Meaningful travel and vicarious meaning

The most meaningful experiences on a trip often come through others – even while fishing in Yellowstone…

As we enter into summer, I recall a family trip to Yellowstone National Park  around this time last year.

One morning my father, two sons and I go fishing along the Firehole River. Just to clarify the name, the term “hole” in that part of the world – think Jackson Hole for example – refers to a valley-like area, almost a large bowl where mountains surround you on most sides. The “fire” part stems from the geysers and resulting steam. The “river” part comes from – OK, you’re on your own for that.

The four of us are spread out along the river which runs parallel to the busy highway that leads down to Old Faithful Geyser, so we’re not exactly in a backcountry, remote location. We chose this roadside stretch, in fact, because my dad, who is in his mid-80’s, needs to use one of those walkers that have wheels and a seat when he has to walk more than a few hundred yards. So we set him up – literally – on the grassy bank of the river in his walker with rod, reel and flies. And the distinct desire to catch a fish.

I’m about 150 yards upstream and my sons are spaced evenly between my dad and me. After about an hour out there, I notice that a young family or group has pulled into the turnout near where my dad is fishing. Not only that, but what looks like the mom of the group has gone down and is now talking to my dad. I figure he can handle his own with small talk, so I go back to concentrating on the large trout that keeps taunting me with aerobatics 15 feet in front of me. If fish had eyelids, I know this one would be winking at me each time it leaps into the air.

Soon, however, I note some commotion downstream. My dad has hooked a fish and has reeled it in. I am not sure if the people around him are helping him or are just excited to see someone catch something, but I see the flash from a camera and can hear laughter downstream.

Shortly thereafter, their group piles back in their car and takes off. About an hour later, we ourselves decide to call it a day, or at least a morning. As I go back and help my dad into our own minivan, I asked him about his little fan club.

It turns out the woman took the picture not because she’d never seen a Brook Trout before. The photo was for her grandfather who is about the same age and condition as my dad. She wanted to show him that he too could still get out and enjoy the outdoors. Take in the scenery. Be with family. Go fishing. Even catch one.

My dad has always been a role model to me, but on this day, he became a role model to a complete stranger. And by her pointing out how wonderful it was that my dad was out there, walker and all, fishing on this beautiful river, she affirmed him and encouraged him in a way that I could probably never do.

Her words and actions meant something very meaningful to my dad. And though I only saw the interaction from a distance, they meant something very powerful to me. We don’t always have to be the first-hand recipients of an experience to realize the value – even the wonder – of the moment. Often when we travel, the most meaningful moments come to us through others.

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