Today I’m slicing the California landscape in two with rusty steel, riding a seam down some red dirt middle of the valley all the way to the gray blue calm of the bay that reaches out silver at the end of the day to some unseen horizon beneath the sun. Today I’m traveling by a means that in some fundamental and dewy-eyed way says California, the West, the Frontier, America. Here I am, with the golden-green fields feet away as if I’m walking wildly on some overgrown back road: No wide and hot highway in a secluded car or abstract peering down through the clouds to great colored squares of farmland far below no bigger than a thumbnail. Today I’m riding the train, absorbing the romance and nostalgia of it all by a large landscape window while intimate worlds whip by and my current state rages on.
I don’t know how old this train track is, but to me it’s forever. My life between two homes and different states of visiting each can be pictured through thick glass window panes that play the perennial scenes of landscapes that change and unchange — grassy marshes that brown in the summer, graffitied underpasses layered in years of paint, green farmland or dark tilled soil or black burned fields, the rise and fall of the bay’s tide. I see it speeding by frame by frame, a montage of me by this window slowly growing: there I am playing cards with my grandmother, who would ride with me from Berkeley to Sacramento on my way back home to the valley; there I am, a teenager allowed to ride it alone, large disc man and a few CD’s; and here I am now, riding the opposite way, from valley to Bay, the place that is now home.
But I see it slowed down, too, a large collection of still images of what it means to step into a California landscape, what it means beyond the expanse of the valley or the farmland or the mountains in the distance: track homes slowing covering round hills; poor towns with junky backyards touching the edge of the track, someone outside BBQing without a shirt; tents in bushes; the dry, dry terrain. The images of all that beauty and adversity is preserved in me like a patchwork quilt built of glass and filtered light.
It means something to me to have all that history contained in my story and my body. It means I’ve been here; I’ve witnessed. This one track has been some sort of shifting backdrop to an inner life, a way to catalog all I’ve ever felt about home, about being American, about being Californian.
Today I’m thinking about death and memories, bits of bone glowing in water, the rebel yell, quiet affirmations, the need for stories and living an uncompromised life. Today I’m just watching the world go by, and understanding that somewhere in there, even if through some smudged glass, I have a place in it.