Saturday, February 22, 2014

The trains between: my vacation spanning Oakland, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver

The world is rich with wonders, if only we would awaken to them. Recovered scripts from an ancient landfill quotes Jesus: "The kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it."

I traveled by train across the United States and Canada over the Spring Festival partly for vacation, partly to prepare my mind for silent meditation retreat later this year.

By train there's no missing reality: even in  our own region there are industrial sites in Richmond and Martinez full of wildlife displaced from residential and commercial development living on toxins. Timber lies in the midst of the most trees I've ever seen and oil rigs nods the music of our consumption across the prairie. We wait for hours for freight trains to pass single track segments; they have priority because they own and maintain these tracks with their fat profits. They carry familiar shipping containers, often with the shipping lines' names painted alongside. More often they drag great black tanks of oil and gas across farms and through mountains. Near Nebraska and West Virginia their open carts are piled high with coal. I redouble my effort to use less.

In Colorado a wildlife-watching couple joined me in the observation cart and encouraged me to search for charismatic megafauna. My sketchbook pages filled with deer, elk, hawks, and even moose.

Ontario impressed me with a full day and night of dense woodland. A resident informed me the boreal forests there compare favorably with the Amazon in carbon sequestration. They, too, are yielding to the saw.

Are there words to describe the Rockies? I struggle to imagine these colossal peaks rising still, year after year, pushed by colliding continental plates. They will continue rising and crumbling after we are long gone.

To pass eleven days and nine nights speeding by rail, I listened to little music, no more than 90 minutes, and watched no video. I read only after darkness, Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. Music gently rippled through my consciousness in the final days of the journey. Yet I felt a vast relief from any pressure of production, any image of what a composer ought to do and be. Indeed, I felt freer than ever from any definition of being other than present in the moment as I took in the sensory beauty of the surroundings and turned my kind wishes to every being around me, human, animal, rock; old, fleeting, growing.

Indeed, it's a paradise, if only we dare to recognize our place in it, to engage it here.

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