Vacation, I have determined after a few days floating on Flathead Lake in Montana, is about much more than getting away and renewing oneself, spending quality time with friends and family, and eating too much.
Vacation is about perspective...something many of us, including me, increasingly lack as we wind ourselves tighter and tighter in the 24/7 pressure cooker of urban life.
The wonderful thing about perspective is that you can get it by going to an inspiring national park, a crowded theme park, or even an airport park & ride - as long as it's outside your normal, everyday environs.
Perspective, however, comes only to the traveler who is willing to take the time to chat up the locals, or take a wrong turn off the main tourist road. That's how you find out what our country is really made of, and see for yourself why or even if there's a cultural divide between us urbanites and the rest of the folks populating the 50 states.
At Flathead Lake and the surrounding towns of Poulsen, Dayton and Lakeside, we found support for our troops is much more visible in rural areas, with lots of yellow ribbons and signs. Talk of support for the war however, is muted. On the back roads, political talk focuses more on yards, streets, housing, lakefronts and specifically, access to said yards, streets, housing and lakefronts.
The 75-year old man building docks and providing handyman work to every regular around the lake has seen more hurt in the past year than you can imagine. But instead of running to the therapist or the shrink for a pharmaceutical answer, he water skiis around the lake nearly every morning behind the jet ski of a caring neighbor. Who needs a gym when you've got hard work and a lake.
There are no homeless people here...but plenty of poverty. The waitress serving broasted chicken and onion rings at The Idle Spur is a typical in this region: a single mother working two, maybe three jobs to make ends meet, if that. Tips are not just appreciated - they are a necessity to feed and clothe the kids.
The wildfires that blacken the skies around the lake are not just "oh wow" moments seen on TV. They are within shouting distance and could level your home within minutes. Their threat is as old as the land itself, burning thanks to the "fuel" that been allowed to build up by us non-native peoples (the Salish and Kootenai tribes have been there for 14,000 years!) when we started populating the area.
The view from the Lake is not only of blue waters, bighorn sheep, green forests and majestic mountains - it's of its people...whose view is different from my own, but worth learning about in order to gain a better perspective on the big American picture.
It's unfortunate that 35 percent of workers in the U.S. are depriving themselves of the vacation days they earned and are owed them by their employers, because they are also depriving themselves of the perspective needed to understand the hopes, dreams and plights of their neighbors.
Maybe all that America really needs in these uncertain times, is a good vacation.
Where have you been traveling this summer, and what kind of new perspective did you gain? Click below on "Comments" and share your thoughts and stories.