Nostalgia is a fickle thingGWYNETH HYNDMAN
So it's been more than six weeks since I set foot in Los Olivos, California and here's the deal: As much as I'd love to report back that I'm really content, that there is no place like home, and that I've come full circle as the prodigal daughter, the reality is that I am treading water in a increasingly stale, and kind of pungent sea of nostalgia for a time and place that I know I have to give up.
That time and place is called a holiday.
Because my hometown has been transformed into a destination for those who hanker for boots and spurs along with their pinot and syrah, in a region close to good surf, with very nice, paycheck-eating wine country restaurants, all backed by the Los Padres National Forest with miles of sage-scented trails to be explored, it has been easy to get confused and think that I too, am on vacation.
At some point in the last decade the roads of Los Olivos that I ran down 30 years ago - Sesame Street backpack bouncing, pigtails flying, to catch the school bus - have started to look to me how I suspect they also look to the tipsy, cowboy-loving L.A. lady who wanders across a revitalised Grand Avenue in rock star sunglasses, oblivious to cars, in search of the cupcake caravan.
I might scowl when this invader poses for pictures in the middle of the street, in front of the old gas station that I still think of- with childish fury- as all mine.
Yet here I am, also walking around Los Olivos as if it is a one-dimensional, charmingly unchanging film set of a movie, starring me.
In my defence, it's the simple stuff that I love about this place.
I love its history, back when it really was an old ranching town, and back when it was a little more run down, with fewer wine tasting rooms, and more places you could ride your horse without being yelled at.
And I love my own history here within that history.
I love that this was a backdrop to me as a happy, gap-toothed kid, oblivious to basic directions about what I was supposed to be doing most of the time, slightly off with whatever fashion I was trying to sport, but confident that I was cool enough to the people who loved me most.
Re-exploring this town that shaped me - usually on the same red bike with squeaky brakes that my dad unearths from the garage each year I come back - seems like a good way to tunnel back to that self each year when I am home.
It's grabbing that perfect yellow peach, paying for it with back-pocket change, and walking through the farmer's market with a coffee, bike helmet dangling, and taking that first bite, not caring as peach juice runs down my arms.
It's an evening in my parents' hot tub with a glass of wine, under branches of walnut trees I used to build forts in.
It's a ride on a friend's horse through vineyards and sunburnt hills cradling live oak trees - the first wilderness I ever knew.
It's a long swim at Butterfly Beach and a walk back to the car with the smell of coconut sunscreen and eucalyptus trees baking in the heat all around me.
It's biking down to the library to check out books then going for bacon and eggs, with sourdough toast at The Longhorn diner.
It's jumping on my brother's trampoline at night then laying there to watch the stars. It's a five-hour lunch in a friend's backyard, under orange trees and wind chimes.
I've had time to hone and perfect this California holiday routine for about a decade now.
Sometimes all I get is one week in Los Olivos; three years ago I had six (ample time to figure out that one perk of living in a wine tasting resort town is that gates to hotel pools are often either unlocked or climbable).
All in all I've gotten pretty good at landing here exhausted and sun-starved and finding a Christmas morning joy in waking up to my dad toying with a car in the garage, the alfalfa being baled across the street, and the smell of coffee coming from the kitchen, the feel of morning sun on my hands and in my hair, before rolling over and curling up to go back to sleep.
And all of this is engraved on my mind like a screensaver before returning to the South Island winter.
Which is where I would be normally be in late August, dragging my feet through the Invercargill Countdown in pajama bottoms and a hoodie, armed with a basketful of pumpkin, parsnips and onions for a roast, looking mournfully at the imported nectarines that I know will only taste like cardboard, unable to look at magazines near the check-out that have pictures with anyone having fun on a sunny beach anywhere.
I've loved having the chance to walk back through these safe and warm, languid and beautifully predictable landscapes, surrounded by family and friends who have been my sidekicks since the Sunday school sandbox.
I feel held here and nurtured.
Life feels so easy.
It's a place that I dream about in my wild, stormy New Zealand winters when all I want is my mom's chicken soup with dumplings and a night by the fireplace with her, watching Alfred Hitchcock movies and eating dark chocolate.
But this time, coming back to Los Olivos has lingered beyond me reliving my happy childhood.
It's been almost seven weeks and there is still no clear plan.
The memories are probably a little sharper, maybe less rose-tinted. I had forgotten, for instance, how much I hated high school, and how boring nice weather all year round seemed to me at 15 (oh yes, I am amused by this too), and how that plane ticket out of California was booked before I even turned 18.
Loitering around my hometown since early July, doing odd jobs while sending out my resume and anxiously eating cereal out of the box and staring at the phone feels less like a holiday and more like unemployment.
All to say that the peaches are still sweet, but not quite as special as that first bite and sleeping in past 8am feels a little wasteful now.
I am starting to take the sun for granted.
I am still loving my bike rides to favourite haunts, and swimming in lakes and oceans, but I wonder if I should be using the time to train for something while I wait for the phone to ring and someone to tell me I'm hired.
The joy of sitting up with my mom watching Vertigo hasn't lessened.
I love holding my friends' babies.
And I am becoming more patient with the L.A. woman in ridiculous shoes and sunglasses standing in the street, playing a starring role in her own movie about being on a holiday that she has yearned for, just like me.
I am learning to share my hometown.
But you know what I found myself missing this morning?
Being able to wander around a supermarket in pajama bottoms and a hoodie.
Nostalgia is a fickle thing.