It takes longer than a plane ride to catch up. It takes longer than the fall to land on your feet.
Regardless, it feels good to be back.
So much has happened that I haven't really processed. Adam and I got engaged in Cambodia at the dawn of the new year, alone atop tucked-away stone steps inside Angkor Wat. Just a few months later, we left the lives we'd built over 2 and a half years in Seoul, parting with friends, muddling my way through heartbreaking goodbyes, and making last trips to favorite haunts. We became the ghosts we always used to feel.
We spent a week with elephants in the mountains of northern Thailand, helping in small ways to keep their sanctuary a reality. We were ceremonially blessed by grandmothers from the nearby village, befriended by resident cats, and escorted to breakfast by rescued dogs. In Chiang Mai, we trailed our fingers along the stripes of tigers lounging in the late morning heat, and at night we wandered the stalls of markets crowded with noise and smells and sweat. In Krabi, we watched the rain smooth mountains into mist and swam between sheltering islands to tease the smiles of giant blue clams.
Farther south still, we stepped into autumn on the edges of Australia and met old friends along the way. Countless marsupials were fed and cuddled at every opportunity. We drank whiskey with Ned Kelly's death mask, close enough to count pores in the plaster, and felt cold for the first time in weeks. Adam drove on the left while I questioned if the maps were right. We held our breath for the chance of a platypus, scrutinized tree lines for fur among leaves, and scanned waves for a flash of dorsal fin. We startled wallabies in the underbrush and played chicken with geese made indignant by our very presence on the path. Our voices echoed in caves and drowned in the thunder of waterfalls.
In New Zealand, we sat in silence under the Southern Cross while cows whispered through the neighbor's fields and we witnessed how stupid sheep can be. I saw how green the grass is on the other side. We solved puzzles to escape a bank vault and rushed through a vertical cycle of luge and gondola while recklessness reined over better judgment. I lusted over mountain ranges and touched moss-coated history lessons. We marveled at the faded corpse of a giant squid before we were crushed by the weight of war memories one hundred years heavy. We sipped Sauvignon Blanc on a train passing Mordor and drank ale at the hearth of the Green Dragon. I cried at Hobbiton, at my nerd dreams come to life, at having to leave. My arm was tattooed and my appetite frequently fished-and-chipped (and craft beered).
And then it was over. We fought jetlag to rejoice in familiar faces and forgotten foods before preparing yet another rearrangement of belongings, and now here we are, resuming life as ex-expats from scratch. Despite leaps in progress toward the trappings of reestablishment, I'm finding difficulty in the stillness. I keep expecting another airport, adjusting phantom backpack straps on shoulders rapidly losing their tan, and making acceptance of where I am - geographically, metaphorically - a daily exercise.
We documented our travels well, and I'll be fleshing them out here over time with the stories they deserve as the hundreds of photos are organized and edited. For now, I'll just revel in the Seattle summer blues, paying dues of adulthood, and await the ghost of snow.