Kissing a carp is one New Year’s Eve tradition in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. ©John T. Andrews

It’s now the end of November, and soon we’ll be ushering in another new year. On December 31—as if everyone in the nation suddenly got a job at Houston’s Johnson Space Center—we’ll all begin counting backwards from 10. The ball will drop in New York’s Times Square, and the numbers 2-0-1-1 will light up the night to the cheers of a throng a million strong. In your own little corner of the world, you’ll probably have local parties to attend and personal traditions to keep. And I’ll bet that out of all the New Year’s Eves you’ve celebrated over the course of your life, there’s one that stands out from all the rest.

Small steps

Mine is New Year’s Eve 1999, or more precisely, the early morning hours of January 1, 2000. Determined to watch the new millennium dawn, I went to bed early and set the alarm for 3:00 a.m. After sliding out from under the wool blankets and into a down parka, I felt my way into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. With steaming cup in hand, I walked upstairs and out onto a small deck off a spare bedroom. I brushed the snow away from the one lawn chair the platform had room to hold and sat down. I settled in, alone, to watch the first light of a new era.

That was 11 years ago, but I remember that New Year’s more than the 10 that came after it and that now all seem to blur together. In my mind’s eye on that first morning of the year 2000, I can still see the silhouettes of the farm buildings situated on the horizon to the east, which became more chiseled as first dark purple and then red began to outline them against the sky. The farm was located across Interstate 94 from where I sat, lifted above my yard’s patch of woods below. To me, that New Year’s sunrise seemed more fraught with meaning than any of the others in my life have, and my imagination ran free with thoughts of what this new century would bring for the world.

In the forests of the Great Northwoods, the sun rises on a new millennium. ©John T. Andrews

I’ve made that short trip from the kitchen to that tiny, upstairs deck probably thousands of times in the 11 years since January 1, 2000. But I remember that particular trip there with the most clarity.

A giant leap

I wonder if the timing of our travels has as much to do with our enjoyment of them as the destinations themselves. If you must travel to places for your work day in and day out, do your journeys lose some meaning because they are not affixed to any specific date or time? If you are a guide, for example, does going to the same places with group after group, week after ordinary week, ever become lackluster?

I distinctly remember one Valentine’s Day evening meal I had in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Although I’ve been to Churchill three times and have probably eaten more than 70 breakfasts, lunches and dinners there, I remember that specific meal and can’t recall the details of any other. Why? I have to think it was the potent equation of place plus time.

Any combination of place and time that puts you in contact with nature may be course-changing. ©John T. Andrews

Norie Quintos, a senior editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine, wrote this about the first day of 2010, which she spent in Antarctica: ”It doesn’t have to be New Year’s Day on Cape Horn. It can be any combination of place and time that takes you away from the incessant demands of daily living, places you in direct contact with nature in its stark magnificence and throws wide open the window on your essential self so you can get a good hard look. These auspicious spots and moments can be truly empowering, even course-changing.”

My New Year’s “trip” 11 years ago certainly wasn’t as far-flung as Norie Quintos’s. My “auspicious spot” was the smallest of travels (just upstairs), but there, alone in the predawn hours watching that Wisconsin winter landscape sharpens into focus, made for one of the most meaningfully travel experiences I’ve ever had. Yet, I believe, we could go across the country on a Thursday in March, let’s say, and not remember much about it.

Does travel plus timing truly equal more than just the travel experience alone would? Is there a particular trip that always stands out in your mind because of the timing of it?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,