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Still Looking ‘In All Directions’

One year ago I was a new arrival in Sydney, Australia, at the advent of my Australian adventure and my project of greater explorations into a meaningful life path. The launch of this blog, In All Directions, shortly preceded my departure and was intended as a chronicle of my travels in Australia—and also an experimental method of reflection and self-discovery along the way.

When I arrived in Australia in late October 2015, I had intentions of staying well over a year. My grandiose scheme had me finishing up a year of fruit picking at about this time and preparing to go on a circumnavigational road trip of the Australian continent as a way to spend my heaps of fruit picking money. A year later, instead of tramping in a van Down Under, I find myself living aboard a sailboat on New York’s Hudson River. Ending up at this particular spot wasn’t even on my radar one year ago, but due to the course of time, it simply ended up being the most reasonable next step to pursue. It’s intriguing the way that the passage of time makes one think about different possibilities with fresh attitudes. Nonetheless, through all my itinerant travels, this blog stuck to chronicle the journey.

One year into the In All Directions project and I can’t come up with any defining conclusions although I can still say it’s been worth the while to continue the exploration. In the past year, I’m more than happy at having tried three different directions: fruit picking in Australia, leading canoe trips in Wisconsin, and working aboard a tall ship in New York. Each of these directions had their individual benefits and drawbacks, but more importantly they have taught me lessons about myself and my proclivities. I can’t say that I’m close to a final discovery, or that I even believe there will ultimately be a final discovery; what I can say is that I have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t work for me. Anecdotally, Thomas Edison failed to make a working lightbulb after over 1,000 prototypes, but each failed trial led him closer to eventual success. When asked by a reporter about how it felt to fail so many times, Edison wisely replied that he didn’t fail at all—making a lightbulb was just a project with 1,000 steps. Like Edison, I’m not classifying things that didn’t quite work out as failures; I’m just refining what works for me and what doesn’t.

 

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In everyday life, we all learn from our past experiences. But in order to gain those experiences, we must travel further down the one-way road of time. And to travel that road means going into an unknown future. Along the way you’ll encounter forks and decisions that will affect your route. You can’t travel back and do it all over again; the best you can do is trust yourself that what path you’re going down is heading towards the best outcome. This isn’t a Panglossian philosophy that all things ultimately work out in the best of all possible ways. More simply this is saying that no matter how life unravels itself, there is some measure of good to be made of the situation.

As I continue to try out different career paths and play with different ideas about my future, each direction I try out could lead me down a different path. One year ago I didn’t anticipate that I’d be writing a retrospective blog from Kingston, New York. But that’s what ended up happening anyway. The way life works is that it can only be viewed in retrospect. The future remains an intriguing mystery. One will never know what each path will look like until it’s been traveled.

Unlike my well-laid out Australian plans, life is not something you can plan out meticulously; life is something that you have to live through to understand where the experience is taking you. To get where I ended up right now, I could have taken many a multitude of paths. But on each of those infinite possible journeys, the lessons learned along the way would have been different; a slightly different person would arrive at each destination. Each journey undertaken is unique; chose to embrace the passages that add to the depth of your character.

There are many directions left to be explored, and I too look forward to seeing where they lead.

Leaving (Many) Stones Unturned

This is my first blog post back in the United States. Yes, that means my Australian adventure has ended. What I initially intended to be a year or more of work and holiday in Australia concluded after spending a comparatively short 187 days in the country.

In an earlier blog post, I summarized an outline of the itinerary I had conceived for Australia. It was an ambitious plan for sure—my goal was to drive around the whole country and experience all the best that Australia had to offer. Seeing how this trip would be my only working holiday visa in Australia (and in all probability my only visit Down Under), I wanted to make the most of it. With the naïve idea that I’d be able to see everything worth seeing in Australia, I calculated a very thorough travel schedule so that I wouldn’t have to bother coming back to the country. After all, it was a long 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney just to get to Australia. Below is a map of what I originally envisioned for my year+ Down Under:

 

Australia Route

 

Needless to say, things didn’t work out very much as planned. Good, equitable work was difficult to find; shady fruit picking contractors swindled me out of a good chunk of my meager earnings; and my campervan experienced breakdown after breakdown. The accumulation of adverse experiences in Australia eventually led me to abandon the working holiday dream altogether. Though fate didn’t seem to be on my side, I don’t regret the journey at all and felt like I learned many invaluable lessons that I couldn’t have learned otherwise. Practically, though, as a major consequence of the essential unpredictability of eking out an existence in a foreign land, my idealized Australian itinerary changed drastically. Here is a summary map of where I actually traveled:

 

Australia Route Actual Finished

 

Probably the most noticeable difference between my idealized itinerary and my actual itinerary is the extent of the travels. Though I put over 15,000km on my campervan, I still only covered a fraction of the Australian continent. Major destinations like Queensland’s tropical north and the Outback’s red center were never reached. Travels to Western Australia and the Northern Territory were scrapped from the plan entirely.

