The Train to Somewhere

resist truck

One year on . . . .

When the Human Stain took office, I decided to unplug from “current events.”  There are enough things to worry about without also worrying about things I have ZERO control over.  My resistance:  for a year I have avoided anything to do with the Stain.  No pictures, no news, no tweets . . . .  It is amazing, really, how easy it is to delete one particular person from MY human-electronic interface.

Which brings me to The Train — the California Zephyr, to be precise.  If you read the reviews, a major complaint from passengers is that Amtrak does not provide WiFi on this train.  How to stay connected?!?  Perhaps if more people were willing to disconnect, we can stop feeding the troll in the White House.  Sheesh.

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Union Station, Denver

I arrived (via bus, no less) at dawn, and rather liked the Christmas green and red illumination.  The train station was completely restored a few years ago, and the vast hall is one fabulous waiting room.  The interesting (or stupid, depending on one’s viewpoint) thing about Amtrak at Denver is that they do not announce the arrival of the California Zephyr, nor do they tell you when you can board.  So, I eventually wander out to the platform, hoping that the train had in fact arrived on time.  And it was there!!  I saw the line for Coach passengers, but did not see a line for Sleeper Car passengers.  As it turned out, there was indeed a sign for Sleeper passengers at the head of the Coach line, but you couldn’t see it because of the line of waiting people.  Anyway, one perk of being a Sleeper passenger is that you do not have to wait in line, and I got my ticket scanned immediately.

My roomette was not ready, so the sleeping car attendant sent me off to breakfast in the dining car.  People complain about the food, but really, what were they expecting?  I thought the food was fine, the company of strangers interesting, and the scenery spectacular.

Gross Reservoir and Dam:  Impressive, but how much water can Denver suck out of the poor Colorado River?  I guess we will all find out if and when the expansion goes through.

27 tunnels in 30 minutes, and all before the Moffat Tunnel!  And what do you know, the water in the creeks really do flow in the opposite direction after the Continental Divide!

Climate change?  What climate change?  Well, it has been a warm late fall-early winter thus far, and while the ski resorts had snow, Winter Park was making snow when we trundled by.

Ruby Canyon, accessible by rafting, otherwise fantastic views by rail.  By dumb luck my roomette was river-side, so I had beautiful sunset views.  In my book, definitely a “E” ticket ride.

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Ruby Canyon, Colorado River
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Ruby Canyon

And on to Salt Lake City, where the Church knows how to put on a show:

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Temple Square, Salt Lake City

And so I keep going, ready to keep resisting, year two.

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Anger Management

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January 20, 2017

Optimism, in front of a non-denominational, non-profit community coffee house.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe it.  Not only do I not believe it, I am not sure it is all that helpful right now.  But that is because I continue to be angry.

My word for the year is SHOULD:  it is an insidious, neither here-nor-there sort of word, it commits you to nothing.  I should work on my anger.

On Carnival Barker’s inauguration day, I cleared dog poop along the trail.  Now, I do trail cleanup pretty much every day (my personal — if tiny — commitment to the environment), but it seemed especially appropriate that day.  It also seemed like there were even more piles than usual.  As I said, inauguration day.  And for a couple of hours, I did something more useful to me than inadequate messages of optimism:  I worked on my anger.

Travel Diary: Chamonix, Villeneuve

July 24 Wednesday

Uncle Samuel staid here.  Left this morning at [].30 on the diligence for Chamonix and had a very pleasant drive to Sallanches where we had a very bad dinner all but the dessert which was good.  The cenery from here is very fine but the top of the diligence shuts off the view very much.  Just before we came to Sallanches we saw Mont Blanc.  Arrived at Chamonix about 5.30 and stopped at the Mont Blanc Hotel which we like very much.

July 25 Thursday

This morning is perfect and we started about nine oclock on mules with two gides to to the Mer de Glace.  Went up the side of a mountain for about two hours and a half until we got to Montanvert where there is a hotel and took lunch here and left the mules.  Then went down part way to the Mer de Glace we bought two pairs of socks and put them over our shoes and walked over it.  The suface looks smooth from above but when you get on it there are great crevices and little streams of water even down over the ice.  The [moraine] as they call it is the debris from the glacier and is rocks

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Mont Blanc, Mer de Glace, Chamonix, France, c. 1890-1900. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Digital ID ppmsc.06808
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Tourists crossing Sea of Ice, Chamonix, France, c. 1902-1904. Image courtesy of Zentralbibliothek Zurich.

We walked over it and climbed up the shore to a little hut where we rested and then started down the mountain.  After a rather bad walk we came to the Mauvais Pas.  A little while before we passed three beautiful waterfalls.  The Mauvais Pas is a pass cut in the rocks on the side of a precipice going down to the Mer de Glace and has steps cut in the rock and iron rail for people to hang on to.  After crossing it we arrived at the Chapeau where there is a little hut and then walked down the mountain a little farther and met the mules. Arrived at Chamonix about half past five.  Had beautiful views of Mont Blanc.

