Monday, January 31, 2011

Notes from the Train

Sunday. 9:03 AM The train has pulled out of the Eugene station under gray skies. The car is quiet with the exception of one small infant. The the wheel axles' whine raises from a low growl to a medium one and then it drops out of my awareness. Arrhythmic creaking takes its place, and we glide past roads and the backsides of Eugene.

I look out of my cabin window and into the lumber-, scrap- and backyards. The only clear boundary is what is what's on my side of the window, and what's on the other. Between the chain link fences, and the silver-brown posts holding up sagging tin roofs are brown mid-winter weeds. The tall grass is drab-olive; the short grass -- and moss, probably -- is emerald green. It's Sunday morning, so there's little to no activity; just evidence of industry.

On the other side of the cabin, flatcars, tankers and boxcars rest on sidings. In a trick of perspective, the trains on the near siding seem to be overtaking the farther ones. I wish that I had brought my Hazmat Bingo book, it would tell me what the numbers on the sides of the cars mean.

I see an RV graveyard. I see a sewage processing plant. I see people's backyards and porches. Briars are pushing down an old wood fence. There's a yellow lab howling outside the side door of a house as the train passes. Soon we are on the backside of a tree farm. I'm guessing they're poplars or maples or some other small ornamental tree. The vanishing point is lost in a twiggy blur of bare branches.
The tracks follow 99E out into pasture land. Sheep scatter from the train, galloping away from the tracks and into the rising mists. A little later the train passes the Alforth Cemetery.

9:38 Writing. I'm pleased that I'm sitting at a table with a power outlet. The only difficulty is that the keyboard is a little far from me. I'm not looking at the screen so I will not get motion sickness or a headache from bending my neck down. One of my friends, who is only a few years younger than I am, reminded me recently that as we get age, posture really does matter.

Looked out the window and saw a large dump truck: its bed up and an enormous pile of large orange-painted boulders behind it. The inside of the bed is orange, too -- a gradient of orange scraped onto rust-red metal; so that means that this is a regular job for the truck. What I want to know is, where do they paint large builders orange, and how do they do it?

Passing by a mound of something. I'm guessing it is some kind of very small land fill, and I wonder what stories could be told about the elf mounds of the future, filled with the waste of previous centuries. This is the fourth very large mound of dirt, steaming compost, or compost we've passed.

9:48 Albany. The train will be making a stop. The whine of axels falls back into my awareness as a low growl, and the creaking slows into swaying regularity. The growl reminds me of generators, and this gives me an image of a thunderstorm bent into and constrained by a circle -- circles we nonetheless only coast upon, as the passenger car provide no locomotive force.

Now we pass tanker trucks - I don't see any hazmat numbers, so I'll have to assume there's a 1203 on them. 1987 -- not sure what that means. Ooh! One car reads "Sulfuric Acid." I'm pretty sure we're supposed to evacuate a half-mile up-wind if one of those should catch on fire.

The train halts. I like the obelisk at the Albany station. It's a clock tower, actually -- more Italian Renaissance than Egyptian revival. In some ways it's a pity the train doesn't linger at the stations. Some of them have interesting Art Deco architecture from the 1920's and 1930's, and it would be fun to photograph the buildings' details.

The train starts again, and once again the elemental whine revs through my awareness. Presently we're passing by manufactured homes. One of them is painted orange and black, and has a very large black banner with bold orange letters proclaiming, "I AM ORANGE." I am not sure if this is supposed to be a football team rally cry disguised as a zen koan or not, and my mind instantly jumps to an image of Helen Reddy singing, "I am orange, hear me roar..."

10:17 White heron standing in a large puddle. A few moments later a red-tailed hawk sails over the green pastures with a mouse in its beak. It parallels the train's motion for a few seconds and then we've pulled ahead of it.

10:52 Between Salem and Portland. Completed a scene and am closing up for an early lunch.
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