Grand Junction

Click here to read this story.

I’m racing against time; everyone is. I will not win; no one will. I recognize this struggle; many do not. When recognized, more can be done: remember and record.

It is hard to fathom, but sometimes I have nothing to say and don’t even try to speak: nothng is going on in my head. And then – WHAM! – out of the blue something crosses my path and there is a avalanche of recollections and new connections. It’s peculiar and sort of amazing how the train gets rolling from there.

This time the initial WHAM started with an article in The New Yorker about water problems in the western United States. A segment of the story produced a vivid recollection of a travel experience I had twenty years ago. [1] I had also been thinking about the derailment of an Amtrak train from Washington, D.C., outside of Philadelphia, another rail trip I had taken and my son takes periodically. [2]

When not at a stand still, or busy with a day’s practical matters, I am sucked into the vortex of past or future.

As with practically anyone’s vacation, I go about family travel just taking in what comes along, and then – WHAM! – I am completely euphoric: the moment seems monumental, significant, glorious. And it is all neither required nor expected. I confess that a single glass of red wine near sunset tends to magnify, prolong, and vaporize these revelations.

That is what happened outside of Grand Junction one June evening in 1995, as my wife and son and I sat down in the dining car on Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

FOOTNOTE:

1. David Owen’s article “Where the River Runs Dry” in The New Yorker on May 25, 2015.

Owen’s describes the Colorado’s headwaters:

“If you drive west on Interstate 70 from Denver, you pick up the Colorado at Dotsero, about a hundred miles east of the Utah border, and follow it west through canyons so deep and narrow that some stretches are engineered like double-decker bridges: one lane on top of the other. The railroad goes that way, too, on the opposite bank. Tunnels punch through buttresses of rock that the road builders couldn’t go around, and there are sections where the view above is so transfixing that you have to remind yourself to look back at the road….”

2. Wikipedia, “2015 Philadelphia train derailment”; URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Philadelphia_train_derailment (Updated: September 6, 2015).

3. Three days after publishing this story, I heard this on NPR’s Morning Edition about Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. Kirk Siegler’s report is entitled “Las Vegas, N.M., Needs Amtrak To Help It Draw More Tourists”; URL: http://www.npr.org/2015/09/17/441063247/las-vegas-n-m-needs-amtrak-to-help-it-become-a-bigger-tourist-destination (September 17, 2015).

Click here to read this story.

Mid-America Crossroads

Passage to Memphis

Dear friends, we miss you and think about you. I want to account for our not seeing you and for our not hearing from one another in recent months. Public transportation, or the lack thereof, has frustrated me since I returned from Europe in 1972 with an intensified love of train travel. As I get older, and my friends and family get older too, the problem of safely and conveniently traversing Tennessee highways, amid a growing number of rude, dangerous-driving commercial truck drivers and an Interstate 40 strewn with large truck-tire fragments, has resurrected my dismay over the absence of public transportation. I see no good reason why there is no rail or quality bus travel between Tennessee’s major cities that comes close to what is available in northeastern states. But then again, given our politics of me first and let’s go it alone, I do understand why. Still I quietly rage against our fate and the status quo. I want to come to Memphis more often and more comfortably.

Yes, members of my aging circle still think of joints, rhythm, frustration, miscommunication, and alienation. But usually it is in the context of bodily and social-service malfunctions. Parental oversight, pop festivals, literary discussions, and idealistic political activism have been supplanted by power of attorney, hearing defects, healthcare plans, assorted pains, and lowly immediate topics, such as chronic funk and creeping forgetfulness.

This is the preface for a story that sets the stage for a few more stories about rail travel. My passion for trains goes way back and has not diminished, though realism has hardened and practicalized my life in many ways. This first history-laced story focuses on Memphis as a transportation hub. Others highlight personal experiences with train travel – life-altering experiences that I could not have had any other way nor done without.

Click here to read this story.

He So Loves the World

Click here to read this story.

Concepts describe and augment reality. They become part of reality.

Thinking so, I come to a key proposition: Believing makes it so. This proposition is the vague plasma that connects loose components of a life, a culture, a civilization.

One of the best passages in Catch 22, a dialogue that takes the concept of the Catch-22 to its next level, has Yossarian discussing the God not believed in. In the conversation, it is clear that not believing requires a concept, too. When not believing becomes a integral part of a personal system, it becomes a belief.

Belief (and theories more meticulously built on empirical evidence and rational proof) guides perceptions and behavior. In a constant and consistent expression, they feed virtuous or vicious cycles.

I believe in trust. I believe that trust creates trust, that low trust generates inefficient interactions that impede productivity and growth. But on the other hand, I believe in questioning: trusting relationships concede the requirement to clarify and reconcile ends and means among members.

