WanderingDan’s Weblog

ye olde train ride…
January 26, 2016, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The light breeze is crisp, which well compliments the cloudless sunny morning…I’m guessing it’s 67 or 68 degrees here in Van Nuys, or at least that’s how it feels with a sweater on. I can’t quite remember the last time I was at this train stop…it must have been years ago…perhaps a winter holiday trip to the same destination I now have: Portland. Many things have come and gone out of my life in those years: jobs, friends, lovers, books, ideals, pursuits…all of which have left some sort of seasoning on my proverbial iron skillet; a lot of it baked in with the heat of life’s endless inferno, some scraped off by the wire scrubbies of occasional purging. This is never how I could have imagined this skillet looking or performing.

Outside the train station, road workers systematically, and with the slow, rhythmic precision of seasoned laborers, tear up an old section of Van Nuys boulevard. Now the jack-hammers have stopped and the train approaches…so loud, it reminds of what small earthquakes sound like, the rumble and audibly overpowering drone. Much different than the sharp pounding of construction equipment. Once inside, I’m calmed by how quiet and smooth the ride is, the slight side to side sway reminiscent of being back on the ships. The demographic onboard today is much older than I remember in trips past. Most everyone seems to be in their 60’s and 70’s. In the assigned seat next to mine one of these aged folk, a woman, is passed out, her effects piled into mine. Not that I mind…putting my ticket in the #16 slot, I move forward to the next car, a community car, with tables for eating or working and chairs facing out. I’ll probably spend most of the 28 hour trip there: better views with more windows and more interesting people-watching opportunity.

Sipping away at cheap 7-11 coffee, loaded with hazelnut syrup and french-vanilla creamer packets, the west valley views sweep by, suburb town after suburb town. I’m looking forward to the coastal section, the views of Ventura up to San Luis Obispo are gorgeous from what I remember. An older gentlemen sits at the table in front of mine, in the bench facing me. Expressionless, slightly down-turned eyes, but with an heir of gentle wisdom. His grey, nicely trimmed beard fits the style of his sport blazer, corduroy pants, maroon v-neck sweater vest and plaid button-up. In fact, if it wasn’t for the SLR camera around his neck and his pecking away at at an iPhone, he could have easily just plopped out of some 19th century eastern European town.

The train emerges through a tunnel, starkly changing the scenery from scattered industrial businesses and housing developments to rugged hilly terrain. Great rocks, desert sage, bushy trees, pines…beautiful. There are still signs of civilization, but the ratio now is much heavier towards nature…a balance more appealing to my sentient preference…at least, in my current state of mind. Still I wonder if I would be better suited for city life, despite its freneticism, to satisfy social needs, or country life, to be embraced by the harmony of nature, at the cost of relative isolation; a quandary, to be sure. Going back a year and a half, the brief stint I had mountain camping out of my VW bus in central Oregon, especially going way out and camping naked, was an energetic bliss. It’s kind of hard to explain, but camping naked versus normal is like the difference between driving a car and riding a motorcycle. Even on the same highways, when you’re on a bike you feel so much more connected, the flora calls out to you with fragrance, every temperature adjustment due to elevation or weather pattern is keenly noticed…you feel connected. When I lived in Chicago, walking the 2.8 miles to work, and even when I turned off the music, that feeling didn’t exist; urban landscapes demand different attentions, and consequently promote different agendas. Much busier ones. Mountain camping didn’t seem to promote much of an agenda at all…just existing. It was a nice reprieve. And while all this seems so straight-forward, why the hell do I love Las Vegas so much…the anti-thesis of all nature’s offerings??

By late morning tomorrow I’ll most likely be pining to get off this metal box, but for now I’m really

enjoying the gentle shaking and passing scenery. My eyelids are very heavy from staying out late last night, and I’m fighting them merely for the sake of the ever-changing visual feast, passing by with little to be remembered: kale and strawberry farms seem to be the trend now, some covered in plastic domes, some without. I can actually smell the kale farms from inside the train…at least I think I can.

