Making Tracks

Kathy and I have been traveling by train with some frequency in recent years.  Kathy’s first long-distance train ride was 13 years ago when our oldest granddaughter was born.  The delivery had been difficult (to put it mildly) and grandma’s presence was required for a few weeks.  Upon her return, she waxed euphoric over the wonders of train travel.

I had ridden commuter trains for awhile, but my first Amtrak ride took place a couple of years later, when we attended the Association for Baha’i Studies conference in Calgary.  We rode the Capitol Limited from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, and from there took the Empire Builder out to Shelby, Montana, where we rented a car for the drive up to Calgary.  (If you’re ever there, we recommend the O’Haire Manor Motel, a nice place and, if things haven’t changed, the only place in Shelby you can have a rental car delivered to you.)  The return trip featured the same two trains.  But this voyage wasn’t so smooth as Kathy’s previous; the train was late getting to Chicago, the Empire Builder broke down on the way back and was horribly late getting back to Chicago, and I learned that although like Kathy I do enjoy riding trains, unlike Kathy I can’t sleep very well in a coach seat.

For awhile, I thought maybe I was train-incompatible, because nearly every time I boarded a train, something happened to delay it, the people around us were strange, or something alarming happened.  On one trip, a woman who had spent three days on trains with her three young children had to get off with the help of paramedics when two of the kids got very sick.  I hope everything turned out okay for her and her family.

This past weekend, we took another trip to Chicago via the Capitol Limited, this time to visit my parents.  On the return trip, we spent the extra money for a sleeper, which made the trip even more enjoyable because it was quiet and I was able to actually sleep.  We met several nice people in the dining car along the way, including a couple traveling east to help their son’s family move to a new home and a teacher who had some very definite opinions on the test-driven paradigm of present-day education.  (Hint: He seriously didn’t like it.)

One interesting thing about train travel is that many of one’s fellow-passengers are veteran rail riders.  Amtrak ridership has increased significantly since 2001 and the increased hassle of traveling by air, but convenience and the relatively lower cost aren’t the only reasons people go by train.  Many truly love this form of transport, and it’s not hard to see why.  You don’t have to drive, you can get up and move around, you can see the country, and (if you’re a people person) you can meet lots of interesting characters.

There are downsides, to be sure, but that’s true of any form of travel.  For us, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

So long as I don’t put a hex on the train, anyway . . .

Header image courtesy of tiverylucky at

The Bonsai are Up!

During the winter, bonsai typically have to be stored to protect them from from the wind and from temperature fluctuations.  The cold isn’t so much the problem: trees that live in cold climates are designed to survive the cold.  The wind, though, can desiccate (dry out) a tree’s tissues, and temperature fluctuations can cause repeated freezing and thawing that can damage pots.

There are several strategies for dealing with these issues.  Deciduous trees can be stored in an unheated room or garage.  Once they’ve lost their leaves for the winter, they don’t need sunlight.  Due to lack of space, however, I have typically placed the trees under their benches and surrounded them with sheets of plastic to keep the wind at bay.  More recently, I’ve removed the shelving and simply placed the trees together, and used tall metal stakes to support the windbreak.

I generally put the trees into storage this way over the Thanksgiving weekend, as in my area that’s when temperatures are starting to get low enough that the trees will need some protection.  I put them back up on the benches in the early weeks of spring, depending upon how warm it’s getting.  This year I left them down a bit longer than usual, because the weather has been unusual.  As of today, however, they are back up.

I haven’t started repotting yet, although by all rights I probably should have done so a few weeks ago.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had time.  With luck I can get to that shortly.

Goodbye, Daniel

Last week, our cat Daniel passed away.

Abandoned in a local Petsmart, he came to live with us about two years ago. He could get nasty when he was scared or mad and mauled a couple of family members, but mellowed a bit after a couple of injuries, one involving another cat and one in which his tail was accidentally shut in a door. A year ago he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). He nearly died, but the amazing doctors and techs at Eastern Animal Hospital restored him to a reasonable semblance of health. In his last year, he wasn’t as energetic as he’d previously been, but he still liked to zip outside to chase mice and birds whenever the door opened. Shortly before 2:00 AM on March 18, 2015, his heart gave out. He was about three years old.

Kathy and I have had cats and dogs for most of our married life, and are no strangers to such loss.  Some of our animals have died young, like Daniel, and some have had very full lives.  Punkin, a female tortoiseshell who Kathy referred to as her “attitudinous kitty”, lived to be 20 years old.  Lily, our Great Dane/mastiff, is now 13 years old, which puts her squarely in “older than dirt” range for a dog of that size.  I doubt I could provide a complete catalog of the cats who have passed through our lives; at one point we accidentally ended up with an embarrassingly large number of them.   But in all cases, we have had to contend with the basic fact that our canine and feline pals don’t live as long as we do, so to have a dog or cat is most generally to lose them.

For me, though, there is great consolation in knowing that on the whole we do our best to give them a good home.  Many of our animals have been cast-offs, creatures other people didn’t want or for some reason could no longer keep.  Even though Daniel’s life was short (some might say tragically so), while he was with us he was cared for, had a “brother” (our other cat Logan) to play with, and regularly escaped through the front door to chase local wildlife.

What more could a cat ask for?


The offiical website of author Dale E. Lehman