Week 39: Crossing the Country

A great week, taking the train across Canada with our son. A marvelous reminder of just how large, rich and varied our country is, and a great Internet-free week to connect and be together. Simply don’t get this appreciation from the air.

And while some parts of the trip are somewhat long (Northern Ontario, the Prairies), one lives the open space, time and distance in a very immediate way. Some great wildlife sightings: mountain sheep, bears, eagles, beavers, ospreys, elk etc., another reminder of the richness and diversity of our landscapes.

I also have renewed respect for the generation that surveyed the route and built the railway, with none of our modern tools and technology. Can only imagine how many false turns and detours in the initial surveys to find the best winding route between the lakes of Northern Ontario and through the Rockies, not to mention the risks and challenges of construction.

The train cars themselves are antique, being built in 1954 with a still contemporary, almost futuristic, stainless steel or aluminum look (most of the passengers appeared to be ‘built’ earlier!). The interior has some almost art deco influences, in addition to reminders of the technology of the day (anyone remember old style toggle switches?).

Another striking reminder was just how dependent our economy is on natural resources. The numerous freight trains we passed (or more correctly passed us as freight, not people, have priority), most between 150-200 cars long, was striking, carrying potash, oil, lumber, grains and oilseeds etc. Equally striking was the sheer scale of imports in containers from Asia, double stacked on the same long trains. A more dramatic way to capture Canadian trading patterns than the somewhat dry trade statistics.

Time off the train in the Rockies allowed me to see just how well I was doing through walks and biking. Not bad, considering I had to keep up with our 20 year-old son. Much more up and down than I am used to, with more uneven terrain, but apart from one steep lookout trail (frequented by mountain goats), I was able to maintain a reasonable pace. Certainly not at my pre-transplant level, but quite good given all my body has gone through over the past 10 months.

One of the joys of a lengthy train ride is having the time to read. I finished Among the Believers (still a good re-read and relevant after all these years) and I went through most of the essays in Christopher Hitchens Arguably. While some of his essays are stronger than others, amazing just how prolific and consistently good he was. Some of my favorites are essays on Mark Twain (American Radical), animal ‘rights’ (Political Animals), religion and the military (In Praise of Foxhole Atheists), replacing the 10 commandments (The New Commandments), water boarding (Believe Me, It’s Torture), Iran (Long Live Democratic Seismology, The Persian Version), and Isabel Allende (Chile Redux). Great collection to dip in and out of.

A wonderful way to spend a week with our son – not from a ‘bucket list’ perspective (I hate that term) but rather just being together and sharing.

Also, a good way to wait for my MRI results, which I get tomorrow at clinic. Hard to believe that I managed 2 months between visits, and hopefully all will continue on track. Less is more in my case.


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