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Where we arrive from our travels.

Byline: Bob Welch The Register-Guard

On the chalkboard at Perk and Play coffee shop in Eugene on Friday, owners Randy and Elizabeth Stark had written where customers were going for Labor Day weekend.

Among them: Loon Lake; Washington, D.C.; Las Vegas; Summit Lake; Estes Park, Colo.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; the Pacific Crest Trail; and - gotta love Eugene - "insane."

Sure, there are still good evenings to sail and days to hike. But the summer of 2009 is essentially over, which has me reflecting on this theme of going places, which we do in abundance from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day weekend.

Why do we go? What do we get out of it? How are we different for having gone?

The theme is particularly intriguing to me because this was unlike any other summer I've experienced. In the last three months, I've awoken in 11 places, from a medical clinic in Haiti to a shingled cabin on Coos Bay, from a Boise Doubletree hotel to a tent at the foot of the South Sister, from a cottage in Ashland to a pioneer bed and breakfast in the opposite corner of the state.

I've been on the go so much that memories of one trip have mixed up with those of another, like the colors in a child's watercolor tray. And yet now that I've finally slowed down, I'm reminded of the good things that happen when we see new places, meet new people, try new experiences.

Traveling, even the close-to-home that most of us do, effects us not only when we're involved in it, but once it's over.

For starters, it broadens your perspective. You see the poverty and lack of health care in Haiti and you appreciate more what you have back at home. And, seeing kids with names and smiles, find it harder to rationalize that "someone else will help them."

It inspires you. In July, beneath towering firs near Elkton one night, I listened to a little girl play a favorite song of my mother's, "Moon River," on a violin. And I got all wistful and nostalgic and was reminded that I needed to call my mom and say hello - because you never know when the song will end.

It breeds confidence. Barbara Nill, whose cattle-drive adventure I featured in my Ten Trips series, had never ridden a horse when she signed up to help herd 300 head of cattle 100 miles into Reno last June. But she proved something to herself and now is eager to saddle up for more adventures.

It reminds you that we have connections with people we wouldn't think we did.

In Haiti, during a pelting downpour, I wound up on the phone-booth-sized front porch of a family. Two little boys had jury-rigged a wire to an old transistor radio as an antenna and were, I learned, listening to a Brazil-Italy World Cup soccer game from South Africa. And I thought how similar we are, I having brought my satellite radio to get my Red Sox fix.

It reminds us how differently we live our lives. In Wallowa, about 30 miles northeast of La Grande, you stop to see a couple of men who've taken a break while grooming a youth baseball field, a huge rimrock rising dramatically behind the park. And think: Huh, so this is how they live out here, not rushing around from deadline to deadline like me, but sitting back on a Saturday evening and shooting the breeze in the middle of a baseball diamond.

In Charleston, on Coos Bay, you walk the docks of a moorage on a Saturday morning and realize that this is life for those who fish, some living aboard their boats.

And, in Ashland, while waiting for your Starbucks hot chocolate, find yourself standing next to an African-American man who looks familiar and realize it is Josiah Phillips, whom you saw in "Fences" and "Don Quixote." And realize this is life for those who act, day after day, getting their coffee as Mr. Phillips and later becoming Sancho Panza on stage.

Traveling provides all these little moments where you see something - say a magnificent fly-fishing pool on a creek above Cougar Reservoir - and think: I'm the richer for having experienced this. Don't know how. Just am.

Finally, traveling connects us. Each of the "Ten Trips" adventures I shared triggered responses: from a Eugene man who started an "EcoCafe" program to build self-sufficiency in a Haitian village near where I'd been; from people who contrasted their South Sister experiences with mine; even from those who had been to the northeast Oregon nook I wrote about last week.

I asked one, former State Sen. Bob Kintigh, what he'd been doing in that part of the world.

His reply? "When I see a road on a map that I have not been on, I want to go there."

That's it. That's why we travel. Exactly.

Bob Welch is at 338-2354 or bob.welch@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:City/Region Columnist
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 8, 2009
Words:828
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