Oh, the Places You’ll Go.

by ajamess on 14.Nov.10

in Other Musings,Photos,Travel

I was reminded today about some of those special moments one has travelling.  I think a lot of us travel to experience the world, to try a new food, to see a new place, to witness an exotic way of life firsthand.  Much of travelling, on its surface, seems to me to be the broadening of horizons on a few important, but limited levels.  That is, we go so far out of our way for the sights, sounds, and tastes of a new place, but sometimes completely miss what makes travelling truly wonderful: the people we meet.

Let me be clear: I am certainly not well travelled, even among my close friends.  I have been many places in the US, true, but few beyond our borders, whereas I have friends under 25 who have already spent years of their lives abroad.  I don't necessarily regret this, but I think it is important to note that many of my excursions are local (if numerous), and so one might say that I don't have the same experience travelling that others do.  That being said, I would characterize much of my travels as focusing around what I will call "areas of interest."  I think we all do this at some point or another.  Travelling becomes about the visceral, and is almost its primary goal.  That's why I wake up at 4 am to take photos – I want to see the beauty of ths sunrise.  That's why I hike until my legs want to give out, schlepping 30 lbs of camera gear up to the top of some peak, so I can see the vista and subsequently record it for posterity (I suppose).  Hell, that's why I do pretty much anything related to travel.  There is always some goal, some thing, at the end of the road which drives me to go somewhere.  Whether it's a mountain peak or a museum, a restaraunt or a waterpark, it doesn't matter.  It appears that it's all about the end result.

I must say, though, tonight I've come to realize that this end result is not what makes a trip really special.  Sure, I won't forget watching the sun rise from the headland on Rialto, or the cloudbreak I had right as Haley and I got to the top of Maple Pass. Nor will I forget the sun rise over Mormon Row, or the moon rise over Mount Moran almost 3 years ago.  But really, if you asked me what was the defining moment of my Teton trip, it wouldn't be the phenomenal sights, it would be the two guys I waterskiied with at 6 am on Jackson Lake, and ate elk with on into the late night.  If you asked me what the most important part of coming through Hell's Canyon a few summers past, it wouldn't be sitting under the night sky watching the Milky Way rise into view, it would be the muzzle-loader-toting mama who fed us frozen pizza and regailed us with hunting stories.  Similarly, if you ask me what really stood out about this trip to Portland, it wouldn't be watching the moon rise over Cannon Beach, it would be two people I met over wine while relaxing in the hotel lounge.

We met Caron and Ross over a dog.  Specifically, their wonderful chocolate schnauzer whose temperment made Larry King seem like a punk rocker.  All of us, loving animals as we do, immediately begin trading stories and pictures and laughs about our pets, pulling out iphones and cameras and the like to prove the various claims of cuteness we were making.  Most people would stop there, shake hands, and politely turn the conversation inwards, back to our respective cliques, but not this time.  Caron was incredibly warm, and interesting, and genuinely interested in what we had to say and in who we were, as people.  She asked questions to every one of us, questions which weren't ones like "what's your name" or "what do you do," but real, important questions; questions which made you feel part of the conversation and engaged you to talk more and more.  We found out that she was an educator, and that she had two kids, 20 and 23, both of whom were engineers.  We found out that her husband (who, at that time, was absent) was an artist, specializing in oil landscapes.  We found out that she lived in Vancouver with her husband, but grew up in Saskatchewan, and lived (at one point) 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle.  

Soon, her husband sat down, and I could just tell that they were made for each other.  They were so obviously in love, it was just wonderful to see.  Of course, once I found out Ross was an artist, I was keenly interested in his work and what drove him.  He was gracious, and just as endearing as his wife, and a pleasure to talk to.  Eventually we learned that Ross was a career firefighter, but had been interested in drawing since he was in 6th grade.  We learned, too, that he had started painting "only 20 years ago" (as if that is insignificant), and that he and his wife were on their way down to San Francisco to show some of his work off at a gallery there.  When he and Caron discovered we were genuinely interested in his art, he went up to his room and got us some simply gorgeous 5×4 cards with some of his work.  When he didn't have enough for all of us, he went to his car and got more.  A true class act.

Needless to say, the conversation took its twists and turns, covering everything from photography to 4chan, black/white hat to politics, you name it.  Before we knew it, I was down 3 glasses of wine, and we had been talking for an hour and a half. Eventually we all went our separate ways, but not before, I think, creating a lasting impression on each other.

So I come back to it.  This idea that we are so enamored with the places and things and sights and sounds and tastes and smells of new places that we stop caring to meet new people.  Hell, maybe we even avoid meeting new people because we don't want it to impede our travels.  I know I've done that before.  I'm sure you've cut a conversation short for similar reasons.  It's kind of built into our collective psyche these days, to be so cold to one another, with everything available so fast, and our itineraries and travel guides and 9-8 work cycles and hectic hoo-ha, we forget to say hello to our fellow fleshbag walking down the same street we do day in and day out.  So, make the effort.  Say hello.  Throw away your vacation schedule.  Get drunk with a stranger.

And make sure you take pictures of it all.

Karen and Ross

PS – Check out some of Ross' work at http://www.rosspenhall.com/.  Simply phenomenal.

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