living each day like a stranger in a strange land*

The asterisk is important (in the blog post title, which is a bit of advice to myself) because if I really lived like I was a stranger or traveling out of town then I would be missing the chance to indulge in kitchen experimentation that I love so much. But as I was taking yet another walk around Launceston (pronounced lawn-cess-ton, with the emphasis on the first syllable), the extent to which I was aware of how and what I was seeing struck me in a profound way. Most notably, I have been going to sleep quite early – well, early for me.  And perhaps as a (happy) consequence, I routinely awaken by 5 or 5:30, even after the residual effects of jet lag. Or perhaps I never got over jet lag. Either way, the sensation of not wanting to waste any time, to take in as much as possible – either via foot-bound traversals of city streets or pursuing conversations during interactions that could easily occur without a spoken word – is appealing. What happens, I wonder, when we’re at home or just when we feel at home? Can we feel or be at home and not become complacent? Perhaps this is what is meant by purposeful living, much like what is espoused as part of the vipassana meditation tradition, namely learning to pay attention, even to the point where acts such as walking or breathing are not taken for granted but are attended to consciously. I wonder, also, whether this heightened awareness of this heightened awareness (how’s that for meta?!) is due in part to my impending return to the vipassana meditation retreat in a few short weeks.

The first time I really felt at home in a full and broad sense (other than my time spent working on the literary magazine in high school) was when I first started living in Philadelphia as an undergraduate student. The context and topography of a city felt as natural to me as [insert fantastic simile here]. The ability to walk wherever you need to go, the multiple paths that can all lead to a single place or to as many different places, the confluence of sounds – languages, the whirrs of motors, varying pitch of all manner of modes of transportation, water seeping into sewers – and smells

So for a long time I thought I could never be as happy as I am living in the middle of a loud, occasionally rowdy, bright-lighted, café rich, four season, urban village. And while I still think that’s mostly true, there is something uniquely appealing about not very populated, verdant, flora-filled pockets of the world.

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One almost couldn’t help but slow down: no one jaywalks, and waiting for the chirping green “walk” symbol is the norm; internet (in the form of free wifi) is not plentiful, thereby calling for more measured uses of communication; breaking bread with others; when flights are delayed, the common response is “no worries” — this is infectious. No worries indeed.

On our last full afternoon in town, a few of my fellow non-Tassie colleagues and I visited the Mole Creek Sanctuary where met kangaroo, a cuddly wombat named Maggie and her looked-like-she-be-her-sister Lily, a sleeping koala who couldn’t be bothered to come of out her slumber to acknowledge our presence (and who could blame her?), and a dozen of the nearly 50 Tasmanian devils being raised on the too-small-to-be-called-a-preserve sanctuary including: Neville, Melody, Maury, Malachi, Midas, Munchkin, and Kitana.

We listened to Paul, the multiply-pierced, skinny jean wearing “tour” guide who kept his hair tucked into a green knit cap, tell us about how the animals found their way to his place of business, which has been in operation for over thirty years. He let us cuddle with Maggie, rub the surprisingly soft and not at all coarse fur of the kangaroos and invited us to make nice with Kitana, the devil who he cradled for our look-up-close benefit; there were no takers for the latter.

And as he told us about the well catered and cared for life of the koala bear, who wants for nothing and whose steady diet of eucalyptus leaves and gum tree bark is delivered practically on a silver platter, and who sleeps upwards of 18-20 hours a day, I got to thinking (again) about the question we allow ourselves to ask of ourselves and each other less and less as we grow older: why are we here? Or, we might phrase it as: how will we choose to live the time we have from birth to death, from entry to exit, on ramp to off?

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