Who would know?

by Steve Brock on June 15, 2017

Who would know? Pathway and treesLong before we ever had cable or the Internet (yes kids, there was such a time), a local television station used to run old movies every evening at 8 p.m. One summer evening as a kid of maybe eight or nine, having apparently nothing better to do, I gave this channel a shot. I had never before paid attention to any movie older than I was. But soon I was immersed in an old Bob Hope movie, Son of Paleface, and it was more entertaining than most of the more recent movies I’d seen.

A whole new world opened to me that evening. I realized that these so-called classic movies could be, well, actually good. But another epiphany occurred that evening as well.

In the movie, Bob Hope’s character at several points says or does something funny even though no other actors are in the scene. As a kid, I didn’t make the obvious connection that he was doing that for us, the audience. At the time, what struck me was that you could make a joke or do an amusing antic that no one else would ever see. But it wouldn’t matter. You did it just for you.

Who would know? Tree stumpFlash forward to last weekend when my wife and I were hiking. On a pristine trail with few signs of human intervention other than the pathway itself, we came across an old tree stump with a new tree growing out of it. I had walked right past the tree on our way out. But on the return, I noticed something unusual.

Someone had adhered a set of googly eyes to the trunk. A closer look revealed not just one set, but many. In fact, when I began inspecting the dead tree, I realized that there were these small quarter-inch or smaller white plastic circles with black dots inside them all over the tree.

Who put them there? Why? Did they leave all these eyes at once? Or did they start with just a few and other people added to it over time?

My response to Son of Paleface came flooding back. What if someone had done this just for themselves? Or perhaps a group of friends had added the eyes just as an inside joke among them? Whatever the back story, it raised some intriguing (well, at least to me, which is part of the point here) questions:

  • Who would know? Googly eyesDoes anyone else need to ever see the work (or joke or art or whatever) that you do for it to have meaning?
  • Is there even greater value when you do something anonymously, almost as a gift to others?
  • Can random acts of kindness (or humor or creation) have halo effects and continue long beyond their original intentions?
  • How much do I do because I care what people think about me or my work? What if I did more things that no one ever knew were mine? What would happen? To them? To me?

All this reminded me of my oldest son who is a graphic designer. He periodically goes out and finds some item — a piece of broken pottery, an abandoned display case, an old sign — brings it home and paints it or adds some other media to make it into a work of art. He then returns the enhanced piece to the place he found it. Trash to treasure.

He never knows if anyone ever even sees the work. But it doesn’t matter. Or maybe it does. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t know how people respond to it is the best part of it.

Who would know? Eyes on branch

What if we did more of our work as if we didn’t care what others thought? What if we didn’t worry about the response to our efforts but simply strove to add beauty or humor or interest or hope in even the most unlikely places? What if no one knew we did any of this except for God? And what if we invited God into our secret creations and acts of beauty and good will?

What if?


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The allure of secrets: Train Wreck – Part 2

by Steve Brock on August 1, 2012

To me, trains are like large farm animals: oversized, bulky and rather mundane. They’re something you pass by occasionally and notice peripherally (if at all). They make loud, rumbling noises we imitated as children, noises that we ignore as adults due to familiarity unless they are unusually close or loud. Same goes for their smells.

But with both, if I stop and take a closer look, I find them remarkable. Their bulk commands respect. Their details – the gentle yet wary eye of a cow or the bolts on a train’s brake wheel – evoke curiosity, even appreciation.

Thus, when I heard about Train Wreck near Whistler, BC, I considered it an opportunity to take a closer look at something potentially unusual and possibly intriguing.

I had heard that the six derailed cars were covered in graffiti so I expected to find rusted hunks of metal covered with gang tags, obscenities and spray-painted pronouncements of young love. But as my son Sumner and I made our way down the railroad tracks and discovered the side trail leading to the site, we found something very different.

Large, rusted and bent containers lay strewn around the area so haphazardly that they’re location seemed, paradoxically, almost intentional. But more than the wrecked train cars themselves were the embellishments added to them in two forms.

First was the graffiti. I use that term loosely for here, much of it was art. We saw minimal profanity or vandalism compared to walls and train cars at home. Instead, we found some beautiful designs, often quite humorous, rendered in multiple colors on the faded rust red sides (and interiors) of the box cars.

Second, the whole area had been transformed into a mountain biker’s dream. British Columbia has become world famous in biking circles for its homegrown variety of woodland architecture: boardwalks and runs, ramps, jump platforms and a host of variations on the log run collectively referred to as “skinnies” (picture riding along an elevated 2X4 and you get the general idea). This whole area was covered with various runs and ramps, the most astonishing being ones on the top of the boxcars themselves. 

