Last week, my family and I drove less than thirty minutes to spend half a day at the Western Washington Fair.
If you’d asked me ahead of time how a visit to the fair could be considered meaningful travel, I would probably have given you the same blank stare I got from several of the sheep there. But that mini-trip mattered because it shared three characteristics common to all meaningful travel.
First, we encountered the novelty of the unfamiliar. I’ve never before witnessed a curly feathered goose, a six-year-old trying to bronco-bust a sheep (they call it Mutton Bustin’ there), a goat with four horns or a three-hundred-pound man flung skyward on a bungee cord ride.
I could die happy without ever seeing the latter again.
But the pumpkins the size of a Smart Car had their appeal as did the 47 breeds of chickens, the creatively-themed foot massage machines and all those cool gadgets (who could possibly live without a tool that can open a can of beans, remove seven layers of paint and double as a midwife in a pinch?). And did I mention the Hobby Hall? If you could have seen the variety of objects covered in either beading or tole paint (or both), you would know that ingenuity still lives on in this proud country of ours.
Second, we gained an appreciation for a different culture. I barely set foot outside my own area code but had a distinctly cross-cultural experience. In fascinating conversations with the people who raise the pigs, cows, horses, sheep and others there, I realized that:
a) I am a pathetic city-slicker with no real sense of where my food comes from (though watching the documentary Food, Inc. a few months ago did open my eyes considerably).
b) The people who raise these animals take a deep pride in their work that is admirable and, in some cases, even moving.
Yes, I recognize I may be romanticizing the agrarian lifestyle, but the dedication evidenced even by young children as they handled, prepped and preened their animals was inspiring. The sacrifice and commitment they demonstrated in caring for these farm animals made me realize how rare it is that I dedicate myself to anything that doesn’t provide some form of immediate gratification or affirmation.
Third, the experience was meaningful because our family shared it together. And because we were out of our normal modes, we noticed small moments more. Our 13- and 16-year-old sons, for example, both chose to stay with their mom and me rather than joining groups of friends we encountered at the fair. Not a big deal perhaps to others, but my wife and I are becoming increasingly aware of how little time we have left with our children at home.
I may forget how many varieties of pygmy goats I saw that day, but I won’t forget that our teenage boys still like being with us.
It doesn’t take much for something to be meaningful. And sometimes, you don’t have to go far to find it.