I woke up to footsteps on cobblestone outside my street-level window, the morning still dark. I had forgotten where I was for a moment, the way I sometimes used to at summer camp or sleepovers. It smelled of vegetable soup and I was wearing jeans as pajamas.
To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.
Also the loneliest, the most magnificent, the most indicative of being alive.
I decided to go for a walk, and, as I did, the sky turned from black to gray as if it were a printer that had run out of ink. I wore the boots I trusted most and walked uphill for miles in a small city on the west coast of Norway. I had come overseas alone. I wasn’t exactly sure why.
When I reached the top, I saw an expanse of fir trees. Skovgaard was right to romanticize Scandinavian forests: deep green, but, more importantly, cyan, magenta and yellow.
I wasn’t sure what time it was, but I walked for what felt like long enough for Thoreau to write a book about me. Northern forests are dangerous—I proceeded through the landscape knowing so, wearing what I’d probably show up to a date in. Somewhere nearby, there were bears and poisonous mushrooms.
If purpose of this writing is to introduce myself, then I’ll say that the most important thing to learn is that I have a lot of trust. I once read that it is the tendency of all natural systems to drift back towards equilibrium after a disturbance, and then I realized the same must be true of me. Now, I don’t fear discomfort. I think vulnerability is a great display of strength. I know very well that the planet keeps turning.
I like to travel alone, but it isn’t as enchanting as you might imagine. Instead, it’s often confusing, and uneasy, and even scary. But, as in the words of Roxane Gay, one of my favorite essayists, “there is freedom in that fear… that freedom makes it easier to appear fearless.” Surely, I’m aware that the world is hard to navigate and often dangerous. I don’t think safety, or the illusion of, is the answer.
In these moments of discomfort—international flight cancellations, loss of cellular service in desperate times, inability to navigate google maps, loneliness and boredom—my trust in myself grows. Some say that if a couple wants to put their compatibility to the test, they should travel together. I think the same applies to individuals. I am never relaxed or tan after traveling alone. I am reassured, though. I am reminded that I can do most things alone.
I write this from my desk in Sydney, Australia, where I’m doing a semester abroad. It’s undeniably beautiful here, but coral reefs are dying, and sharks are being culled, and the semester will end soon. I can feel the momentary nature of it all, but I feel empowered rather than defeated. It’s like being at the beach on a Sunday afternoon and knowing there’s work in the morning, but wanting to stay a bit longer because its warm and wonderful. I know the lushness of the planet cannot last much longer, and so I see as much of it as I can. I know my life will not be this dreamy for long, and so I am unapologetically adventurous, brave, and impulsive.
At the end of my hike in Norway, I came across a playground.
Shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty.
I played alone for the sake of playfulness. I hope you would too.