Surprise and wonder

by Steve Brock on July 17, 2013

I’m in Louisbourg, the recreated 18th century fort on the island of Nova Scotia, Canada. I’ve seen many of the reinactors throughout the day, especially those playing the role of soldiers as in this photo.

Soldiers at LouisbourgExcept for the modern-day spectacles on a few of the actors, nothing seems amiss.

Until I look more closely.

Actually, I didn’t look very closely when I took this next photo. I just liked the composition of the posts and the soldier leaning against the wall.

Leaning Soldier at LouisbourgBut after I snapped the shot, the person playing the soldier smiled at me. This actor, I gather, is used to being photographed. After all, that’s part of what they are there for. But when I saw the soldier smile, as small a thing as it is and as weird as this may sound, I had a bit of a shock. A surprise that bordered on wonder.

Wonder and surprise are interrelated. I’d say that surprise, in many cases, is a mild form of wonder. We can be surprised by something new or just by the suddenness of encountering something unexpected. And such was the case here. For if you look at the soldier closely, that isn’t a guy (as you would logically expect since in the 17oo’s I seriously doubt any soldiers were women).

She had this beautiful smile because she was a beautiful young woman dressed in this soldier’s outfit. Because I didn’t expect it, it threw me for quite a loop. Why?

First, I was embarrassed because she was aware of my taking her picture. That seemed to be fine because she continued to pose for me afterwards (though none of the other photos were as interesting). Still, I felt as if I was busted, like staring at a person you don’t realize you’re staring at until they give you a quizzical look.

Second, I had this fleeting feeling of being back in high school around a pretty girl and not knowing what to say. Silly, I know, but I was so taken aback that I was rather tongue-tied.

Third, I was surprised that I was surprised. By this I mean that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed earlier that this soldier was female. How could I have missed that?

Thus, the real wonder (if we can really even call this wonder) came as a combination of factors all caused by a single surprise. But because of this, if you ask me about that day now two years later and you inquire as to what stands out the most, I’d say it was this odd moment taking a photo of a young woman dressed as a soldier.

I used to think it was rather wimpy of me to fall back on the excuse that I couldn’t explain wonder. Now, I think it is par for the course. If you could explain wonder, it wouldn’t be wonder. If I could tell you why such a seemingly minor incident left such an impression, well, it probably wouldn’t have left such an impression.

I’m learning to be OK with not having explanations for everything we think or feel or experience on a trip or at home. Even small moments of surprise. I am learning to just accept them even if I don’t understand them and be thankful for wonders, both big and small.

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Why we travel

by Steve Brock on November 13, 2012

Here’s a simple way of looking at the not-so-simple topic of why we travel.

What follows is my sketched infographic on the subject. If you want a more articulate version, check out one of my favorite articles on the subject by Pico Iyer.

The “from” and “to” is pretty self-explanatory.

The approach we take to travel, however, is more complex. I’ve found that many times I look to travel for escape. I run from one thing to find another. I tell myself and others I am living in the moment and “seizing the day.” I choose to ignore the desperate tone in which I say this.

In traveling this way, I sometimes find what I seek. Sometimes I find something else. But I never outrun myself. As the saying goes, “No matter where you go, there you are.” My inner life sticks to me like mud in my sole. What I run from is rarely geographically bound.

An alternative approach is what I refer to as “traveling expectantly.” With this approach, I go on a divine scavenger hunt, a quest for the little clues God leaves all over the place if I have but eyes to see. When I travel with the expectation that God will show up, it changes my whole attitude and approach to travel.

I look and listen more carefully. I’m more present. And best of all, all those things I’m running from? I don’t notice them. I’m too busy looking for hidden treasure in the most unlikely of places.

The “from’s” and “to’s” may look the same in terms of the reasons why we travel. But whether or not we achieve what we seek depends greatly on how we travel.

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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: Train Wreck – Part 1

by Steve Brock July 26, 2012

Another “secret” location in Whistler, BC beckons. But with this one, Train Wreck, we find that the journey to get there is as surprising and interesting as the destination…or so we think at the time.

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 3

by Steve Brock July 17, 2012

Discovering the secret treehouse known as HemLoft was one thing. Finding connections to others who had already done so was quite another. It’s a good reminder that discovery is highly personal but it isn’t always private…

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 2

by Steve Brock July 12, 2012

Secret places woo us and can, in terms of travel, lead to quests with unexpected results as I found out at HemLoft, a secret treehouse near Whistler, BC.

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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.

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