Though I am disappointed at not being able to see such remarkable places, I’m not distraught over the lost opportunity. In conversations about my Australian trip, people often remarked that my journey was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’. And, while making my plans for Australia, I took that sentiment to heart. I preconceivingly figured that I would never travel to Australia again—that this particular Australian trip would be my only chance to see places of world heritage value like the Great Barrier Reef or the Outback. Thus, I wanted to make sure I uncovered every stone Australia had to offer, so I could forever check the continent off my bucket list.

Abrasive reality—and sheer practicality—saw through my meager attempt to see everything in Australia. It is an impossibility to overturn every stone and leave nothing new to see in a country. Even if someone were to visit every square meter of a place, they would still have more to discover in the nooks and crannies. Such a person would still need to see the same things again, but from a different angle. Such a person would still need to spend more time in the country just to understand how the incessant elements of time and change affect a place. Fully seeing everything a country has to offer as a visitor is an absurd notion indeed.

As it so happened, I left many stones unturned in Australia. Though I wish I could have stayed longer and traveled more, I’m happy to say that I still have many reasons to go back to Australia in the future. Though I have no definite plans to revisit, I can see scenarios of returning soon to my much favored Hobart town for graduate school, or of returning only after many decades have passed as a grey-haired tourist. It’s also quite possible that I may never return to Australia again. But one things for sure: I never want to think of my stay in Australia as only a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity.

Urban Nature

Sydney is a sprawling metropolis. But it’s also a beautiful city full of parks, greenspaces, and natural reserves. I find the interplay of the natural biological/ecological element in built-up environments fascinating. It’s a niche scientific field known as Urban Ecology, but I like to think of it more like Urban Nature. Here is a smattering of some natural sights I’ve been intrigued by around the city so far:

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Let’s start out with the base…geology of course. Sydney is built upon a vast expanse of sandstone. Add the weathering action from the maritime climate, and this sandstone erodes into numerous cliffs that expose the natural patterning of the rock. Early Sydnians made use of the sandstone, using convict labor to carve steps into the soft rock and quarrying stone for Sydney’s elegant public buildings. (Images: grottos of eroded sandstone pockets; contrast of light rock and dark staining from running water; color patterning; color patterning)

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I wouldn’t be true to myself if I wasn’t fascinated by the new plants I’ve seen here. They may be cultivated as landscape plants, but their wild beauty exists nonetheless. (Images: Fig Tree growing mass of adventitious roots; succulents growing on sandstone cliffs; Jacaranda Tree in full purple blossom, row of unidentified trees in a park)

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One can’t walk around an urban park in Sydney without seeing the ubiquitous Australian Ibis. With its long curved beak and bald black head, it’s a quite different looking bird than what is common in the States. Interestingly enough, the Ibis wasn’t common in urban areas until a series of droughts in the 70’s and 80’s pushed the Ibis into the cities. Though a species native to Australia, its decline in its native habitat and rapid increase in urban areas has led to questions as to whether it’s an endangered species or a pest.

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Another ubiquitous bird in the city is the Common Myna. Unlike the Ibis, the common myna is not native to Australia, and its status as a pest is unequivocal (it is recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as one of the top 100 invasive species). The urban environment, however, provides the ideal habitat for these birds. Adapted to life as a scavenger in woodland environments, the features of a city—the abundant buildings for nesting, open sidewalks for foraging, and plentiful food scraps—provides an ideal home.

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Ferns, being one of the most ancient types of plants, are able to thrive in harsh environments—both natural and urban. They grow wherever a crack in infrastructure provides a small foothold and traps enough moisture to drink. Here these ferns find a home similar to a sandstone cliff in the seaside dock and decaying brick wall.

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