Recently I heard on NPR (what could be named Radio Trust) that the Huggington Post – formerly and officially called The Huffington Post – plans to focus only on stories about things that work. (There may be many fewer stories about Congress and radical political parties and their partisans.) The theory here is that less news about evil and failure, and more about cooperation, construction and success, will breed more success and diminish evil action and failure.

We can belabor this argument with A is B and B is C and so on to Z. We know that lengthy and time-consuming contests such as that, repeated over and over again, don’t convince or change radical views. With trust, we are able to jump straight from A to Z more efficiently.

Jumping from A to Z, we venture to the story of which this rumination is a prologue – a prologue of which the attached story is a proof. Thus we tie together these fragments of thought in an actual life, a life tied to many lives, a life of cooperation, construction, and delight. This is the small beginning of a story about the contagion of love.

Click here to read this story.

Basket of Splendor

Click here to read this story.

Phases of Astonishment: Chapter iii

Securely seated at home,
attached to our routines,
we imagine ourselves
suited for intrigue
and worthy deeds,
if only given a chance.

I know I once imagined it so.

* * *

And so began the journey – and the letters:

“It was probably better that we were so rushed when I left Friday, for without thinking of the ramifications of my first steps across the threshold of the plane, you suddenly disappeared, without the awkward embarrassment or pain. Only later, somewhere high above the meandering Mississippi, was I struck concussively by the event and the openness of the future. On the flight to Chicago, one of the stewardesses was an old college acquaintance. And on my flight to London, I sat next to a Wisconsin student, of about my age, who was undergoing the same experience as I – and all of this compelled by some obtuse force and the hope of finding the sensation of freedom.

“Upon arrival in London, I accidentally boarded the wrong coach and received a free two-hour bus tour halfway to Wales and back. London was so very gray and elicited all kinds of romantic pensiveness. It was drizzling all day. I inspected the backs of dilapidated red-brick terraced houses from an open window in a rail car, musing while the drowsy lullabies of iron striking iron, a monotonous tap-ping tap tap-ping, accompanied my fantasy.”

Click here to read this story.

Wheels Up, Trujillo

Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 7

Closing the Bargain

There is more to a tale of travels than one should publish. There always is more than a prudent man dare tell. Recognition of youthful follies – and, one would hope, age-acquired better taste and respect for others – as much as admitted inadequacy as a tale-teller – guide decisions to parse stories.

When I started writing this series of seven chapters, collectively entitled Patterns from a Rooftop, I knew the storyline well enough. Nonetheless, despite many notes and many years of experience telling parts of the story to friends and family, I did not know how the written story would unfold. In the process of assembling and stitching together isolated incidents, I came to see themes and connections that I had not previously recognized. Emphasis and interpretation of events altered with every paragraph, with every chapter.

Sorting through and doctoring old photographs from the journey helped tremendously in this process of discovery. For years most of my photographs seemed hopelessly lost: dear objects wanting refurbishment that might never be shared with others. The evolution of technology, and my easy access to it, brought the lost lambs of my past home to shelter and intimacy – and to a fireproof repository of some stability. A closer look at the photographs from the perspective of my older years made me see what I had not fully seen or appreciated before.

I embarked on this journey for friendship more than adventure. I revisited it for myself and the closest companions left in life and those young family members I barely know. Marking the close is not the same as reaching the end.

Click here to read this new chapter.

Start the full journey here for the series Patterns from a Rooftop.

Party Crashing a Mission Town
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 1
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Resurrecting Small
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 2
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Drawn to Scale
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 3
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

On the Lip of Languor
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 4
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Raising Ruins
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 5
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Epiphany at Atitlan
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 6
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Wheels Up, Trujillo
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 7
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Odd Man Out

When you travel, particularly if you take photographs and take note of the people and places you visit, it is easy to see your relationship with foreign places and people as being one where you are on the outside looking in. That is not necessarily the whole truth about the nature and consequences of the transaction.

Although I spent many weeks traveling in Central America in 1973 – and with a companion who also carried a valuable camera – there is not a single photograph of me among those remaining from the journey. (There might have been a couple taken, but my companion lost his complete film record from atop a Volkswagen Beetle during a move within a year of returning to Memphis.)

I certainly took no self-portraits, nor did I ask a local inhabitant or a fellow traveler to take a photograph of me standing before an important cultural site. (I wish I had asked.) Therefore, initially, I viewed myself as being on the outside looking in on a culture, observing differences that were supposed to be foreign to me, but never viewing myself as part of the picture.

