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animals — The Meaningful Traveler


The wonders you missed the first time

by Steve Brock on July 2, 2013

Louisbourg TurkeyLooking back on my trips reminds me of the wonder I found there. It reminds me as well that wonder lies all around us. It reminds me that God has surprises – good ones – stored up for us each day if we have the eyes to see them.

My family and I took a trip two summers ago to Nova Scotia, Canada. One of the places we visited was outside of Sydney, at the restored fortress of Louisbourg. This is like the Canadian version of Williamsburg, VA, an entire 18th century town recreated for visitors complete with “actors” playing the various roles there: blacksmith, soldiers and officers, clerks, housekeepers…basically everyone who lived and worked in this fort several hundred years ago.

Louisburg isn’t the obvious choice for a place to experience wonder. After all, it’s a reenactment. But who says wonder has to be “authentic?” Ask any kid about Disney World and they’ll tell you it has more wonder per square inch than Mickey Mouse has fingers.

Over the next several entries, I’ll look at different aspects of wonder I discovered there by looking back on the trip.

Let’s start with a less-obvious one: Discovering wonder that you didn’t notice at the time.

In the above photo of a turkey at the fort, I obviously was aware of the bird when I was there. But I didn’t really see it. Only in looking at my photos in hindsight did I appreciate the details in the bird’s face or the myriad colors – almost iridescent in their hues – in the feathers.

I could go online and find hundreds of photos of turkeys but they wouldn’t have the same effect on me. This one is special because I was there. I heard it. I saw it. I even thought it was cool enough at the time to warrant a photograph.

You may look at the photo and think, “Well, OK, that’s an interesting bird” or “It would look better on my Thanksgiving table.” But the physicality of travel and the memory of all that happened that day combine with the present review of the photo and make me think, “Wow! That’s amazing.”

Try it yourself. Go through photos of a past trip not to reminisce about the journey but to intentionally hunt for hidden wonder. You may find it in the oddest of places.

Even in ones you might otherwise think of as just a turkey.

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Hard trips and wonder

by Steve Brock on February 16, 2013

No, not a shark. A porpoise in a more serene mode...

As we saw last time, hard trips wear us down. That may not seem positive until you realize how all the effort you expend leaves you in a state where you see and think differently. In the aftermath of exhaustion, we find a kind of focus, a relaxed pose where we’re far more present to the world around us.

Following my own hard trip back in December, I had the weekend in Orlando before meetings on Monday. My friend took me out on kayaks on Sunday to fly fish in one of the shallow estuaries around Cape Canaveral. We caught nothing that day, not even a bite. But it didn’t matter. I was in that place following a hard trip where I was both content to be there with a good friend and yet strangely attuned to the world around me in ways I’m normally not.

After exiting the kayaks, we stood in about 30 inches of water, wading and fishing. I saw numerous pelicans dive for fish. Nothing new there. Until one pelican dives, and instead of hitting the water, it levels out and glides for what seemed a quarter of a mile literally two inches above the water. I could detect no muscle move on that bird as it silently floated in a straight line over the liquid surface beneath. Stunning.

Later, out of the still waters around us, a mound of water began to rise and move toward us, maybe 100 feet away. It grew in size to a swell almost two feet high and several feet wide. What could it be? How could a wave or swell start from nothing out here? Then I saw that it was two porpoises swimming furiously, side by side, on the surface of the water creating this liquid wall.

Suddenly, the porpoise on the left makes an additional movement. A large fish emerges between the two, chased over by the left porpoise. Equally fast, the porpoise on the right reaches out and grabs the fish in its mouth. Two seconds later, the swell is gone (and so is the fish, a victim of a clever tag team of these two porpoises).

I might have taken casual note of nature’s side show at some other time, but on this day, because of where I was mentally, physically, emotionally and even spiritually, I stood there in wonderment of the most extreme kind. I was like a kid seeing a fireworks show for the first time, awed by both the sight itself and the awareness that you had no awareness before that very moment that something of such splendor existed.

This makes me think of an entry I wrote two years ago on the rest Frodo experiences after his trip to Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings. It’s a reminder that hard trips are indeed hard.

But they can provide unexpected rewards that make us truly aware of the wonder of the world in which we travel and help us appreciate it ways we never would on an easier journey.

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Prairie dogs and business travel

by Steve Brock on June 12, 2012

Though you can barely see the second rainbow here from this photo taken not in Colorado but Yellowstone, it gives you some idea of a double rainbow

Business travel sometimes feels like all business. You go through the routine and nothing outside of the task at hand registers.

Other times, you can’t help but notice some of the more unusual occurrences on your trip. Take my business trip to Colorado last week for example.

I land in Denver through such turbulence that I feel like the inhabitant of a snow globe. I get to the rental car office outside the airport and suddenly the manager starts screaming at people to get inside and move away from the windows. All transactions stop as collectively we watch a small tornado pass through the parking lot fifty feet in front of us.

I’ve never seen a twister in person before, much less one this close. Apparently neither has anyone else judging from the excited chatter that follows, hands swirling in spiral reenactments, voices raised a few decibels higher than normal describing the objects flung effortlessly around in the twenty-foot-wide point of the funnel.

I find my rental car (fortunately parked in a different lot) and depart thinking I’ve had my fill of unusual weather for one trip. Within an hour of that phenomenon, however, as I drive south I encounter the following:

  • multiple lightening strikes to the east, not the zig-zaggy patterns that appear high up and work their way to earth like a PowerPoint slide transition, but quick straight lines of white flashing all at once like a neon burst against a charcoal background;
  • cloud patterns and colors that seem more like CGI effects than acts of nature;
  • wind that wants to drive my small car sideways as much as I want to will it forward;
  • rain that falls gently at first then comes down in drops the size of marbles;
  • hail that matches then exceeds the volume and size of the rain and pounds the car’s roof with a rhythmic intensity that seems almost melodic (though I find out the next day that in some areas the hail reached three inches in diameter and piled up in drifts two feet high);
  • and to top it all off, in the midst of all of this, a double rainbow (you have to say the words “double rainbow” with awe like the guy in the popular YouTube video for full effect).

None of this was on my itinerary or meeting agenda. But I find in such dramatic situations, I have no choice but to pay attention. What starts as mere curiosity becomes enthrallment. I am a spectator in the theater of the sky, a performance I did not sign up for, but now I cannot resist. I am witness to it, but also a participant, part of the disruptive weather that surrounds me.

At one point, as I am driving through a more remote stretch of highway amidst the thin vertical bars of brilliant light erupting to my left, I notice on the right side of the road a lone prairie dog. It stands up as only prairie dogs, curious squirrels and small children at a circus or parade can do on its hind legs straining for the sky; watching, giving witness to the magnificence before and around it.

“Amen,” I think as I drive on.


Normally, I too easily become jaded, especially on business trips where practiced precision drives my decisions and movements. But experiences like this remind me that there is more to life than work, more to travel than just getting someplace else.

This may all sound rather dramatic or possibly, over-the-top if you weren’t there. That’s the point. That’s what made this business trip something much more: Being there to experience the wildness and wonder of it all.

But don’t take my word for it.

Just ask the prairie dog.

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God is in the details – Part 1

by Steve Brock October 8, 2010

While it is important to capture the big picture scenes of a trip, sometimes the most meaningful moments are found in the details. Our day at the fair provides multiple examples of how in travel and photography, sometimes a limited focus reveals much more.

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You don’t have to travel far to travel well

by Steve Brock October 4, 2010

As I learned while visiting the Western Washington Fair last week, you don’t always have to travel a great distance to have a great time…or learn something you’d never discover at home.

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