We found out afterwards that a few years earlier, this place had been used for a photo shoot with the wooden platforms built for stunts as part of the production. Some of them have fallen into disrepair, but the overall effect was still fascinating. In fact, it has the feel, much as with HemLoft, of something out of the old computer game, Myst. 

As we wandered around the wooden structures and bent metal cars, we joked about how much it seemed like a fantastical woodland enclave. We half expected to find a Gandalf-like character pop out of one of the train cars with a can of spray paint in his hand, shaking it in that clickity-click-click manner and asking if we think the neon orange he has just added to the bent train ladder is the right shade.

I came to realize that the secret of Train Wreck isn’t really its location. It’s not easy to find, but neither is it as hidden away as HemLoft. Instead, the secret allure here is that what you uncover isn’t at all what you expected.

We came looking for the wreckage of the past and found that the efforts of numerous hands here in the present has transformed Train Wreck from a disaster site into a funky yet intriguing work of art.

I wonder what these same bikers and graffiti artists could do with cows…


Read about the journey to Train Wreck in Part 1

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 2

by Steve Brock on July 12, 2012

I am haunted – no, make that taunted – by the initial hints regarding HemLoft, the secret treehouse near Whistler, British Columbia. What started as a mere topic of idle conversation now becomes a quest.

When I worked as a professional magician in college, I often found that people wanted to know how a trick was done not because they cared about the illusion itself. Instead, they sought the secret simply because it was secret.

We don’t like not knowing.

I am no different. And so I begin asking the people at the place we’re staying what they know about HemLoft. Here’s what I learn:

  • They are, without exception, surprised that I’m aware of the place.
  • All of them have heard about it, but none of them have been there themselves. This is starting to have hints of urban legend.
  • It lies on public property near a wealthy new development.
  • The builder has made it open to anyone in an attempt to keep it from being discovered by authorities and torn down.
  • Many of the expensive homes built in Whistler undergo almost endless remodeling. So the builder of HemLoft used the discards – quality wood and components – to construct HemLoft.
  • Numerous people drive to the area looking for HemLoft but few find it.

Finally, I get a real tip: HemLoft lies near a particular switchback. He’s not sure exactly where, but I have enough to get me started.

So one morning while the rest of my family is still awakening, I head out. In many ways, I feel as if I’m geocaching (the hunt using a GPS and coordinates to find hidden boxes of “treasure” (simple toys or items that others have deposited there)). The only difference is that this time I have no GPS and the cache is much, much larger than a bread box.

I drive to the area but all I see is the street before me and miles of trees. If HemLoft is here, it certainly isn’t visible from the road. I continue slowly to the top where I find million dollar homes in various stages of construction. But no HemLoft.

I turn around and think through the logic of the place and where it could be. In so doing, I come across something I had missed before: what appears to be a very faint disturbance in the embankment off the road. I find a wide spot on the shoulder of road and park, ignoring the signs posted everywhere that you must have a pass or you will be towed. I figure I won’t be long enough for that to happen, or so I hope.

I clamber up the embankment and then, with a smile of delight and satisfaction, I discover a small trail at the top leading into the woods. Still, there is no sign of any treehouse or similar construction. Just trees and, up ahead, a wall of rocks.

I hike to the left of the rocks, following traces of foot prints. Up, up the hill I go, peering down for trail signs while periodically looking upward for hints of tree-based habitation. Nothing.

I wander around some more then figure this can’t be the place. I turn back but decide to do so following a different route. And that’s when I see it.

Not HemLoft or even a building. But a blue tarp. There in this forest is a blue tarp. As I approach it, it appears to be covering a length of 2X6 wood. The type you would use in construction…say, of a treehouse…

I pick up speed and as I come over a slight rise in the hill, I look up and there it is, as if it had been before me all along. On a lone tree surrounded by others sits a spherical structure.

I have found HemLoft.

I look around briefly on the outside but then, warily, I cross the elevated steps (a dicey proposition given that they are six or so feet off the ground and wet from recent rain) and come to the door. I knock, feeling a bit silly at the action given the isolated location, but still not sure about the rules of etiquette in secret forest treehouses.

There is no answer. I turn the knob, surprised by the sturdiness of the construction, and I enter HemLoft.

The outside of this remarkable treehouse is impressive, but what I find inside transforms this small structure from the object of a curious hunt into something much more…


To be continued

If you haven’t done so, check out Part 1 or Part 3

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 1

by Steve Brock July 4, 2012

Why do we love secret places so much? Find out as a trip to Whistler, BC turns into a quest for a secret treehouse known as The HemLoft.

Read the full article →