What is a Quest? Lessons from Happiness of Pursuit

My view of Rangitoto from St Heliers.
My view of Rangitoto from St Heliers.

Chris Guillebeau’s newest book, The Happiness of Pursuit, is all about finding meaning in life through a quest. A quest is bigger than an adventure; it is a series of adventures with a clear end goal. It is challenging and requires a sacrifice of time or treasure. The CTI Co-Active Leadership program ends with designing a quest; however, there was very little information about what form a quest might take. This book fills that void.

The book is full of people’s quest examples. I compared their experiences to my own. 5 years ago I needed a change in my life. The stress and the work treadmill were making me physically sick. Knowing that I needed to make changes was not enough to sustain the redesign needed–like expecting to lose weight while working in a donut shop.

I started with a couple of adventures with Habitat for Humanity, Global Village program. This was a normal extension of the travel volunteering I had done before. I focused on Northern Ireland and, based on other volunteers’ stories, I wanted to do a Jimmy Carter Build. Then HFH selected five countries along the Mekong River for the JC Build and I had friends in Cambodia. So I went on a Jimmy Carter Build in Cambodia hoping that the next step would reveal itself.

Set of Hobbit in New Zealand
Set of Hobbit in New Zealand; Lord of the Rings and Hobbit are both quest movies.

This is the real challenge of a quest figuring how much you need to do and how much you need to leave unplanned for the Universe to fill in the blanks. Much of quest begins and moves forward on intuitive hunches.

While I was on the Cambodia build I met a group of really great New Zealand volunteers. This led to taking a group of Canadian and US volunteers to a build in Wellington. By this time I had more than an inkling that my quest was leading me to live overseas.

New Zealand was love at first sight. My quest began to focus on moving to New Zealand. I spent a year “leaving well.” As far as sacrifice, does selling everything you own count? The thrill of fulfilling a life long dream of living in a foreign country for longer than 10 weeks (my previous stretch) was so exciting that it carried me through the wrenching process of leaving family and a house I had lived in for 25 years.

Once I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand lots of things fell into place—a place to live in St Heliers, a kindred spirit bf, and so many great things. Except a job. Eventually my money and Visa ran out and I found myself flying back to Sacramento on Christmas Day, 2011.

This is the end of the third act of a screenplay called “the all is lost moment.” I really felt confused about my quest. I thought it was about creating a new life overseas and yet I was not able to stay. Within a few months I had a new consulting business and still enjoying a lifestyle that included writing. (Much of this quest is chronicled in my first blog http://redesigning49.com.)

My life is largely redesigned. Yet my quest feels unresolved. I continue to plan adventures and stay open to what comes next.

Best coffee in the world is found in New Zealand. Don't call a Flat White just another latte.
Best coffee in the world is found in New Zealand. Don’t call a Flat White just another latte.

Quest Fiction

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. Post-modern tale of a mediocre man’s quest to find a special sheep in the mountains of Japan. The magical realism emphasizes the mystical aspects to a quest. It is the yin and yang of quests: doing and being.

The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Wind and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. This Swedish version of Forrest Gump is a tall tale that illustrates how one thing in life can lead to another in a good way if you retain your basic optimism and do not over think situations.

Travel Theme: Glow

We did not go looking for a glowworm adventure. We were just looking for a place to stay near Tauranga on the North Island of New Zealand. The Mount Tutu Ecosanctuary popped up on Trip Advisor and my friend UK Sarah agreed that it sounded like a fun base camp for our girls road trip. Upon arrival our hosts Tim and Debbie Short explained that tours of the native bush and a night time glowworm adventure were part of our package. We said yes to both.

Tim Short guiding us on bush walk at Mount Tutu Ecosanctuary
Tim Short guiding us on bush walk at Mount Tutu Ecosanctuary

Tim led the bush walk in the morning after breakfast. I am glad that we did this first so we could see the kind of woods that we would be walking in at night. Our host’s enthusiasm was infectious and we found ourselves asking lots of questions about the trees, flora and birds that we discovered once we softened our eyes. When I am in New Zealand I am usually looking out to sea for penguins, seals, and albatross. Tim’s guidance really helped me appreciate the beauty of interior New Zealand.

After dark we returned to the dining area where Tim outfitted us for our glowworm adventure. We put on our headlamps and spent a little time getting accustomed to walking in the dark with and without our headlamps. UK Sarah and I both got a little giggly as it was a little bit scary and a little bit exciting.

Tim led us to the woods and down into a small ravine where the creek has carved steep banks about as high as my 5’3″ head. On this dry evening the creek was gently burbling.  It did not seem long before Tim asked us to stop and turn off our headlamps.

The utter darkness revealed the magical beauty of the glowworm. The trees blocked our view of the starry heavens, but this was like another constellation on the creek bank. I was filled with awe. And delight.

The little girl who delighted in lightning bugs on an evening in Iowa long ago reawakened. After a time of appreciation I began to get curious about how glowworms “work”.  In the Te Ara encyclopedia it explains: “In New Zealand and Australia, glow-worms are the larvae (maggots) of a special kind of fly known as a fungus gnat. Fungus gnats look rather like mosquitoes, and most feed on mushrooms and other fungi. However, a small group of fungus gnats are carnivores, and the worm-like larvae of these species use their glowing lights to attract small flying insects into a snare of sticky threads. One species, Arachnocampa luminosa, is found throughout New Zealand, and others occur in Australia.”

What other kinds of species attract prey using sticky threads? Spiders! Not long after our eyes grew accustomed to the dark and the glowworms, we began to see darker shadows on the creek banks. Really big spiders! The scare factor went up a few notches and it made the experience that much more thrilling.

