Paradise looked like the Scottish Highlands on a bad day.
This is not a writer’s metaphor; navy clouds hugged the mountains, spitting water at the cabins that hunkered beneath them like storm-battered seagulls.
Of two cottages booked, one had no heating. The 1800’s housing lacked electricity and indoor plumbing, as well.
“30 years is not worth a night of misery,” I insisted, predicting a speedy transition from rustic to agonizing in this weather.
New Zealand had given me snow topped mountains for my birthday. An environment better spent in private chilly reflection, wishing for woolen socks and the chance to be 25 again.
But, because girls celebrating birthdays abroad deserve grand gestures, my boyfriend’s family upgraded our stay into a converted annexe: wood burner, tea kettle, flushing toilets.
While rain thrummed on the corrugated roof, we played Ping and shared Pinot Noir. Chris surprised me with an extra chocolatey brownie, 10 silver candles winking from its crust.
Closing my eyes, I made the same wish I’ve wished for the last 84 months. In Kiwi tradition, Chris followed my exhalation with 30 claps – one for each year of life.
“When you were 28, did you imagine this was what 30 would look like?” she asked.
Where was I at 28? Back in South Dakota, for the first time in years, sharing a pint of PBR with friends at the town’s only Irish pub. What about 27? Curled up on a hostel bed in Cambodia, suffering from food poisoning. And how old was I when we threw that impromptu ceilidh dance in Durham, England?
Suddenly all my earlier holidays jostled for attention. I recalled a friend’s rendition of the Greek birthday song.
May you live, Kelli and happy birthday,
May you grow up and your hair turn white,
May you spread everywhere the light of knowledge,
So everyone will say: she is a wise woman.
The more I celebrate age’s inevitable tally on foreign shores, the more I appreciate this unique, cultural version.
Surely, my 28-year-old self would have laughed at the idea of a 30-year-old Me with a baby and New Zealand home. She might have scoffed at this quiet, cozy gathering at an old Central Otago homestead.
But that’s because – without three decades of wisdom behind her – she hadn’t quite figured out that age is merely an opportunity to practice contentment in any location – chronological or physical.
Now, if you ask 30-year-old Kelli, she’d tell you that Paradise is another 365 days in which to travel through this magical, frustrating, liberating, awe-inspiring world.