October 13 for the past fourteen years has been very special to me because it’s the birth date of Peter, the youngest of my three kids. Today I kept thinking: how can my BABY be in high school and be that old? Surreal. My headspace has been so occupied by my travel journal lately that I’ve almost forgotten my current real-life status: middle-aged mother of an 18, 17, and 14-year-old.
Long before the boys were born, October 13, 1990 marked a special occasion for me too. I was in New Zealand and it was the first time I’d ever hitchhiked! If you’re older than me you’re probably thinking, “So what? Big deal.” Hitchhiking used to be such an everyday thing in the 70s and earlier. And if you’re younger than me, you’re probably wondering if I was out of my mind.
For a variety of reasons, somewhere along the way, hitchhiking went from being regarded as totally ordinary activity to being thought of as a high-risk behaviour, right up there with base jumping or crack smoking. (I just looked up a recent study that reported more than three in five people said they’d never hitched, including 93% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 88% of 25- to 34-year-olds, whereas the large majority of those over 65 have hitchhiked at some point in their lives. So there you are.) I guess my generation is sandwiched somewhere in the middle–for us, hitchhiking was a bit daring, but not totally unheard of.
Either way, I was 25 and a first-time hitchhiker. Granted, I wasn’t alone; Donna was there with me. But still, all our rides that day were from strange middle-aged men. I didn’t mention in my journal that I felt at all worried: I find that pretty ironic in hindsight. These days I’m known for ranting to my girlfriends about how unsafe Uber is, insisting that, app or no app, “I would never ever get into a vehicle with a male driver I don’t know!” (Note to self: adjust settings on personal bullshit-o-meter.)
All went well that day… very pleased to report that no Hannibal-Lecter-types stopped for us. The drivers were all polite and friendly. On the final leg of our journey from Rotorua to Auckland, we had the best ride of all though. Tom, who happened to work in tourism, not only drove us right to the door of our hostel, he also took us on a tour of Auckland
showing us all the key sites including the spot in the photo, One Tree Hill, his personal favourite. He told us that he loved going up there to enjoy the view and decompress. (Remember the old U2 song? Bono was singing about this spot.) From One Tree Hill you can look over all of Auckland while simultaneously taking in a view of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean. In my journal, I gush about the tree and the view for almost a whole page.
Some of my memories from NZ had become fuzzy over the years, but I always remembered One Tree Hill and the kind, generous Kiwi who brought us here. I kind of have a thing for trees – I like to photograph them, draw and paint them, and yes, even hug them sometimes – so that’s probably why this place resonated with me.
Here’s the disappointing part. When I searched the internet to find a nice photo to post, One Tree Hill didn’t look familiar to me. Where was the big tree at the pinnacle? I checked Wikipedia and the mystery was solved: the tree was destroyed in 2000 during a political protest. How sad! Until tonight, I assumed that the tree that had had such an emotional impact on me, on Tom, and, yes, even on Bono, was still standing there awaiting my next visit. Wrong. (Again)
So, it’s not just me, reckless-hitchhiker-turned-uptight-Uberphobe, who’s changed over the past twenty-five years. Even the physical features of places I visited have changed. There’s an old saying: “the only constant in life is change.” I’ve never doubted its truth, so nothing I’ve discovered tonight should come as a surprise. But it’s surprising me all the same. I’m quite taken aback.
I guess no matter how you look at it, a quarter of a century is a long time. Even for a tree.
“The moon is up over One Tree Hill
We see the stars go down in your eyes
I’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill”
Have a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp8ru3MpoBo