Tuesday, June 3, 2008

About Me, Part I: Why Chase the Long White Cloud?

During the plane’s circling ascent from Auckland International, I’d watched the island I’d lived on and the people I’d lived with and served for nearly two years as an LDS missionary slowly disappear beneath a bank of clouds. As we turned east toward LAX and (ultimately) Salt Lake and New Zealand’s landscape began to fade into memory, I tried to digest what I’d learned on my journey by writing in my journal.

Now, almost ten years later, I sit at my laptop, holding my third daughter (she’s just four-months old), chasing those memories, sifting for them through seven years of college and a heap of parenthood’s changed diapers and sleep deprivation because during an early morning feeding not long ago I had an epiphany (or some sort of delusion brought on by extreme lack of sleep…it’s still too early to tell which one, or combination of the two, it was).

“Start your blog,” it said. “Add your voice to the millions streaming through cyberspace to be heard, to be bookmarked and revisited.”

Moving the baby onto my shoulder, I’d asked, “And what should I call this existentialist exercise?”

While scrolling through my literary experience for some catchy title, an idea pierced the nursery’s darkness: Chasing the Long White Cloud.

A few years ago, I’d taken this image from Maori mythology in my attempts to symbolize a growing fascination with people and their interactions, societies, cultures, and cultural texts. It comes from the Maori name for New Zealand, Aoteoroa, which means “the land of the long white cloud.” Legend has it that when Kupe, New Zealand’s fabled founder and Maori voyager and navigator, curved across the ocean, he knew land lay ahead because a long bank of cumulus clouds hovered on the horizon.

Just as chasing that cloudbank ultimately brought Kupe a land for his people, that people and their land opened my eyes to the diverse possibilities of the human sea, a reality I’ve been grasping at ever since, simply because every time I think I’ve come close to approaching the solid ground of total human understanding and of knowledge of all things human, the cloudbank dissipates, only to reappear over a different distant land, forcing me to explore onward.

Chasing the long white cloud, then, has become my metaphor for this persistent attempt to understand—or at least to try to understand—cultures, peoples, and paradoxes beyond the scope of my personal horizon. And this weblog is an effort (for whatever reason, if there is a reason or needs to be a reason for it at all) to make that personal journey public.