Conversations on a Train

En route, from California to Oregon……

Sitting in a teetering dining car in the early morning light.  Too tired to form concrete thoughts, and still bewildered by the surreal images that danced in my head in between sleeping and waking in my seat the night before.  I peer out my window, past the vase of plastic flowers and fog on the window to the grazing cows and telephone poles, all flashing by my window like a quickly playing slide show.

I am joined by Paty, a retiree traveling from Mexico to Seattle to see a man whom she has been speaking with over the internet for years, but has never met in person.  I enjoy listening to Paty, her canter is off beat and she is strange, but kind.  She wears a black sweatshirt with elaborate white font across the chest “Queen Elizabeth Cruises.”  She points to her breast and explains that she has seen the entire world on cruise lines, and once she finds out that I am an artist, Paty suggests that I try and get a job teaching art on cruise ships.  Paty has been married three times and tells me she has trouble letting men into her heart.  She likes to paint and is writing a children’s book, and says that she is queasy from the train but orders three pancakes with a side of bacon and a cup of coffee with cream.

Paty tells me about her life in Mexico, and her cheap rent in Playa Del Carmen.  She takes a pen from her pocket and writes down an occasional word on the paper tablecloth now ringed with coffee mug stains and syrup.  Playa Del Carmen she writes.  “I only pay $600 a month!” $600, she writes.  “I have started taking Spanish classes” Spanish joins the group of random words forming between us.  “They call me Pattita.”  Patitta.  I look at Paty, and wonder how the two of us have ended up eating breakfast together, in this small sliver of our lives, in between destinations.  I think of our contrasting lives and how once I leave this dining car, I will never see her again.  As she continues to talk, peering over her dark sun glasses at me, I realize the peculiarity of two strangers sharing details of their lives with each other over stale coffee, as the landscape shifts from flat prairie, to snow coated forest, to luminous fall trees to large cities…

As I left breakfast, and found a seat in the observation car to better view the altering landscape, I observed strangers all around me, sitting as comfortably with each other as if they were old friends.  Sipping coffee, knitting, resting their socked feet on the window ledge, and conversing about where they have been and where they will soon be.  When the train screeched to a haunt from station to station, I saw them depart one by one and go their separate ways.  To disperse back into the world like flecks of grass blowing in the wind.

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San Francisco Snap Shots, some highlights…


A farmer’s market in the Mission neighborhood


At the SF MOMA


Self Portrait in the MOMA


Learning to Sail


A walk with a friend


Lost in the Tenderloin


Wondering the streets of the Mission




Taken from the SF MOMA

Public Transportation

By early November, I was in the beautiful San Francisco, and as a first time visiter, I was anticipating the chance to ride the antique trollies!  Each one is unique, and they come from different cities all over the world.  I grew up in a small town in Wyoming, so needless to say I am not used to public transportation.  However, when I lived in Istanbul, I learned to love the tram, ferries and mini busses…mostly because it is a great opportunity to draw my fellow commuters.  After exiting the yoga retreat, hopping on and off the trollies in San Francisco, visiting museums and galleries, and all the while holding my little black sketchbook that has traveled with me from Turkey to Wyoming to Chicago to Canada and New Hampshire to Colorado and at last to California…..I felt vivacious, buoyant, happy.

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Pleasant Valley

Now, remembering California…

My excursion last fall was unplanned to say the least, so when I ended up at a yoga retreat tucked away in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, I was less than surprised.  At this point, I was just putting one foot in front of the other, my direction lead only by intuition.

I traveled for 12 straight hours from the coast to the mountains, first by bus, then bus again, then train, and at last a car.  I have to say, my experiences thus far of traveling by bus in the United States have not been the most pleasant, but as a traveller you learn to put on your head phones, prop up your feet and ignore the crazy banter from the man sitting two seats back and focus on the next destination.  I switched buses and stations, waited for departures and ate trail mix while sketching and reading.  The day slipped by as I sat in various seats with friendly or unfriendly neighbors, but I just stared out onto the passing landscape with my sunglasses gently slipping down my nose.


I had enjoyed the train ride into Sacramento, but after arriving found myself sitting in sweltering heat on the steps of the train station, hoping desperately that my ride would recognize me as the girl from Wyoming or Colorado, or somewhere around there…a girl who was traveling in California without direction, and who wanted to come stay at the yoga retreat for a time.  After reading The New Yorker, finishing my trail mix and watching the sun slowly slip behind the glaring skyscrapers of Sacramento, I spotted her…my wonderful, sweet host, standing by the Starbucks, with large dark sunglasses, and a hand-written sign reading, Gabrielle.

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary was more to me than a resting place, it was solitude and silence, nights of laughter, mornings of peace, long conversations in the afternoon and endless cups of tea accompanied by wonderful books.  As part of the intern experience, I absorbed as much as I could about meditation, yoga theory and concepts of spirituality.

This is a part of the country where the energy is different, people look you directly in the eye, you can feel the sincerity and trust in their voices.  You can go swimming in the river in late October before driving into the nearby town and meeting people with names like Distance and Starlight Compost at the laundromat.  I left Pleasant Valley on a bus heading towards San Francisco, wishing I could stay longer but knowing I had do move on…I was filled with the bliss of a child.

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