#traintravel: the unexpected

IMG_20190311_083126I often take photos as I ride the train — I firmly believe it is the only way to see America. Road travel, unless using secondary roads, does not provide a real glimpse into America’s cities and rural areas — but even that view is limited. To get into the real America, it is essential to get into alleyways; I use this same methodology when looking for a new place to live as well — you can tell a lot about a neighborhood or town by what you can find in any given alleyway, be it trash or gardens.

While heading north yesterday, I had just snapped this photo in West Baltimore as our train came to a stop — not a jarring stop, but an unexpected one as I gazed down from the overpass where my car #3 was perched. I felt victorious when I boarded the train yesterday — with the help of the wonderful Amtrak Red Cap, I was the first one to board the quiet car. Frequent Amtrak riders know that the quiet car is the best — no cell phone calls, usually more room and people are just busy working or reading. The quiet car also doesn’t carry the extra cost of business class; as a plus the WiFi is generally more stable in the quiet car for its proximity to the business car, unlike the complete unreliability of connectivity in the general cars.

As we came to our stop, I was just finishing the last of my weekly prep for classes when one of the conductors announced, “We have a train emergency. We need everyone to stay calm. We have a tresspasser on the tracks, and we’ve had an incident.” Now, because lots of my fellow passengers had headphones on, not many heard this announcement. It’s not unusual for a train to stop to let other, faster train traffic through at odd spots along our northward route so at this point, no one is even thinking it’s a disaster to be sitting on an overpass. By the second announcement, people are starting to peek up over chair backs to ask neighbors what is going on. By the conductor’s second announcement, we know the truth – our train has struck someone. By the third announcement, we know the victim is female. By the fourth announcement, we now know that EMS is on the way — and from my vantage point on the overpass, I can see the ambulance pass underneath our perch. I start sending notes to my family to let them know where I am; and a forward note to my meeting still several cities away that I may be late. Then I google the accident.

Train accidents are more common that we all may think. The big ones, cars or trucks stuck on the tracks or cars racing trains make the televised news. People on the tracks rarely make headlines, and in 2017 over 2,100 people were struck by moving trains. This is no small number, and in fact is a crisis. Train tracks are usually fenced off, hence the conductor’s announcement of a trespasser on the tracks; but this hardly means tracks are inaccessible to humans. The report of our accident described the female victim as, “attempting to cross the tracks” — yet, there is no reason to cross the tracks at this urban, overpass setting. No reason.

We were allowed to move slowly into Baltimore after EMS departed and an inspection of the tracks by law enforcement; and allowed to leave our train to quickly transfer to another headed north to reach our destinations as our train’s crew was pulled out of service and the train put to rest until a full investigation took place. I learned from a fellow passenger, who had been on another train that struck someone that we were lucky — based on the shortness of our delay, the victim was alive. Had the victim been a fatality, our delay suspended above West Baltimore, would’ve been several hours of shelter-in-place. Lucky is not a word I’d use; fortunate maybe, that we only lost an hour of our morning and that we have our health to race to another train, up a flight of stairs and down another. Fortunate that we ourselves did not attempt to cross the tracks in front of a train going upwards of 50 mph as it rounds a bend into downtown Baltimore. Fortunate that we did not suffer from whatever reason the victim chose to cross the tracks, and fortunate that we do not bear the injuries that must’ve resulted from such an impact. The victim was reported by local news to not only be alive, but alert. Alert most certainly is not fortunate.

Meetings aside, I spent most of the day searching for news…any update on the victim. Does she have a family? Does she have friends to rush to her side? Her life is most certainly going to be difficult going forward. And what of our train driver? Does Amtrak offer the needed support for what he and the rest of the staff may’ve observed? Too many questions that deserve answers — and further investigation. I still believe that train travel is the only way to really see into America’s collective soul — and today, with so many world events shaking, it is worth a few moments of respite and introspective concentration to really understand how one victim, on one rail line, is so representative of all that ails America.

