Friday, September 02, 2016

Coast Starlight Home

We saw the tower, like a beacon, or lighthouse... You're doing it right, it assured us, as our metro crossed the N Steel Bridge over the Willamette River. It was a welcome sight. And bittersweet, too.

Leaving Portland, leaving Oregon. The time came so soon, we hardly felt ready for our adventure to end. Fortunately, when enjoying the pleasure of traveling by train, the adventure doesn't end too abruptly. We still had more sights to see, more trip to enjoy.

I love train stations, old depots. It's a truly romantic sentiment, enhanced through watching old movies, and period dramas, to see these places, and the trains that come through them, as ideal modes of travel with a certain promise of quaint, sedate luxury, idyllic conveyance. And delightfully, you will meet other aficionados, riding the rails, in sleeper cars, at the shared dining tables, and the happy conversations that ensue confirm the belief... train travel is special.

You can almost set your watch back... do we still wear watches? The pace is gentle, perhaps confoundedly slow if timely arrival at your destination is your sole objective. These are not Europe's trains, famed for their punctuality. I am ok with that. For the purpose of this journey, we are here for the ride, for our state of mind to be to meet each moment for what it is, not for what we expect, or require of it. That is a luxury, I know.

Ordering tea. We wrote post cards from here, walked them to the postal box, then found our way to the Metropolitan Lounge, where the comforts and genial service of train travel begins.

Back on board, full of anticipation for the familiar things we enjoyed when we rode up from California, and excited for whatever new sights and experiences were in store for us.

Since the Coast Starlight leaves Portland at 2:25 pm, I figured we would miss lunch, hence the big breakfast... no regrets there! But, the dining car attendant announced last call for lunch, so we decided to go in. Sitting in the dining car is a treat for more than just the meal. It's a chance to enjoy the views from multiple windows, and to meet people. People riding on trains tend to be sociable, engaging. Maria and I had come to see sharing the dining table as a highlight of riding trains. "I didn't know I would enjoy that part, because I was nervous about sitting across from strangers, but meeting new people has become one of my favorite parts. That really surprises me. There are interesting conversations, and we keep meeting really nice people."

We enjoyed a light lunch, and our last views of Portland, Oregon.

Even when we came through the Columbia River Gorge, our only glimpse of Mt Hood was faint, obscured by a mostly overcast sky. And not once during the rest of our time in Portland did we enjoy that classic image of Mt Hood crowning the suburban landscape. Then we saw it, faintly, distantly, as we left. It reminded us of the list, and our wish to return.

From Albany, south, we were retracing steps. I cried at the Albany stop. Emotions overcoming me, wanting to get off the train, to see Grandma, one more time. Oregon is too far from the Bird House. It's a terrible truth.

In Eugene there's time to step off the train and walk, or twirl.

Eugene, Oregon... It'd been almost twelve years since the last time we stood here.

Sacramento, California. August 17, 2016.

You know you are on good terms when you can agree to share the bed in a roomette!

Breakfast in Martinez, and Oakland, and all down the East Bay.

South Bay, San Francisco.

She came to me for crochet help, and I felt a bit chagrinned, but happy to try. It was darts she was wanting to add to her tunic, and she couldn't recall the term. That much, at least, I could help her with. Her crochet project was really lovely, and while we sat examining the stitches together, discussing the ways a dart might work, she hit upon the solution by trial and error, then gave me a thankful hug for being her sounding board and attentive companion. That was the easiest kind of helpful I've been in quite some time, very gratifying, too. All the way to Los Angeles we exchanged happy smiles, like old friends with an affable, sympathetic past.

The girl in the tree in San Jose.

The girl on the train with a book.

This, I admit, was hard to take. I love my California. This is part of some of my favorite places in my favorite state, but after a week in Oregon, the greener, coastal, river valley bits of Oregon... it was hard to see the drought tormented hills, the dying trees, parched scenery of California. I felt like my heart and mind were betraying my affection for this place. When I saw the first eucalyptus tree, as we swung toward the coast, I was literally crestfallen. The disappointment was keen. I have never had an ill word, a critical feeling about most any tree, but gosh... those scrappy, dry, weed-like, eucalyptus trees, the ones that tip and crash in any storm, the ones that explode in fires? For the first time in my life, I couldn't see the good in them, and felt low and dismayed by the sight. I sighed, and wished I could feel more akin, more generous, to the scenes coming closer to home.

San Luis Obispo, California.

At a point north of Pismo Beach, the Coast Starlight comes to the Pacific Ocean. It is a welcome sight, and a unique one, because the train rides rails through the private Vandenberg Air Force Base, and right along the coast.

We rode through here while sitting in the lounge car, with our new train friends, Tracey and Albert.

SpaceX! It's there, honest! We laughed about the secrets and mysteries of Vandenberg being well guarded, even by the mist that suddenly shrouded the view, just as I snapped the picture!

And that same mist, like a wall, ended abruptly. And our view of the Pacific was utterly transformed. (Boat House Road... Google Maps is amazing!)

Somewhere south of Lompoc, west of Santa Barbara.

Dinner with Tracey and Albert. Riding, happily, through Santa Barbara.

By Simi Valley, Maria and I had a car all to ourselves!

We felt giddy about seeing the boys. We felt so close... but sometimes, on a long trip, the closer you get, the slower things seem to go. There are a lot of stops between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, then we had another train to catch, with an hour wait before we boarded. Geoff and the boys promised to meet us at our stop, with Cairo, too.

We would be home after midnight. It'd been a thirty hour journey, a nine day adventure, fun, and memorable. It's been over two weeks since the end of our adventure. We still feel thankful, practically nostalgic, for our visit to Oregon. We miss our family there. We feel a kind of melancholy, because Geoff and the boys weren't with us, because this time in our lives is ushering in big changes, too. But that is the nature of things, right? Changes, missing what we had, where we've been. So, we must remember to look forward, to make plans, to be grateful for what's been and to make way for what lies ahead, for more joy. Maybe it will help if I take life like a train ride, and meet each moment for what it is, and not so insistently for what I expect of it.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

These are precisely, and so beautifully captured, all the joys and despairs of travel, of time, of discovery, of home -- of wishing to be back, and wishing to stay there, of self-discovery that goes along with returning to familiar places over the course of time. What a wonderful journey, in every way, for both of you. All of you.