Wordsmith and life enthusiast Jedidiah Jenkins shares his unique perspective on the #PassportExpress as the Empire Builder makes its way to Oregon.
On Saturday night we went to bed on the train in Montana. I slept on the top bunk and rocked and jostled to sleep. The white noise of the train and the gentle shakes as it bent through the rockies complemented my exhaustion. I woke up with the sunrise in Oregon. The eastern half of the state is golden brown in September, baked from summer sun. The yellow grass along the Columbia River covers the hills. The river, though wide and rich with fresh water, has very few trees drinking from its shore.
We had collectively decided to have quiet time that morning. Our group is a rowdy one, full of laughter and stories. We are loud and big. In order to be quiet, we must will it and designate it. So we did. We thought it would be important, over a week deep into our trip, to have a minute on the train to process. We woke up early and sat in the observation car, silent. Some had headphones, some were reading, some were writing. Oregon and the river slid past us. I was working on some writing and an hour or so passed without my knowledge. I had stopped and looked out the window, and lost my clear thinking in the numb beauty of the landscape. I was just an animal, looking at the world, without judgment. Then the train hooked around a bend in the water, and I saw Mount Hood. The world was brown and without life, and then, I saw a strange and alone tower of a mountain, completely alien in its surroundings. With a white cap and a green dress of pine trees. It seemed to be the lost sister of Mount Fuji in Japan. A complete mountain range is one thing. It is a wall and somehow fits in the imagination. A mountain that stands all alone, as if lost, wandering through plains and fields, certainly carries with it thousands of years of mythology. It inspires stories. I stared at it through the rest of quiet time, relishing its oddness.
The time in silence helped the dust settle in my mind. It let me consider each person on this trip, their opulent talents, their unique laugh and body language, their choice words or liberated thoughts. The call and response of jokes, caught eyes, cackles, and stories is such a consuming dance, that we forget to consider each other. To ponder the wonderful mystery of what makes someone who they are, and that they exist at all. Silence gives the mind permission to open those doors. It was one of the most magical moments for me of this trip.
We arrived in Portland and went straight to waterfalls and vista views. We traced the river back and took a nap in the grass at Hood River. For dinner we visited a local winery. After food, we went outside to wait for our bus to bring us to bed. The bus didn’t come. A fuse had busted or something and what seemed like a quick fix kept compounding. It was no one’s fault. Our group of 38 ended up waiting outside of this winery for 2 hours. The schedule had to change, we lost a visit to a saloon and a night time concert. In any other circumstance, in any other group, we might have grumbled or moaned or mutinied. But this is a group of professional travelers. The first rule is: stay flexible. The second rule is: stay positive. The third is: make it a game. So we sat in the grass and played that silly iPhone game called Heads Up. You know that one? I think Ellen Degeneres made it. Well, it turned into a full-on tournament of accents and cackling. And the winery brought us out extra wine to help. It certainly did. We got to our beds at 11:30 and were so exhausted from laughing and loving one another and the beautiful Oregon night, that we hardly noticed that anything had been unexpected. It all seemed to fit so nicely together. This is the type of crew I want to be around for the rest of my life.
Written by Jedidiah Jenkins
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