05 Jul 2014 How Salamanders led me on my travels
When I was little my mom, sister, me and our dogs used to get lost on purpose. We lived in the country of the deciduous North Eastern United States. Maple, birch, apple, cherry, oak and ash trees rooted themselves on our rolling hills.
No matter if it were early spring or late fall, leaves would squish or crunch beneath our scampering feet. We’d always be on a quest to no where – the best destination to have for a seven and five year old. My mom home schooled my sister and I until fourth and second grades respectively. It was never her choice to send us off to school. It came about because all our relatives lived out of state. When they’d visit they noticed things – things like another year passing and us still not knowing our multiplication tables, simple addition or subtraction. The family spoke. Grandma paid. We were in school.
In all those early days and miles spent in the woods, I never felt lost. My world was small and I wasn’t intimated by the isolation and quietness of the forest. Some people venture into the woods and feel fear. I felt curiosity. I entered school with a similar curiosity I had of the forest. In the woods I would lift rocks just to see if there might be a red salamander or garter snake resting underneath. In school I used my curiosity and tried to interact with the other kids to ask them questions about life, just to see what they’d say. My questions and explorations of my classmates soon gave way to a constant state of fear as it became apparent I lacked the same social skills they had. I quickly became the odd one out.
For four years I felt almost completely alone and without friends my own age. To find peace, I wandered farther into the woods or rode my horse mile upon mile into empty fields far away from roads or houses. In these spaces I could rest in solitude. In school, I was surrounded by people, yet constantly lonely and fearful my next words or actions would give just cause for merciless banter.
And so, from a young age I learned different ways to deal with being alone. Some of my coping mechanisms were better than others, but I learned how to play by myself at recess, come to expect being picked last for gym class and the hardest of all, eat lunch by myself. At random times there would be a swing and all of a sudden I could ‘hang’ with some people and sit with them at lunch. Then for reasons I was oblivious to, I’d be eating alone again.
It took me into my mid-twenties to deal with the anger and hurt I had of those harsh years. I feel my story is more fortunate than most as I was finally allowed to switch schools upon entering ninth grade. I was determined to create myself anew at a different school. On the first day of class my biggest fear would be finding someone to sit with at lunch. I will forever remember and be loyal to my friend Jen for inviting me to sit with her.
Suddenly, because of one person’s kindness, my world got a whole lot bigger.
As travelers, we are privileged to see the world through wider eyes. Since my high school days, I’ve been able to have lunch with people all around the world. And because I’ve asked random strangers questions, I’ve been invited into their homes to learn about their lives, laugh with their families and share stories. I’ve stayed in hostels where groups of us from all over the world unite together with companionship, crossing paths for a short bit of time, we celebrate together the events of life happening around us. We know the warmth of being welcomed and welcoming others to join with us. And because we travel, we know at times the comfort and pain of being alone in our journey.
It takes guts to step outside our comfort zone. Travelers are almost constantly pushing themselves out into the world and away from what we know. As such, we have a larger empathy to that person who might be sitting alone in the corner – because at one point or another it has probably been us. A big part of travel is simply meeting people different than ourselves and asking questions about their lives, just to see what they will say.
My calling for exploration has not ceased since those young years of turning rocks over and looking for salamanders. My curiosity has now evolved into hiking through remote jungles to look for orangutans, free climbing 165 feet up trees (a height taller than Niagara Falls) without the use of any ropes and harnesses or diving into the Pacific Ocean to swim with a dozen bull sharks at once. Now I pick and choose where I’d like to venture off to next in the world. I like to meet different people, try new foods, photograph wildlife and experience this world we live in. This is my dream. I am living my dream. Every day I make choices and sacrifices to keep my quest alive and growing. The freedom I feel from following my passion is one of the greatest accomplishments we humans can strive for. It is an outcome I can only wish for more of us to discover.
About the Author: After her first year at university, Tiffany moved to Wyoming in the spur of the moment decision to live on the floor next to a washer and dryer. She has never looked back since embracing a life of travel, exploration and endless curiosity.
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