5 April 13

8,403 Miles by Train - and 211 Sketches

Modern parenting with iPhone We got in after midnight, the train that had carried my mother and me from Chicago and lost both engines limping off toward Emeryville in the dark. This last leg was the longest of my trip — two nights by train, even without the nine-hour delay. The ground felt oddly solid beneath my feet.

I set out on this journey for many reasons, some of which I’m still discovering, but mainly to clear my head from the past few months leading toward a layoff. It’s hard to know what to do when you are older but seem to have moved on from your chosen career path; it’s disorienting and holds the potential for huge anxiety and depression. My body is at a transition time also, and the anticipation of major change was almost too hard to take at times. When it came, though, and the final date was set, it was a huge relief — and felt like cause for celebration. I discovered what I’d do next, almost by chance (but actually because I was ready to; I’ll be talking more about it later). I needed a big, long break.

A continent-long break, it turns out. Davis – Los Angeles – Albuquerque – Chicago – Tyrone, PA – Philadelphia – Boston – Brunswick, Maine – Boston – Chicago – Davis. In the middle there I took a fantastic side trip by car to see some dear friends in Montreal, managed a little time with my cousin in Maine and my uncle in Boston. Managed to catch up, too, with Lorianne and Leslee in Cambridge, a merging of many conversations.

Mum's feet from the top bunk As I’ve said elsewhere, the most unexpected delight, serially, was all the fantastically interesting people I met (pretty much everyone). People who take long train journeys are almost uniformly interesting. (The people who felt as though they’d been duped into taking theirs were the very rare exceptions.)

Maine I brought too much to do, hoping to stave off boredom, but nothing was boring. I did very little knitting and almost no reading. What I did was lots and lots of sketching, dozens of tiny pen-and-wash drawings with a purple Pilot G-Tec-C4 and a set of Schmincke watercolors—having spent some time with these I can say I love the saturation but need to tweak, in a major way, the reds. The blues are good though I’d perhaps add cerulean to the mix; I need to find a good color to use for flesh tones of winter Caucasian midwesterners, because what was in my box certainly didn’t provide that.

Waiting for the fieldfare

Kestrel I brought along my good (read heavy) binoculars and was glad of them for the day spent looking in vain for the fieldfare in Carlisle, Massachusetts, but more especially for the two life rosy-finches in the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque. They proved almost useless on the train if it was moving—I should have brought a much lighter pair. I will compile a bird list, separating out birds seen from the train and not (a real treat was the woodcock near my sister’s in Maine that was flushed by her dog, especially since the one I’d hoped to see at Dave’s in Plummer’s Hollow was taking a break during a big snowfall). I don’t know what it means other than that I’m still, deep down, a lister, even if not a very serious one.

Waiting in the sagebrush The return leg of the trip was taken with my mother. We’re going to go and see my brother in Juneau and she was up for the train ride across the country. We worked out some surreptitious signals in order to avoid killing each other, but actually didn’t need to avail ourselves of them; we are good travel companions, even through nine-hour delays in the Utah desert (it might have been better if there had been a bird — any bird — but we still had a good time; after five hours of looking at the same five acres of sagebrush I did pick up the knitting, it must be said). A sense of humor goes a long, long way in mishaps beyond your control.

Colorado, west slope Still feeling the clickety-clack swaying of the train in my bones. I can see how a person could get hooked on this…

Posted by at 08:35 AM in Miscellaneous | Link |
  1. What a wonderful post, Pica! You must have had a fantastic journey. It reminds me of several of our trips across the US by train…one with my mother too. Our train debacle was a derailed train between Flagstaff and Winslow, Arizona. We had to get off the train at 1:00am, with all our stuff, board busses that took us to Flagstaff through hairpin turns through the mountains where we finally got back on another train that got us into LA a day late. Your sketches are wonderful and thanks for sharing. Say hi to Mum for me!!!
    Love G

    Gainor Roberts    6. April 2013, 15:44    Link
  2. Please do post more of your wonderful sketches! Have you bound the book yet? I am so, so glad that your journey included the side-trip to see us, and hope that the long trip provided exactly the sort of break and transition time you needed, though I’m sure that process will continue for quite a while. You’re terrific, and I admire you!!

    beth    8. April 2013, 10:50    Link
  3. Tank you both, Gainor and Beth. Still away from home, this time in Juneau, but I’m planning to scan allthe pages of the sketchbook before binding it…

    Pica    9. April 2013, 15:54    Link
  4. 9 hours in Utah desert!! How did that happen and why? I still remember when long journeys by train in the US was a normal thing to do but now of course it’s unusual. I love rail journeys. Your sketches catch that mix of stillness and motion and variety. And I recognise Dave in the woolly hat!

    Natalie    10. April 2013, 16:02    Link
  5. Natalie, thank you for commenting. These trains have two locomotives… and they both failed, which is very unusual. Good thing both mum and I are into deserts, because we were perfectly happy just sitting there. So strange to go from that to the snows in Juneau…

    Pica    11. April 2013, 07:37    Link
  6. I found the purpleness in the sketches inspired. And daring. And with its own truth. Sounds like quite a trip.

    Gail    15. September 2013, 00:54    Link

Previous: Next: