When I stepped into the train, the first one I had ever ridden, passengers were a bit impatient about getting on, as tho' it might leave them behind if they didn't hurry. “Goodness,” I was thinking, with my backpack as a carry-on over my shoulder, “isn't it funny how we all worry that we will be left outside the door?”
Some answer came to my mind, as though another spirit had heard me. “You have just stepped outside the psychology of the herd,” he said. This brought me a smile, of course, and helped to relieve my own puzzled thoughts about going to meet on such a somber topic as death. We live in an odd mind space where we are each individual and collective at the same time. My leanings have always been toward the mystical, so I welcomed this small reassurance.
After finding a seat and putting my pack up over it in the rack, I sat down by the aisle and began to find out quickly how different a train is from highway or air travel. The tracks wind through a different environment which is not so close to the civilized portions of the earth. We started out in the Willamette River Valley. Scenery includes us in a more poignant manner than in an automobile. Areas along hillsides, rivers and mountain passes open in stunning beauty to us.
There was plenty of room on the train, which had come from further north. Another passenger asked if he could join me. I made a move to scoot over to the window, but he motioned me to stay. He was a tall, nice looking man of mystery of course. We stumbled into the where we are from and going to, and proceeded toward a comfortable friendship. He was curious about my somber mood, but he soon shed it for me by telling his own story.
He was a journalist from Canada, he said, and was returning to the Amazon River in Brazil to learn more about the people living there. Undoubtedly he told me more than one story-- this has been over three decades ago now. He was wearing a stetson hat, a casual outdoors jacket, and had a short beard.
“We travelled over the river on a boat,” he was saying, with me asking questions along the way. My image in my memory is a boat being paddled, not motor-driven, possibly with a guide. Along the way they would see virtually no people whatsoever in a jungle of a forest that was yet pristine. Maybe an animal or two could be seen in the underbrush, along with the fish in the river.
“Occasionally,” he said, “some native peoples would come to the riverside to offer us goods to trade. It was as though they knew we were there all along. They would show up with food and we traded them for items that we brought along for that purpose.”
After we had travelled along for an hour or so he decided to go down to the bar in one of the other cars. He took his hat off for a minute and showed me the label in which said “St. Louis Hat Company.” Since I hesitated about joining him he said, “Do you know there is an observation car?” and he pointed the way.
That was an awesome introduction to a picture window of a space where seats face outward and one might wish that one could carry the live video in one's mind forever. It was such as awesome view that I wondered at the fact that more people were not taking advantage of it. Eventually a porter would wander by announcing “Dinner is being served in the dining car.” And a bit later I returned to my seat while evening moved toward nightfall. Letting the back down, I napped a bit and woke up to a mountain top covered with snow. That would have likely been Mt. Shasta, one of the slightly active volcanoes in the Ring of Fire. We were arriving early in the morning in San Francisco. From there I caught a bus to San Juan Obispo.
That was around 1980. At the conference I met an interesting group of nurses, patients and families who worked together over a period of five days with one of the most spiritual teachers to have entered my life and theirs.
My trip back home was filled with somber pondering. My boyfriend picked me up at the Portland station, and my life thereafter opened into a wholly evolutionary tail of wonder into holism, healing, and a constant comment of spirituality that emerged in my work in a new way.
Decades later we as a nation are finally consciously aware that climate change has arrived. In that awareness the Congress and the President have financed expansion of our passenger train system nationwide. Here in the Midwest I am excited about a high speed train route between Chicago and St. Louis. Planning upgraded tracks is currently in process.
Celebrate Amtrak, support Midwest High Speed Rail, and enjoy the ride!