Right then, where was I?
On an island.
But now I’ve left it, sailed away (if you can call a car ferry sailing). Funny how the feeling of sailing away from a place you love is much more visceral that a quick zoom up the freeway or the fast take-off in a plane.
It takes time to leave an island. You feel yourself drawing away from it, coming unstuck, slowly separated.
I’ve lived there for two years, part of me always pining for a different place: for the way the afternoon sun slants through gum trees; for long brown grass and eucalyptus in the warm air – for country – for my own “wide brown land”. Everything in New Zealand seemed a contrast, all green and wet and pointy – and alien.
But now, to my surprise, I find there’s another landscape inscribed in me: of low grassy islands; of hilltops engraved with the lines of old forts; pale crumbly cliffs; the shape of spinnakers in the gulf; the bulge of mountains that never quite let you forget they are volcanoes.
It’s not my country, but it’s in me now and will never leave.
I saw a woman on the island, the day before I left, wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Born here”. I smiled in secret empathy. I’d never known how strong that bond was until I left the place where I was born.
It’s got nothing to do with politicians’ tawdry nationalism. Instead, it’s a thing that can make you crazy, make you leave a perfectly lovely place, endure long-distance love, just to be there. At home. Where you feel right. Even without the t-shirt.
And yet going back is also heart-rending.
But here I am.