updrafts with the seagulls. Indolent sea lions dot the path to the beach, and idle seals loll on the shores like fat tourists, lapping themselves with sand. Avian hordes congregate on rugged rocks across the bay, cold waves crashing on their birdland coasts. At dusk, yellow-eyed penguins waddle clumsily up the beach and play in the breakers. Surfs up!
Sit in stunned silence. Say nothing.
All highs have their lows, and comedowns are no fun. These experiences are so satisfying that I worry I’m not having enough of them. It’s difficult to balance the excitement of being abroad with the independence I have here. Despite the availability of new experiences, I’ve been a little lazy. I’v been using a lot of my time to read, sleep in, and live slowly, when I could be using every free moment to drink in New Zealand.
‘Am I taking enough advantage of my time?’ whispers in and out of mind. From all the awesome things I’ve done and seen so far, I’m tempted to answer ‘yes’, but I still get the nagging feeling that it’s ‘no’. And to carry that question around all day is to miss what’s actually going on.
On Wednesday I had class at 9am. I woke up at 8:30. I haphazardly selected clothes. I undercooked eggs and scarfed them down in two bites. I made coffee, and rendered it chuggable with the addition of a few ice cubes. I stood by the sink and downed it in two gulps. I ran out of the door at 8:50. Google Maps says it’s a twelve-minute walk from my flat to the biology classroom. A cloud of lateness-anxiety rained on me the whole way: “Screw the scuttling seagulls! Screw the cars driving the wrong way! Screw the friendly people trickling out of their flats! Screw the pleasant architecture! Screw the breeze! Screw the fresh air! I’m going to be late!”
And late I was. I worried my way through the building’s sliding doors. I grit my teeth in the elevator for ten stories. I scurried into an aisle seat near the front of the packed lecture room. The girl in the seat beside me pointed over my shoulder toward a stack of notes, and as I grabbed them I paused for a second. The view out of the window was incredible. It was of the Dunedin cityscape and the peninsula, this time from a different angle. It was industrial, natural, beautiful. The shining sun dried the anxiety cloud right up.
The view reminded me that what I’m really here for is scuttling seagulls, and cars driving the wrong way, and friendly people trickling out of their flats, and pleasant architecture, and the breeze, and the fresh air. I’m not here to worry about what I’m doing. I’m here to do. I’m here to enjoy what’s going on around me.
If I wake up at 8:30 next Wednesday, I’m ditching the coffee mug and brewing decaf tea instead. I’m going to sip it slowly, and really enjoy it. I may even have a second cup. I recommend you do the same. So what if we’re a few minutes late?