In time, however, in a slowly revelatory way reminiscent of the movie Blowup, when I enlarged and studied the people frozen in my photographs, I began to see that my subjects were observing me, too. In fact, in a deeply reflective exercise, I saw that I was observing myself, along with my hosts, through the act of photography. Going further in this exercise, in terms of both my photographs and my notes, I came to see the trip as a flushing and fleshing out of identity – a transformative journey made by watching myself in a foreign context, where the context, even if at times a caustic compound of heat, grime, privation, isolation, exoticism, and tedium, was both a stimulate and a healing aid toward a path of personal resolution.

The details of that resolution are grainy now as then, but the process and conclusions are clearer. A photographic image of ourselves in distant places offers little insight, though it can be a pleasure and a mile post to others who know us. The impression that we project and recall, at home and abroad, in our commerce with matters foreign is the souvenir that gives and endures.

I see nothing in my old photographs that render my image as a traveler as intrusive or unwelcome, as beggarly or greedy, as uninterested or mean. By traveling, I took a part of my culture to my hosts and they pointed me home again by being themselves, uninhibited and unthreatened by my presence.

The ancient Greeks had it down to a tittle: our duty as hosts and sojourners, at home and abroad, is kindness to strangers from afar who are on the road with us. As visitors, we owe it to pay our way by sharing, demanding little, and leaving a small footprint – and by fair observation, remembrance, and gratitude.

When we notice an immigrant – if indeed we are privileged to do so – we tend to see an outsider looking in. But the immigrant is a conduit for our seeing a foreign culture, for our seeing potential for ourselves. We are then on the inside looking out along with the visitor – or we should be, if we intend to reap full advantage of our being graced by a visitor who wants to be part of us – who wants to learn and mimic our ways while among us.

The odd man out, then, is not the man who is left out of the picture. He is the man who neglects the essentials of his own survival by failing to behold the foreign, by failing to wisely seize and invest impressions of a predictably surprising world full of shooting stars and common wonders.

My photographs, journals, and musings from this travel are an open door on a perplexing, perilous, marvelous, and vulnerable world. Despite its plainness, it is a view of ceaseless bewilderment in the presence of bountiful variety and inevitable similarity.

The foreign is among us constantly. We stand unfulfilled if we do not embrace it as our own while allowing it to be foreign and itself. Foreign to none, all is foreign. Foreign to much, much is freshly familiar – the necessary spur to our ascent.

Epiphany at Atitlan

Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 6

This installment of Patterns from a Rooftop is a requiem for a journey. To be more exact, it is about the end of the beginning of multiple journeys. My lifelong companion considers it the best of this series. I tend to agree but think it finally exposes where the previous chapters have been heading all along.

I am exceedingly happy that I have taken the time to hunt through photographs and repair them and to piece together this trip from a more mature perspective – though I have allowed much of the fervor of the original notes to stand as recorded at the time. I could never have done this without the journal that I kept and sent home disguised as personal letters to family and friends back in Tennessee.

There is one more chapter in this story. It too has both its dark and humorous sides.

As you are well aware by now, my few loyal readers, expressions in these pages are of more comfort and benefit to me than to anyone else. A good friend argues, academically, that writing is not intended to be so. I beg to differ. If a journalist is not intrinsically rewarded on a continual basis, there is no writing or the writing is stone-cold dead. I am not compensated in this effort in any way but by my own discovery and evolution. Long live the evolution!

Click here to read this new chapter.

Start the full journey here for the series Patterns from a Rooftop.

Party Crashing a Mission Town
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 1
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Resurrecting Small
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 2
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Drawn to Scale
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 3
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

On the Lip of Languor
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 4
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Raising Ruins
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 5
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Epiphany at Atitlan
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 6
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Wheels Up, Trujillo
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 7
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Raising Ruins

Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 5

Hovering over a pool of one’s bright red blood, in the dead of night, gives one pause. Freshly oxygenated blood from the lungs is a strangely beautiful sight – and a surreal experience. But it does focus the mind on fundamentals.

When I undertook extensive foreign travel as a young man, I did not know what I was looking for. But most assuredly, I was seeking something. My long journey came on the heels of shocking personal experiences related to health, giving rise to legitimate questions about my prospects for the future. Essentially, I was looking for an acceptable direction for my life, having given up on the path of more education in exchange for an open search elsewhere in more Romantic climes.

In Guatemala, in late spring of 1973, I discovered a path home. In fact, the discovery was home. What started in Europe and wound a circuitous, uneasy route through Mexico and Belize, started to emerge as an answer in the jungle of Tikal. The vision was crystallized at Lake Atitlan, and decisive action was begun while sitting on a bench in the middle of the afternoon in Antigua.

Suddenly, there the answer was before my mind’s eye. Like most revelations, it had been there in front of my face all along, but I had failed to see it in all its glory and detail. I think that observing the daily lives of the Mayans of Guatemala helped guide my way.