As in Grindelwald,  climate change has led to dramatic recession at Mer de Glace.  The Chapeau is now 150m (and counting) above the glacier, so no longer a convenient rest stop.   

July 26 Friday

Left this morning for Martigny by carriage over the Tete Noire Pass.  There are five glaciers near Chamonix and we passed three on the way.  The pass is very beautiful, you look down hundreds of feet from the road into the valley and see a little swift stream running over the rocks and mountains on the other side.  Stopped at Trieste to get dinner and rest the horses and before we left it began to rain and poured all the way to Martigny.  The road after leaving Trieste asands a mountain and then decends on the other side to Martigny.  The views are beautiful all the way down but we could not see much on account of the rain.  Arrived at Martigny a few minutes after our train had gone and staid and had dinner.  There is a Roman ruin here.  Left on the 6.40 train for [Villeneuve] where we spent the night at the Hotel Byron.

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Souvenir of Lake Geneva, Villeneuve and Hotel Byron, c. 1885. Courtesy of National Library of Switzerland.

Fences

Our subdivision used to be farmland.  I have a copy of an early 20th-century parcels map, and if I squint hard enough, I can almost make out the owner’s name.  The last owner used the land as horse pasture, and she still lives in her Minimal Traditional farmhouse at the north end of the development.  An artist and her husband live two houses up from us, and they were the very first residents of this subdivision.  They were vintners before they relocated, and she told me she wanted to be able to see and touch her neighbors.  She can just about do that: we are all about 6 feet from each other — and that might be a generous estimate.

One year on, we also have fences, some more obnoxious than others.  Fences define, separate, protect, tantalize.  The “best” sort veils the house, giving the curious a carefully calibrated glimpse of the house and the property in much the same way as a half-drawn curtain at a window.  And of course, the inhabitants, for their part, get a properly filtered view of the world.  A small tour of the fences in our neighborhood:

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This house is on a corner, and they do have a toddler and a yappy dog, so perhaps all good reasons for a solid fence.

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Open metal fencing that matches the balcony railing.  The renters do not have a dog, but the Wyoming owners do.  Someday we may even meet them (the owners, that is).

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The split-personality fence: the rustic post-and-rail fencing matches those along the bike trail, but the solid wood fencing along the front is an odd choice.

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The Moat Fence (not quite finished), because this house is The Fort and it guards the entrance from the bike path into the subdivision.  This is the biggest house in the subdivision, and is on the biggest lot.  The owners, being friends of the developer, did not have to follow any of the standard house plans.  Apparently they also did not have to follow any HOA guidelines — not that there are any right now, but even if there were, they would not have had to follow them.  They are that special.  The Moat shields the owners from prying hoi polloi eyes, but only partially.  I guess if they had actually completed the perimeter fence, they would lose the view that originally prompted them to build on this piece of land.

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And the award for the most practical fence goes to The Shed Fence.  One dog, one child, and apparently Many Belongings requiring more space than provided by 4 bedrooms and a basement.  The mellow HOA didn’t know anything about this one either.  The neighbors’ view from the other side:

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I really think we need clotheslines.   Continue reading

My Mom, the Pope, and Me

I have been reading the Pope’s encyclical letter Laudato si´: On Care for Our Common Home.  I am not Catholic (nor do I subscribe to any particular faith or religion), but this particular document is one for this age.  I have not read all of it.  It is slow going because in true historian fashion, I write margin notes as I read.  And as I read, I realize how very privileged I am:

45. In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, “ecological” neighbourhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called “safer” areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.

We moved to a house next to a multi-use trail that runs along a natural creek.  The city owns much of the open space, and property owners observe an easement  along the creek itself.  It is a natural area, or as natural as is possible in middle of a small city.  A couple of months ago, I watched a hawk eat his meal on the roof of a not-quite-finished house in our very small subdivision.  Earlier in the winter, we followed a tail-less fox on our bikes: he ambled along looking like a rather large corgi from behind, and we were happy to note that he looked healthy.  I am delighted by the many dragonflies zooming through our neighborhood; I am hopeful that they (or even better, their larval stage) are doing their best to control the mosquitoes.

The real estate agents tout the wonderful location of our neighborhood, and it is indeed wonderful.  From a historic point of view, it is also a surprisingly diverse area.  Within a 1/2 square mile of our house are wood-framed 1890s to 1920s farm houses, minimal traditional 1930s and 1940s cottages, tiny brick post-war houses, expansive mid-century architect-designed ranches, less interesting 1970s and 1980s condominium complexes, and late 20th-century and early 21st-century post-modern homes.  Many of the houses verge on the decrepit, but gentrification marches on.  Even run-down shacks start at $300 thousand, and people are apparently quite happy to snap them up and turn them into their “open concept hardwood floors granite countertops stainless steel appliances minimum 3 bedrooms 2 bathroom large yard” dream home.

