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2012 May — The Meaningful Traveler

May 2012

Gratitude and the slippery slope – Part 1

by Steve Brock on May 30, 2012

This gives you some sense of crossing the avalanche slopes on the way to Annette Lake

Life is messy.

Trips are messy.

I thought I had this whole “traveling gratefully” approach down after last week when my wife’s parents were visiting. It seems so simple: pray and prepare well before the trip, go with the right attitude, be open to what comes your way and give thanks for it all.

Well, it does work that way, but not always as we expect.

This last weekend my two teen sons and I decide to go hiking. The day before, we select as our destination Annette Lake, a small alpine lake in the Cascades less than an hour’s drive from home. The hike looks perfect: Eight miles round trip, less than a 2000 foot elevation gain, a beautiful destination and enough variety along the way to keep it interesting. Or so the hiking book says.

That all sounded great the night before. When 6:30 a.m. comes around (we wanted to beat the crowds and predicted rain), however, I’m not feeling the love for this hike. Still, we head out, my oldest son driving as I pray for a better attitude, to be grateful and to make this a meaningful trip for my sons and me. Oh, and I pray for it not to rain (as drizzle smears our windshield).

We speak little on the drive there. We arrive as the rain lets up. We collectively say a word of thanks for the day so far, a good start. Moments later, we’re on the trail. The beautiful waterfalls, moss covered rocks, and trees of interesting shapes and distortions (from earlier storms this year) get my attention and keep me enthused about the prospects of this hike.

And then we hit the switchbacks.

I can buy the “no pain, no gain” mantra in small doses. I find, however, that I have this pathological aversion to discomfort. This isn’t that hard of a hike, but it is a steady uphill climb for three miles.

Soon, I am fixated on just how long three miles can be. All attempts at gratitude and noticing the beauty around me get overcome by an interior dialogue that goes something like this:

“Three more miles? That’s like more than an hour of this.”

“True, but that’s not so long.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s like forever!”

“It will go by in no time. Listen to some music.”

“I am listening and it is still a long time.”

“Maybe you should start doing more aerobic exercises.”

“Oh, like that really helps now.

“Hey, it’s only about 2 ½ miles now.”

“Shut up.”

“I can’t. I’m in your head. Be grateful.”

This goes on for another mile or so until we hit the snow.

At first, the snow on certain parts of the trail seems like a nice distraction. We’ve brought two pairs of trekking poles which the three of us share. This seems to work fine until we emerge out of the forest and then, everything changes.

We have come to the first of many avalanche slopes.

Picture traversing a 60 degree mountain slope that is covered with snow and ice. At first, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But as we make our way across the first slope two things happen.

First, my youngest son, who is now about half way across, looks down. Bad move. He’s not thrilled with heights and we are very high indeed above the valley below.

Second, I realize his predicament and try to speed up to help him. Doing so causes me to slip. I use my  trekking pole to prevent a tumble, but now I come face to face an unnerving realization: all three of us are just one mis-step or slip away from a 500 foot toboggan slide down the mountain without a toboggan or anything other than rocks and trees in the valley below to halt our progress.

One moment I’m whining to myself about the exertion of the hike and the next I’m aware of something so surprising I don’t want to take it seriously but I must:

We could die here.


To be continued…

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A different kind of grateful

by Steve Brock on May 24, 2012

The setting

My wife’s parents are in town, the first visit in many years. As I write this, today is Sunday. Our plan is to take them to church, come home, have lunch, show off a bit of Seattle, have some dinner, return home.

I tell myself I have no travel plans for this day. But then I wonder: At what point did I discount such a journey and decide that so short a trek no longer counts as travel?

Travel comes in journeys of all lengths and types…

The reflection

Before church I take a different kind of trip. I wander through the bible. I have no itinerary, no planned destination. Yet somehow, I arrive at Psalm 104. I peruse the lines until verse 28 seems to enlarge and beckon. I am drawn in.

In the previous verses, the writer describes the great works of God and His provision for all creatures of this earth. Then verse 28 reads, “When you (God) give it (food) to them, they (the animals) gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.”

Those last six words capture me: How often am I satisfied with all the good things God has bestowed?

The idea

I can’t let such a thought go: when God alerts us in these subtle ways, we do best to respond. So today, I will attempt to notice those good things. To name them. Call attention to them. Invite others to join me. I will make our short trip into Seattle an exercise in gratitude, a hunt for good things.

The trip

It rains the entire day. Not your typical Seattle spittle but rain. Real, hard rain. The result is that we drive, beholding the city through car windows. I feel like the driver of a Greyline Tour only without the bus or the tourist stops.

  • We pass through neighborhoods I’ve never been to before witnessing houses with impeccable yards and enough curb appeal to make a realtor swoon.
  • We behold rhododendron plants the size of garbage trucks, blooms almost neon in their proliferation.
  • We circumnavigate a cheese festival at Pike Place Market each of us doing very bad Wallace renderings of “It’s the cheese, Gromit, the cheeeeeese.”
  • We pass the Seattle Center and glance at the new Dale Chihuly temple of glass in honor of…Dale Chihuly.
  • We wave at the passengers on a departing cruise ship as it leaves dock for Alaska.
  • We marvel at something as simple as the grid patterns of the raised drawbridge as we wait for it to descend and let us pass into Ballard.
  • We wonder about the history of the Freemont troll.
  • We laugh. A lot.

The results

I saw a city that is so overly familiar to me that I don’t really see it any more. I saw it anew for two reasons.

First, I went with the eyes of gratitude, hungry to be more aware of the good things I have been given.

Second, my in-laws saw and processed the city in ways totally different than I normally do. They saw with new eyes and as a result, so did I.

They helped me to see so many good things in the place I live and its environs. But as we drove home after a wonderful dinner, a wonderful day, I realized that though we barely left our vehicle this day, we didn’t need to.

What I was most thankful for – the very best things – were there in the car with me all along.

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Messages along the way

by Steve Brock on May 16, 2012

Do you ever get the feeling God is trying to tell you something?

Sometimes he’s pretty subtle.

Sometimes not.

My sons and I were hiking this last weekend near the faux-Bavarian town of Leavenworth, about two hours east of Seattle in the Cascades.

We came across this bridge that seemed innocent enough until my oldest son pointed out some graffiti I would probably never have taken the time to read.

Here’s what it looks like if you just glance at it:

 But if you take the time to read it, it says something (something rather ironic, actually, being that it was spraypainted on an otherwise lovely old bridge):I get the sense there is more here than I think, but I’m still processing both the words and how I came across it. Such is the way of discovery on a trip.

 How about you? What does it say to you?


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Notice the glory

by Steve Brock May 8, 2012

I finally saw the movie Tree of Life. Twice. Had to. I didn’t notice so many things the first time. And what it shows me is how much I rarely notice every day.

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The trip that went to the dogs

by Steve Brock May 2, 2012

Sometimes you start with a theme for a trip and sometimes a theme finds you as I discovered with dogs in Peru.

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