Tennessee beckoned as it never had before. A person dominated my thoughts who had not been quite so prominent before. All the pieces of the puzzle were visible. But it would take two more years to see if and how they might fit together.

NOTE: I have not repeated the overview of how TennesseeSoul works with TennesseeSoul Mate since the latter’s inception. It might be worth repeating now, as I sense there may be some misunderstanding. TennesseeSoul Mate is the jumping off place for long-time readers of TennesseeSoul. I send out a link to an introduction and at the end of the introduction is a link to an entirely different website where the full story might be found. In the story, there is a link to the introduction, referred to as the Preface, which returns one to TennesseeSoul Mate. At any time, readers (intrepid, friendly explorers really) can view a table of contents for all the stories ever published in TennesseeSoul by clicking on the TennesseeSoul logo on homepage of the main website (TennesseeSoul.com) or the heading Archives on the left sidebar of all other pages. I hope the explanation is not more confusing. It is truly a web and everything goes around, over and through – and eventually connects.

Click here to read this new chapter.

Start the full journey here for the series Patterns from a Rooftop.

Party Crashing a Mission Town
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 1
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Resurrecting Small
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 2
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Drawn to Scale
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 3
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

On the Lip of Languor
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 4
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Raising Ruins
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 5
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Epiphany at Atitlan
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 6
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Wheels Up, Trujillo
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 7
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

On the Lip of Languor

Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 4

An elective brush with privation is a warning of sorts. Faint desolation lies just beyond reach in many a sublime travel situation. In less ideal circumstances, it progressively seeps into the membranes of consciousness. Destinations on the verge of abandon are well suited for brittle desperation. Lodged in a place of spectacular vistas without fresh water and soothing soft greenery, luxury soon turns to longing for return to the ordinary. A beachhead on the brink of sand and sea without prospect of relief is but a parched and unsustainable retreat of last resort.

Bathed in salt under blistering sun, a solitary traveler explores little, seeking shade and refuge from forlorn, intangible beauty and hazardous temptations. To stray dogs go the spoils – of want, of idleness, of uncertain future. Like many a restless nomad, I heedlessly succumbed to the lure, the whine, and the rumor of exotic travelers compelled to move to different, unknown ground for the sake of claiming that they had done so.

Carefree existence is not free, nor is it absent of care. It prepares one for liberation only in pursuit of caring. Prepared by extremes of open space, jungle comes to signify more than geographical topography: jungle, in contrast, is a mirage of hospitality, an embattled rather than a vacuous isolation. Only too soon does jungle become a tangle of warring irrational tensions intensified with every drop of sweat and every concealed recess. Caring and self-discernment are the beginning of liberty. Only complete extrication is a clear path of escape.

The most arduous journey – especially when traveling with little money in a harsh foreign environment with limited social outlets, few distractions, and no place to hide – is coming to terms with oneself. Often in such travel one goes days without so much as a mirror to aid reflection. Thus the extended encounter with self is purely psychological: under the influence of shifting raw experience deprived of steady, knowing eyes looking on as an unbiased check on reality. Context and inner life collide to distill self down to its purest elements of endurance, character, and adaptability with all excess fat eliminated. Few emerge cleanly, but most emerge changed.

Click here to read this new chapter.

Start the full journey here for the series Patterns from a Rooftop.

Party Crashing a Mission Town
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 1
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Resurrecting Small
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 2
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Drawn to Scale
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 3
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

On the Lip of Languor
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 4
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Raising Ruins
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 5
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Epiphany at Atitlan
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 6
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Wheels Up, Trujillo
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 7
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Drawn to Scale

Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 3

The Yucatan altered the complexion and stature of my journey through Mexico. The life I observed there served as a gateway to the heart and significance of the region’s culture, south from the peninsula into Belize and northern Guatemala.

Eventually one finds one’s stride on a journey, or one packs it up, quits and goes home. Though the daily accounts found in my travel journal were gnarled in doubt at the beginning, this section of the trip marked a long-lasting payday – the point where the lessons of the trip started to make sense. And sense is all about scale. Obviously I had not learned, as I should have, how to generalize the relationship between scale and happiness that I had partly gleaned from months living in Italy. In the Yucatan and its people, that personal failing was partially, if not definitively, corrected.

Read it here.

Start the full journey here for the series Patterns from a Rooftop.

Party Crashing a Mission Town
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 1
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Resurrecting Small
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 2
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Drawn to Scale
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 3
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

On the Lip of Languor
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 4
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Raising Ruins
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 5
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Epiphany at Atitlan
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 6
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Wheels Up, Trujillo
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 7
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response