 

Bombogenesis! The first snow of 2018

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I called my dad yesterday to let him know the Governor had declared a state of emergency in advance of the pending Bombogenesis — to which he naturally asked, “What on earth is that? Is it similar to snowmageddon? Snowpocalypse? Why is there a bomb in it?” All good questions, for which I had no answers — but the real thrill of it is…my dad and I both love to completely succumb to the Weather Channel, when the big ones are coming. He neglected to mention that in our home state, multiple earthquakes around Mt. St Helens and a rapidly shifting ridge to the east of the mountain should be equal cause for concern.

Defined: a bongenesis = a cyclonic snowstorm, where Arctic air (that generally builds the more famous Nor’Easter) meets topicla air like a brick wall, the air swirls in a centrifugal manner (severe) and creates the “bomb” effect of blasting everything in its path..leaving strong, possibly hurricane force winds and plunging temperatures in its wake. The upside: schools are delayed or cancelled well ahead of mother nature’s fury leaving folks some time to plan ahead — since I work from home, this also allows time to do some early morning meal pondering (pondering is better than planning) and a little daydreaming — what about baked potatoes — for lunch! Fresh banana bread with chocolate (thank you Molly from Orangette, I’ve never been able to make regular banana bread since your first book) for breakfast! Almond butter cookies (trying this one today, three ingredients – sounds simply perfect) by mid-afternoon! And dinner — no one will need dinner, though there is a bag-o-salad from last week’s Trader Joe’s pilgrimmage in the fridge. But, who eats salad in a snowstorm?

Snow’s meditative and silencing qualities are my buoys of comfort — many adults hate the white stuff, and I’ll admit I am no fan of the ice storm so should our “bomb” friend turn that direction, our loving relationship is officially cancelled. Snow is candles, wool socks and a chance to stay inside — willingly (I am not usually a fan of the indoors or staying at home and all its laundry implications). While snow allows the mind to rest and the gaze to settle evenly — is also energizing in all its light reflective gloriousness. The peace that snow provides as it coats the landscape, allows new ideas to sprout — snow is the incubation that is needed by the soul and the heart. My yoga instructor says each time our class teeters in tree-pose that there is always movement in balance. So it goes with the snowfall — in peace, there is always endeavor.

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Finding Etsy Again

IMG_20171007_124737.jpgI was an early Etsy adopter, at least I think I was — as a new mom I was looking for ways to still take a few photos, and maybe even sell a few. Yes, photography is inherently difficult to sell; but it also provided a little time away, outside, as I figured out my new professional life and what that even meant. The challenge with Etsy, okay one challenge for me, was finding a way to market items and keep a stock of photos that were printed, matted, and ready-to-ship or sell at local shows — the investment alone was daunting. It became clear at my last craft show, when a lady with homemade pickles was selling more than I, that maybe this whole deal was not for me — a Property Brothers moment of realism with the sunshine rays radiating out from my head. I needed a plan, a direction, a different market than competing with the pickle lady (make no mistake, I do genuinely enjoy pickles).

Fast forward nearly seven years — still no real plan. But, Etsy has evolved like most technologies and today offers the option to sell digital downloads — yet another aha moment when I discovered this glory. After a chunk of time away, I’m back — and hopeful. The market for photography of any kind is brimming over with talented photographers — my few photos are just a blip on the screen. But this option, the digital world option, streamlines my own process — and that’s all I will be focused on; yes, there are more talented photographers, much the same as there are writers whose skills and talents surpass mine when it comes to both prose and teaching. My plan has evolved from trying to learn how to produce a supply chain, albeit sporadically which doesn’t lend itself to success, tp focusing simply on the photos I love myself and sharing them on the Etsy platform. If I simply brighten someone’s day with my colorful posts – super; if someone is moved to puchase and download a photo to keep that feeling alive, double super.

My shop name remains Northwest Flora as I lived in the Pacific Northwest when I began this photo journey in 2010. Visit me: northwestflora.etsy.com for a dose of color in the coming days as we head to the darker part of the year.