Everything passes, some leaving a stronger imprint than others; I’ve started accepting the tragedy that befell Anne…still numb and sad…but more resolved to honor her memory by better embracing her zest for life, than sinking into reclusive despair by the manner of it’s end. I can’t help but wonder, what if it were me instead of her? To what extent would my sudden demise affect the social spider-web of my many chapters? It so easily could have been…last summer when that asshole snuck up behind me and knocked me senseless, he could have just as easily shanked or shot me…that would have been it, game over. One moment you’re living life, thinking little but what happens in the next hour or day or week…the next moment, everyone you know is asking why, and remembering what you did in the last hour or day or week or month. It’s so sudden. What memories would I leave behind? What legacy? In a hundred years…hell, even in fifty years…who would care? What does that say about life? Do I want to leave a legacy at all? Why? Maybe I would rather be that beautiful cloud passing overhead, enjoyed and then forgotten as new clouds pass by.

The train rounds the bend and starts following the coastline. Beautiful. Like I remember. Sun glistens over incoming swells, some bluish green and some murky brown. Not sure if it’s due to pollution or disrupted sandbars or beds of seaweed…or a combination of all three. Channel Islands set the backdrop, with occasional oil rigs interspersed. Every once in a while the dot of a surfer can be seen paddling the swells or riding a wave. Ocean on the left, horse ranches and small towns on the right, hugging the coastal hills, all of it peaceful when viewed from inside a train. None of it holds any meaning per se, but I realize it doesn’t have to…it merely exists independent of my need to qualify its existence. It merely exists. I merely exist. That is enough.

Approaching hour 24 on the train as it pulls into Chemult. The cold mountain temperature can be felt through the window. Looking out, all I see is snow; a stark contrast to the coastal route of southern California, and one of the big reasons I like this route in winter. In Klamath Falls an older man and woman come on to narrate the history and geography of the region. The man is good, has interesting tidbits to say and a pleasant voice to listen to. The woman, although her information is of note, has a voice that makes me cringe: mostly monotone with an awkward high-pitch crescendo at the end of every sentence. I go back to my seat in the other car to enjoy the scenery in relative solitude. The blizzard here a couple days ago left a fresh blanket, yet unscarred by activity. It is mesmerizing, it is sublime…it is the epitome of beautiful and harshly unforgiving. I certainly wouldn’t want to be naked camping up here right now…the thought alone makes the cold draft from the window even colder. I think I’ll head to the over-priced snack station downstairs and see how their shitty coffee compares to 7-11.

An interesting thought: part of the yin-yang balance of harshness and beauty. Nature can be undeniably breathtaking and unremorsefully brutal. Humanity can be unmistakeably inspiring and kind, yet also diabolically cruel. When extricated from first-hand experiencing the negative effects of either, nature still holds its elegance and awe, yet not humanity. Who saw video footage of Rwanda or Palestine and thought “oh that looks harsh but, wow, beautiful”? Maybe psychopaths did. But who is not drawn to the sublime and unforgiving power of an erupting volcano or thirty foot Hawaiian wave or harsh winter mountain terrain, and while removed, think “my god, this is absolutely gorgeous”?

The train passes a section of frozen waterfalls. They are small, more like run-overs than actual waterfalls, but still amazing. Every once in a while the snow shows preliminary signs of melting, creating cracks and crevices as it does so; the crevices are glowing blue, as if covering up some alien artifact. I cannot help but stare at them until the moving train robs them from vision…after which I attentively scan the landscape for another. I am no stranger to snow, yet have never seen this effect before, save from pictures of arctic glaciers and whatnot…I really want to get out there and have a closer look. At 4,800 feet, we slowly descend the western side of the Cascades towards the Willamette valley…and as the train glides smooth as silk through heavenly terrain I find myself in a state of inner peace…this is not what I was expecting to find on a 28 hour train ride, yet in wake of recent events, is warmly embraced.



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