Sunday, February 17, 2008

PTSW: Breathes There a Man...

Breathes There the Man...
from the Lay of the last Minstrel

by Sir Walter Scott

Canto Sixth


Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
"This is my own, my native land!"
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.

One of my regrets is that in sixty years of life in this blessed age of automobiles, trains, airplanes, interstate highways, and transcontinental rail lines, I have seen so little of " own, my native land."

In 1979 Sheila and I put up a map of the United States. On it we put red stars on locations where we had friends or relatives beloved enough that we would be welcomed for a night's lodging or more. We compared that map to the Amtrak route map. Amtrak had a promotion on their one-month "Rail Pass". Because of my school schedule that year, we had to schedule our trip to embark on the last day permitted by the promotion. But what a thirty-one days we spent touring this beautiful country by rail. We ended up imposing on only four families along the way - and one of those in absentia! What fun!

First from Brookwood station in Atlanta we boarded the Southern Crescent for the overnight run to the nation's capital. This may have been the least comfortable leg of the journey since the air-conditioning went out in our car. We crowded into another car for most of the trip, sleeping in our seats. We got to see a little of North Georgia in the twilight and then the bourgeoning housing developments of Northern Virginia in the dawn, but what a thrill to roll across the Potomac and see those gleaming monuments.

After a day or two in the capital city we boarded the Cardinal for a ride across the Appalachians through West Virginia to Cincinatti Ohio and a visit with our Kentucky friends, Bob and Sharlee and our Ohio buddy (and now contributor to the Limb) Mike Bock.

Then on to Chicago and a few days with my pregnant sister, Debi, and hubby Gregg. D&G, of course, made sure we saw all the Chicago sights.

The next leg was a long one up the Mississippi to the twin cities of Minnesota, then across the plains of North Dakota and Montana to Glacier Park. What a ride. The train was greatly delayed. 36 hours on the train! But it wasn't all bad. We met new friends. Played chess and Scrabble with complete strangers. And watched the plains slide by and the magnificent distant mountains approach.

Our first night at Glacier was spent at the Glacier Park Lodge. It was an old railroad lodge with a mammoth central lobby ringed by huge "whole tree" columns. In the morning we boarded one of the famous Glacier Park red convertible buses for the ride into the Canadian part of the park and the Prince of Wales Lodge. This grand chalet sits on the glacial moraine at the head of a beautiful lake. Our balcony overlooked the lake.

From there we took the red convertible into the heart of the park to the huge Many Glacier lodge. There the college age summer staff were all music majors and produced shows when they weren't bussing tables or making beds. We were there for their first week so the shows weren't ready, but I have never heard such beautiful renditions of "Happy Birthday" as we heard at each meal at Many Glacier Lodge. We hiked onto the retreating Grinnell Glacier. And along snow covered paths through gorgeous woods by raging glacier-fed creeks.

Soon we were back aboard the red convertible bus and climbing across the just-opened Going-to-the-Sun Highway cut through gigantic snowbanks over the continental divide at Logan Pass -- we got out to enjoy the snow and cold at the "top" --- and then descended into the warmth of the western side of the park and Lake Macdonald's smaller lodgings

There we hiked in shirt sleeves through the huge trees and great tree=strewn chasms.

From there we circled south of the park. We stopped to enjoy watching the mountain goats at a cliffside salt-lick.

Then back to the Glacier Park Lodge and a long hike through the blooming countryside there before reboarding the Empire Builder for the next leg of our journey.

From Glacier Park we passed through America's longest railroad tunnel in route to Seattle and a short stay at the station there before transferring to a different train for the ride along the coast to Portland. We could see the magnificent Mount Ranier from our coach.

At Portland we hunted down, not our friend Russ -- he was in Europe -- but his little convertible and its key and that to his Lincoln City beach house. We had wheels again! It was great to hole up in the little beach house, to walk along the beach in the June cold, and to motor up the coast in that snazzy little car. On one side of the road deserted sylvan scenes not unlike North Georgia except in scale; on the other the crashing waves of the anything-but-pacific Pacific.

The train ride from Portland climbs through the mountains hugging their sides precariously while displaying fantastic views for slack-jawed passengers.

At San Francisco's station our friends Steve and Laurie waited with baby Rachael and wonderful hospitality. We climbed through redwood forests with Rachael in a front pack. We visited Fisherman's Wharf. We ate chocolate sundaes at Ghiradelli's. We ate fresh salmon steaks. We grilled out at S&L's Oakland home. We watched the sea lions. We wondered at the marvelous Exploratorium. We hiked up the coast, playing in the tide pools, hanging over seaside bluffs on our bellies to commune with the hovering gulls practically at our fingertips, and eating cheese, bread, and nuts from our haversacks -- the best meal I've ever tasted. And we played with little Rachael, dressing her in red for June Christmas photos.

After a wonderful week we were back abouard Amtrak - the San Francisco Zypher -- headed to Salt Lake City. We spent two days there doing some family history research, shopping, and touring the Mormon sites.

On to Denver in a circuitous fashion -- backing there from Wyoming. We had no reservations in Denver and had to lug our suitcases many blocks and step over a drunk or two before we found lodgings. We toured the mint, the red rocks, and took a bus to see the mountains around.

That was really the end of our touring, Now it was back to Chicago and sister Debi's family, then onto the train to Birmingham. Sister Beth picked us up there and delivered us home, exhausted, inspired by the beauty of this great land, and happy to be back to our little corner of ".. my own, my native land!"

We have two big albums of photos from this trip. I'll scan a few and add them to this post when I get a round tuit.

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