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“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” – Ashley Montagu

A piece of the Great Wall of China in Walla Walla, Washington. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

Call me weird if you like, but I think the ladybug I find on the rose is even more beautiful than the rose itself. And it’s not just because I know that ladybugs eat the aphids that eat the roses. It’s mostly because coming across a ladybug is usually a surprise.

I like surprises. Seeing things I don’t expect to see. It’s actually what I enjoy best about travel.

Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy seeing the magnificent sights travel is all about. One wouldn’t want to go to Yellowstone and not see Old Faithful, or to New York and not see Niagara Falls.

But the little unexpected things along the way are what put the magic in any journey.

One of the more surprising surprises I got in September took place in Walla Walla, Washington.

I went there with my friend, Sherry, who lives in Milton-Freewater, Oregon. As we drove the eight miles from her home to the larger town to do some shopping, we got to talking about the places we wished we could afford to visit in the near future.

“Ayers Rock in Australia and the Great Wall of China top my list,” I said.

“Oh! Would like to touch a piece of the Great Wall,” she asked?

She then took me to the Walla Walla University, from which she had graduated.

The UFO above an eye exam sign on a Wal-Mart in Roswell, New Mexico, was a jolly fun surprise. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Hidden in a bushy alcove, on the brick wall of a campus building, was indeed a piece of the Great Wall. It had been incorporated into the building as one of the bricks. Above it was a plaque that read: “A piece of the China Wall, donated in 1941 by John L. Christian, Class of 1936, missionary to Burma.”

The touch of the rough, gray rock felt magical, and my fingers tingled.

My brain, however, was thinking that such casual taking of a piece of history today could land one in serious trouble. Of course things were different back then, when everyone was expected to bring home “real” souvenirs, like a piece of lava from Craters of the Moon or a rock-hard log from the Petrified Forest.

Back in the 1940s,  the “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints” motto hadn’t yet become conservation’s cry.  While I’m glad it’s now the standard, I’m also glad I got to actually touch a piece of China’s history.

It was a magnificent surprise to add to my travel memories.

Perhaps one day I’ll get to touch the actual wall. Of course, given my current economic reality, that would indeed be a surprise.

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