This is my neighborhood.  If I congratulate myself on being “green” because I can (and do) walk/bike everywhere, the Pope reminds me it is because I can choose to be green.  I have the economic wherewithal to choose to walk, to bike, to have expensive LED bulbs, to have high-efficiency plumbing and mechanics, to have solar panels, to have environmentally sustainable wood floors, to have a finished basement to escape the worst of the summer heat because I also choose not to have air conditioning.  And outside my door, I can enjoy a protected green space.  I use the trail everyday, and while I see the low-income apartment complex a couple hundred yards down the trail from my house, I also know its days are numbered.  The diversity that interests me on my walks is disappearing, and I am of course a contributor.  It is all very safe, very sanitized, very middle-class, and I am guilty of complaining that I still do not have the promised landscaping around my new house.  Luckily, I have the Holy Father and Mom (who would be appalled to know she had anything in common with a celibate white man who lives in a marble palace) to chastise me.  Who knew she would be the Pope’s enforcer in reminding me to be humble?

I sweep the (sustainable bamboo) floors everyday, and because I am compulsive, I do it on my hands and knees.  It is how Mom used to clean her floors, so it is how I do it.  It is actually quite efficient, and I can wipe down pretty much the entire house in about 20 minutes.  I hear Mom telling me not to be afraid of manual labor: “Do it right,” she says, “and no shirking.”  And she reminds me that our fortunes were built, quite literally, on the back of her grandfather, the day laborer who started the upward mobility of his family by hauling salt for a living.  I may have three degrees, but the floors still need to be cleaned.

I clean the floors, and most days I cry.  “Don’t cry,” Mom says.  “If you keep crying, Ah-ma is going to lecture me on how I didn’t raise you correctly to appreciate and understand the cycle of life.”  Remember your roots, remember your privileges, remember to be humble.

Saturday Morning Bike Ride

Saturday morning bike ride with DH on our tandem:

Our subdivision, still under construction.
Our subdivision, still under construction.

I had my DSLR camera with me, and decided to shoot from the shoulder.  Literally.  It was an interesting experiment in seeing what the camera captures.  Image stabilization goes only so far, but I rather like the blurriness, a reminder of DH and I in motion.

Old Fort Collins High School
Old Fort Collins High School

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This is one of my favorite houses on the route.  This blur reminds me of those dream (or nightmare) sequences in movies.

Togetherness, it's beautiful :-)
“Togetherness, it’s beautiful.”  Thank you, Laura.  

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This time of year, lots of abandoned sofas and chairs curbside.

Gravel works
Gravel works

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Cache la Poudre
Cache la Poudre

We have had rain for six weeks, and the river is at its highest since the floods in September 2013.

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Laporte
Old Feed Store, Laporte
Laporte
Laporte
Vern's Restaurant, Laporte
Vern’s Restaurant, Laporte

Now with a fancy new deck, but still too cold this early in the morning to breakfast outside.

Cache La Poudre Middle School, Laporte
Cache La Poudre Middle School, Laporte
Poudre River Trail
On the Poudre River Trail
Farmhouse
Farmhouse

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Behind the farm buildings is a cell phone tower, pretending to be a really big tree.

Why yes, we can make the house as big as you want!
Why yes, we can make your historic brick house as big as you want!
I have balcony envy.
I have balcony envy.
Converted grocery store.
As well as converted grocery store envy.  
Brought to you by our favorite farmers of Native Hill Farm.
Brought to you by our favorite farmers at Native Hill Farm.
Owned by a total coffee geek.
Owned by a total coffee geek.
Off-campus student housing.
Off-campus student housing.
Spring Creek Trail, and lots of water here too.
Spring Creek Trail, and lots of water here too.
An artist lives here, and her landscaping puts the rest of us to shame.
An artist lives here, and her landscaping puts the rest of us to shame.
I pretend I do not see the mound of dirt.
I pretend I do not see the mound of dirt.

Reduce Reuse Recycle Project: Part 4

When we remodelled the kitchen at our old house, the designer made a measurement mistake that made it impossible for us to reuse the old island top on top of the new island base.  We put the countertop in the garage and every once in a while, I would call up our favorite contractor (whose heart is in carpentry) and ask him to build us a base of some sort.  A few years later, we now have a repurposed quartz countertop coffee table!

Basement sitting room
Basement sitting room

He built the base from maple scraps he found at our local Habitat store, and I think it goes beautifully with the dark table top.

We found the auditorium chairs at Wool Hat; the store owners got them from an elementary school somewhere on the eastern plains.  I recovered the seats with fabric from old curtains, and to prevent the chairs from tipping, our contractor gave us some teak slats (saved from a remodelling job at a 1970s house) that we screwed to the base.  The chairs are remarkably comfortable if you are the right size, say a child or a small adult 🙂

And now, the basement really is finished!