Eventually we were ready to head back to the lodge. We were not able to capture the glowworms with our cameras and so we began to savor the experience to make lasting memories. Experts say that heightened emotions make memories stick. We will not forget this adventure.

A lot of visitors go to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves to see the glowworms. But I do not do caves and so my cursor never lingered over this option. I am so thankful Tim and Debbie are willing to share their glowworms with us, and to lovingly preserve the ecosystem around them so the glowworms might continue to thrive.

Tim and Debbie Short with their three daughters have been managing these 16 acres of preserve for 25 years. We stayed in a separate guest house where the philosophy behind the decor seems to be “more is more”.  Debbie and Tim have given over a part of their home for the guest dining area and have a library of books to help identify the abundant bird life all around. They are generous souls and we felt the tranquility of the Ecosanctuary permeated our stay.

Our road trip began in Auckland, New Zealand. We drove to Tauranga, stopping at Hobbiton in Matamata (fun to say) for a pint of ale at the Green Dragon. We spent a full day in Tauranga, with a morning bush walk, a bit of shopping in town and a hike around the Mound, and some sightseeing, then back to the EcoSanctuary for our glowworm adventure. The next day we drove to Rotorua and checked out the hot springs and the museum before heading back to Auckland. It was just the right balance of driving and varied activity. It almost goes without saying that everything was beautiful–it is New Zealand.

Blog post inspired by Where’s my Backpack? http://wheresmybackpack.com/2014/04/25/glow/

One of the world’s best: New York Botanical Garden

For years I have wanted to visit the New York Botanical Garden. On previous visits to New York City I have not been able to carve out enough time from my business commitments or I could not convince my friends that it was more interesting than say, the Statue of Liberty.  At last, I was able to spend about 3 hours in this world class botanical garden. I could have spent all day.

Largest Victorian glasshouse in USA
Largest Victorian glasshouse in USA

I entered at the Mosholu gate and proceeded to the nearest cafe. The view of the Conservatory from the terrace was breathtaking. I was overheated from my bike ride so I opted for the air-conditioned indoor dining. The chicken waldorf salad was satisfying and I poured over the garden map while I chewed.

The challenge of NYBG is choosing how to spend your time because there is so much to see and do. In an ideal visit, I would have time to just sit and relax by the soothing lily pond. (How do they grow pineapples in large pots?) And wander through the native plant garden.

Lily pond in Conservatory courtyard.
Lily pond in Conservatory courtyard.

A sure sign of the level of excellence of an institution is the quality of the staff and exhibits. NYBG manages to combine the best of both. I was lucky to visit on the last weekend of “Wild Medicine” in the Conservatory.  The exhibits packed a lot of fascinating information in a readable, entertaining way. I was torn between reading every word and pressing on to see more of the Garden.  Then they took it to another level and offered interactive booths with very knowledgeable docents giving demonstrations on tea and chocolate with samples!

Docent knew as much about tea as the best Napa winery pourer knows about wine!
Docent knew as much about tea as the best Napa winery pourer knows about wine!

I kept moving because I had only scratched the surface of the Garden and it closes at 6 pm.  I walked toward the visitor center and admired the mature plants. I have visited a number of botanical gardens and the younger gardens are at a disadvantage because a well cared for garden improves with age.  NYBG has the added advantage that due to the foresight of the founders, they even have original forest from pre-development Bronx.

Visitor Center has a second cafe and a terrific gift shop.
Visitor Center has a second cafe and a terrific gift shop.

Plus they take advantage of existing buildings like the Stone Mill. Even the more modern buildings are designed to complement the Garden. The impressive library, the gracious visitor center, and even the modern research center are all signs that the Garden is well supported by the community.

With still so much to see, I hopped on the tram and rode it through the rest of the Garden. You can hop on and off, or stay on and get a windshield tour in about 30 minutes.  I am glad I did this or I would have missed my favorite plant in the garden–the Turkey Oak.

Favorite tree in garden. Reminds me of the wonderful Moreton Bay Fig.
Favorite tree in garden. Reminds me of the wonderful Moreton Bay Fig.

My last stop before closing was at the Library. There are special films shown at designated times during the day along with special collections. My mouth dropped open at the beauty of the rotunda. I wished I had more time and promised myself that I would come back and spend the entire day. To think that at one point I thought I would visit both the Garden and the Bronx Zoo (nearby). Ha!

Beautiful library--they do not build them like this anymore.
Beautiful library–they do not build them like this anymore.

Since my visit I have been thinking about my favorite gardens. NYBG stands in a class above the rest with Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden. All the same I have enjoyed some other gardens, including:

1. Huntington Library (and gardens) in San Marino, California (near Los Angeles)

2. Filoli county estate and gardens in Woodside, California (south of San Francisco)

3. The interesting (although a little worn around edges) Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma, California.

4. Chelsea Flower Show temporary, yet amazing gardens in London each May (May 20-24, 2014)

5. Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden at the White House and Martha Washington’s garden at Mount Vernon both in Washington, DC area.

6. Powerscourt Garden in Dublin, Ireland. Also has a tempting gift shop.

7. Bilbo Baggins’ garden at Hobbiton near Matamata, New Zealand.

8. Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm in the Lake District, England.

Honorable mention: whimsical garden at Belfast Castle–lovely memories of searching for all of the “cats” and the cut flowers at the University of Portland Farmers Market.

And if I could go to any garden, real or imaginary I would go to Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove, or the Secret Garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s imagination.  And my wanderlust will someday take me to Versailles, Amsterdam Flower Mart/Show, the Philadelphia Flower Show, Longwood, and Victoria, British Columbia.

What would you recommend?