Wonders ... and a train

Within days of my most recent post, about eft rescue on the backroads, I broke new ground by flying to Denver. I hopped aboard Amtrak's California Zephyr through the Rockies and then drove up the California coast from Oakland into Oregon. It was all new for me, which added to the beauty.

My two-week adventure was my introduction to the Rockies, to the Northwest coast (although it fell far short of my original goal of making it all the way to Vancouver by several hundred miles. It was also my first time visiting "the Redwood forests," I've sung about an uncountable number of times without ever having stood in awe of their grandeur.

The experience of watching the Rockies seeming to roll by from my sleeping car "roomette" window, hour after hour, seemed incredible, and the opportunity to visit with people from around this country and Europe as we took in an endless panorama of breathtaking scenery in the observation and dining cars was a memory I can never forget. Over a dinner we shared with white tablecloths and cloth napkins, I watched the sun begin setting as we moved through Utah, when I pointed out a herd of antelope approaching through a clearing. Some passengers saw a bear, a fox. I watched a hawk hover overhead in the magnificent open sky.

In recent days, I stumbled on a Washington Post story about Amtrak's plan to do away with its dining car meals as a cost-cutting measure and a way to appeal to younger travelers, who unlike me don't relish breaking bread with strangers on a train at a shared table. Especially because I was traveling alone -- like the guy from L.A. I met a yougn man whose wife had given him as a birthday present a two-week Amtrak pass to travel by rail to Seattle, then over to Chicago, then down to Denver, and now back to the West Coast -- it was good to hear other people's stories.

Yes, like the French, German and Spanish travelers I met over breakfast and lunch in the dining car, I found some problems aboard this Amtrak train, like the unclear instructions to passengers like me about exactly how things work and exactly where we were along the route. Or the fact that there were countless times along the narrow passageways that we'd have to back up or back into someone else's room to clear the passage. But those, unlike being nearly 2 1/2 hour delay getting to our final destination, were minor wrinkles aboard an otherwise delightfully retro travel adventure. (The chance encounters in narrow passageways was even fun at times.)

Among the most delightful elements was the surprisingly good menu aboard the California Zephyr, and the wonderfully attentive service by the dining car staff. This iconic part of the rail service, which is being scapped to save the cash-pressed railroad $2 million, will replace the dining car experience served from the onboard kitchen with prepackaged meals.

It's truly sad to think of Amtrak turning to Happy Meals in replacement for sit-down dinners of real food to encourage relaxed conversations with fellow passengers.

BUT before we go losing sleep over this latest change in how things should be done or have been done in the past, I'm reminded of the timeless wonder of more enduring elements of my trip. Like the magnificent Rockies, and the grandeur of the thousands of acres of redwoods where I was mesmerized not simply by the size and age of the trees, but the newfound awareness that these living beings are in communication with one another. As much as I'm annoyed to think of the dining patterns of long-distance rail giving in to economic pressures, and as sorry as I am that rail service is undervalued in our driven society, boosting the level of threats that climate change pose to natural wonders like the Rockies ecosystems and those redwood which have been growing over hundreds of years ... I have to admit that I'm more troubled by our seeming inability to take action to halt the environmental degredation of this planet and the degredation of fundamental principles of democracy in this country.

I did manage to enjoy a brief respite from intese news watching while I was on my vaction, but I did read about the maritime arrival of Greta Thunberg in this country to take part in UN climate summit, and alos to hear about the recent whisteblower's charges of political corruption by this White House. Somehow, what felt like my very intimate introduction to these natural wonders has allowed me the emotional distance from what seem like petty concerns and a deeper level of sorrow about the greater damage being done to the future of the planet and to our democratic institutions.I returned home to find these very real erosions of our fundamental ways of life are threated even as these giant trees and grand mountains seem to stand in solemn witness.


Check out my books, Inner Landscapes and Good Will & Ice Cream