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home — The Meaningful Traveler


Finding your True North

by Steve Brock on February 15, 2017

The challenge

I was challenged by something I just read a few days ago in Dan Kieran’s book, The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel.

He quotes these lines from Philip Larkin’s “Home is So Sad:”

“Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back…”

Kieran then asks himself, “In my love of travel, had I begun to view my home as a means to an end, a destination I occupy but don’t really understand?” He continues:

“Wherever you happen to be geographically, travel actually takes place in your brain, so applying the mindset of the traveller to where you live is an interesting way to think about what it means to go on holiday.”

The journey

With that thought, Kieran heads out one day to explore areas around his own home that he has driven by, but never really experienced. The story of his journey inspired me to do the same thing. To get to know the place I call home better in the same way I would if it were some exotic, distant destination.

I drove to a parking lot not far from our home. Then I left behind both the car and my presuppositions about an area so close and yet so far away.

Finding your True North - The Interurban TrailThe trail

The Interurban Trail  runs both north and south of Seattle in two separate segments. I chose this day the southern part, an asphalt path that follows the route of the old Puget Sound Electric Railway trolley that ran here from 1902 to 1928. I’ve biked other sections, but not this one. And today, I walked.

Discoveries old and new

I’d traveled a few miles when I had my first hint that the discovery wasn’t necessarily to be found around me. Sure, there were interesting sights. Low areas now behaving as ponds from the recent snowfall and rain. Playful ducks cavorting in these waters. A shy rabbit darting across the trail when the coast seemed clear.

Industry abuts the trail as do houses, railroad tracks and, eventually, the backside of a shopping mall. All of these were somehow more interesting today than I would have thought. But revelatory? Not really. Surprising. Nope.

An unlikely find

What was unexpected was what I felt as I encountered the sheer normality of these places and sights. I was happy. Content beyond words. Downright joyful. Why?
I could try to rationalize the effect of coming home last week from a long overseas trip. Or the simple pleasure of being outside after a week indoors. Or a host of other factors. But as I walked, I found my answer.

True North Control

Embedded periodically in the trail are these shiny metal disks, markers that, I assume, serve as engineering guides:

True North Control marker

True North Control. This one stumps even Google. I can’t find the actual definition of what these are for. But here’s what they meant to me.

On this day, I had found my True North. I was given not what I thought I wanted — a day to explore and understand better the world around my home. Instead, I received what I needed. Presence. To my settings. To myself. To God.

What do you really want?

Recently, I’ve also been reading James K. A. Smith’s intriguing book, You Are What You Love. In it, he makes the case that it’s not what you know that causes you to live the way you do. It’s what you desire. And the scariest part of that? What we think we desire and what we deep down truly do may not be the same thing.

I left today thinking I needed adventure, albeit of the local kind. I thought I needed to engage my external world. But instead, what deeply satisfied me occurred more internally though I believe it was triggered (as is almost always the case in great travel) by the external surroundings.

What I found along the way was my True North, a mixed up sense of direction, desire and even the Author of all those.

Hidden all around us

God hides in plain sight all around us. Our True North is always available to us. But we forget. We lose sight of what matters. We get confused and we cease to understand what our True North is.

I personally think it’s one of the great tragedies of our age. We pursue what we think we desire without understanding our deeper longings. We travel aimlessly supposing that happiness comes in the journey without realizing that we are made for a direction, a destination.

Remembering what matters

Today I was given the gift of presence. Of peace. Of joy. Of remembering and rediscovering that God gives us what we need even when we think we want something else. And when he does, we find that indeed, that was what we truly longed for but didn’t realize we desired.

So what do you desire, deeply long for? Do you really know? Or do you, like me, need to take the time to just head out on a journey of discovery — perhaps as close as your own backyard — to find that everything you’re pursuing around you isn’t what will satisfy you. Only your True North can both lead you there and meet you there.

But when you find it, you realize that though you may have journeyed far, you have in fact reached your true home.


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I don’t get it

by Steve Brock on February 22, 2014

Wooster, Ohio SunsetOne of the most common points that has come up lately in discussions on meaningful travel is that travel is experiential. But the “experience” alone rarely comes with inherent meaning. Meaning is usually something we discover or come to understand after the event when we reflect. No reflection, no meaning, or so it seems in most cases.

So here I am 24 hours after snapping the above photo in a small town in Ohio. I was on a break between work meetings, wandering around the quaint downtown of this quintessential Midwest town thinking about how wonderful the trip has been: a fun location, a great boutique hotel, surprisingly good meals, wonderful company and positive outcomes of our meetings. The only thing left now was a final dinner and then the trip home.

One out of two went well.

Dinner was great at the home of a colleague who lives in this small town and was the reason why we met there.

Getting home? Let’s just say I made it back.

The short of it is that my flight was cancelled in the middle of the night before departure. It took two hours just to schedule a new flight out of a different city. I couldn’t drop my rental car in the new city, so that meant paying over $200 for a taxi ride for a colleague and me to get to the new airport. All of this resulted in my getting a little less than one hour of sleep that night.

Throughout this exhausted hassle, I kept clinging to the line that, “It’s not an adventure unless something goes wrong.” I half wondered, half prayed, “So God, what adventure do you have in store for me?” God didn’t say.

I ended up leaving from an unexpected city, stopping over in another unexpected city and eventually getting home. No life-changing conversations on either flight. No dramatic moments. No adventures. Just home.

So here I am – home – and I have two realizations.

First, I don’t get it. I don’t understand why any of these travel hassles occurred…yet. And that’s the key: I have to accept that reflection takes time. I just got back. I haven’t had enough time (nor sleep) to adequately process this. You can’t rush some things or, as I recently read in a comment by Brother Lawrence, the 17th century monk known for his humble pursuit of the presence of God, you can’t “go faster than grace allows.”

Second, not everything has to make sense. I want a bow tied and a pleasant little life lesson or moral attached to my every experience. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes we just have to live in the tension of not knowing and trust God to make sense of things later. And so I do.


Fast forward one more day. I had a good night’s sleep and with it comes enough clarity. I still don’t get it all, for I suspect there is more to uncover. But this I do understand now:

I’m home. Nothing more than that. I made it home and am so thankful just for that often underappreciated blessing. Sometimes gratitude is its own destination.

I don’t have to understand what I’m not yet capable of understanding. I don’t have to get it all. In fact, yesterday, all I really needed to get was home.

And I did.

That’s more than enough.


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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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Making vs. taking – Part 2

by Steve Brock April 19, 2012

Learn five more similarities between making a photo and a meaningful journey and learn why I will likely never have my own cooking show.

Read the full article →

An ordinary day

by Steve Brock July 6, 2011

Returning home from a trip helps change your perspective about both where you went and also where you’re from. Coming back after being away can help you see that the ordinary life you lead may not be so ordinary after all…

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Too soon to tell – Part 2

by Steve Brock May 5, 2011

When you first return from a trip as I recently did from Peru, you’ll want to show all your photos to friends. But wait. What you show later will mean more to them and to you. And you might just see things you didn’t realize on your trip…

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Too soon to tell – Part 1

by Steve Brock May 2, 2011

As I’m finding out after returning from Peru, you need time when you get back from a trip to process what you’ve learned, but more importantly to understand the story that lies within the facts surrounding your journey. That fuller story only becomes clear with time.

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