Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Speaking of Trains

This summer we took a big trip, and experienced many adventures for posting.  I must begin with the train.  Yes, we took the train.  We took the train to Philadelphia, and back here to Los Angeles, with a lot of stuff in between.

We had often talked about taking a long trip by train for many years now.  When I was invited to preach in Wilmington, DE, and then appointed as a commissioner to General Assembly, we decided this was the time to put the two events together and travel by the good old iron horse.  Actually I think the iron horse reference means the old fashioned steam locomotive.  And how that would have been a blast!  But no, this was standard AMTRAK diesel.

But it was still adventurous.  We had a great time, and will probably take another trek by train, one of these days.  It's delightful to see the scenery in such a relaxed atmosphere.  There was a sort of adventurous thrill I experienced when the train first began to move.  It was diminished, but still fun every time the train began to move again.

But there were some modifications to my somewhat romantic notion of travel by rail.  I had anticipated night travel to gently rock me to sleep as the mesmerizing clickety-clack of rail seams created the perfect white noise.  Well, not so much.  To be sure there were many stretches that almost fulfilled that fantasy.  But for the most part we had to get used to violent jerking that would challenge agile young people to keep their feet--and we are neither agile nor are we young.  The compartment was small enough that we could hold on to something or other whenever we needed to move around.  The hallway leading to the dining car was narrow enough that instead of throwing us to the floor, we merely bumped our shoulders first on one wall then on the other.  Yes, it was a challenge, but I thought it was fun.

When the conductor adjusts our couch to become a bunk bed, we discovered another challenge.  Climbing up to that upper bunk was designed for a contortionist.  Okay, I'm no contortionist, and I did make it up there, but I assure you it was not without pain.  During one leg of our journey we had a less spacious compartment.  This one not only required a contortionist of sorts, but I learned something about myself.  I have a mild case of claustrophobia.  I was sure I could not get to the top bunk, but I did.  And then the ceiling began to creep down upon me.  I panicked.  I even cried out.  I couldn't get down, and yet I did--rather rapidly in fact.

Believe it or not, we learned to use this narrow bunk as a double bed.  It's so wonderful being married to a tolerant spouse.  That bunk was so narrow (and we are NOT narrow) that I slept with my feet near my wife's face, and she the opposite.  That was just one night.  The rest of the time we had the deluxe accommodations in which the bed was a more believable double.  Again I thank God for a tolerant companion.

I made it sound as though we didn't sleep, but we did.  We learned to adjust, and any hours we missed at night we could always make up during nap time.

The meals were worth a blog post of their own.  When one buys the deluxe accommodations the meals are included in the price.  The food was good and very well prepared.  Though the menu provided variety, it did become rather limited when we spent six days on the train.  A seasoned traveler warned us to order the steak dinner the first night because they sometimes run out.  We did so, and it was not disappointing.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Spooky Train Ride

My great grandfather (or was it my great, great?) was some exec with the Swiss railroad.  I think this story came down from him.  At least my mother told me this story, and attributed it to him.  The line of transmission for some old family stories becomes blurred with time.  Anyway, here is what my mother told me.

On a dark and foggy night the train chugged along the mountainside when the engineer began to notice an ominous image in the fog ahead.  It appeared to be an angel beckoning him to stop the train. He called to his fireman to see if he had the same view.  These two men rubbed their eyes and stared into the foggy night, they concurred that there was a definite image of an angel, persistently urging them to stop the train.

It seemed irresponsible to stop the loaded train halfway up the mountain, but the more they talked it over, the more they began to spook one another.  Finally the engineer brought the iron horse to a stop. The image was still looming ahead of them in the fog.  With its wings spread wide, the angel was demanding that they halt their progress.  Just then the conductor came up the tracks from several cars behind the engine.  "Hey, we're not scheduled to stop for several miles.  What are you doing?"

"Don't you see that angel in the fog, there ahead of the train?" answered the engineer.  "I'll take the responsibility for an unscheduled stop, but I just felt I had to stop."

"Oh, yeah.  I see what you mean.  Let me look up ahead along the tracks and see if I can find anything." agreed the conductor.  He strode ahead along the tracks for a hundred or more feet when he suddenly stopped and let him mouth fall open.  He ran back to tell the engineer what had happened.

As he approached the halted train, the engineer called out, "Hey Fritz, get back on the train.  It was nothing.  We found a dead moth was caught right inside the headlamp with its wings spread apart.  In the fog it gave the eery appearance of an angel.  You can tell your grandchildren how silly your engineer friend was when he saw that image in the fog."

"I will tell my grandchildren, alright, but it won't be about a silly engineer.  Barely a hundred yards ahead of us the bridge is washed away!"

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tent Camping

Experiences from the terrifying to the humorous come to mind merely by those two words: tent camping.

My parents taught me to love camping, having taken me to the Mammoth Lakes every year for vacation for several years in a row.  A nine year old boy finds great delight in living in the dirt, digging a hole to poop and swimming once a week instead of taking a bath.

We camped in tents at June Lake before there were condos.  Hey, it was before there was a paved road.  (Yes, I am that old.)  The latrine was behind a tree up the hill.  I had my own pup tent, and didn't mind sleeping on the ground.  That was then.  Now not so much.

I actually rose at dawn to catch a trout and fry it for breakfast.  Camp food was wonderful.  The ashes that drifted into the beans just made them taste better.

Now my wife has taught me the sensible pleasure of camping at resort hotels.  On a recent junket she ordered lobster eggs Benedict.  And as for the pup tent and earthy mattress, I've come to the place that I am unable to get down to the ground, and if I do, I need serious help getting back up.  Now for an octogenarian whose bladder demands attention at 4 in the morning, that routine is way out of the question.

There were several years that Barbara and I took our boys camping, however.  It was not because I had convinced her of the joys of the rugged life.  No, it was an economic necessity on the preacher's impecunious salary.

There was the time we traveled from Front Royal into the Blue Ridge Mountains to find a camping spot all by ourselves.  I kept the boys busy hiking and Barbara fixed meals.  It was a beautiful sight.  Some people just do not appreciate the experience of cooking and doing dishes in refugee conditions.

When we visited Williamsburg for the first time, we pitched the tent not far from the town and made daily trips.  Very educational.  On the Lord's day we took a drive to see Yorktown, but there was a rainstorm that stopped traffic.  It was like we were parked under a waterfall.  Later, when we returned to our campsite, we discovered that a tree branch had fallen through our tent, ruining the tent and drenching the contents.  Wasn't that funny?  No, actually it was not.  Other campers let us use their station wagon so, between their's and ours, we housed the family for one last night.  Later it was reported that that storm produced 2 inches of rain in half an hour.

Fast forward a few years.  The kids are grown, and we have camping friends.  I weighed my chances of giving my wife a pleasant camping experience, and decided I should cook.  I determined to cook gourmet meals.  Steak from the freezer would take two days to thaw completely, and a favorite of ours was cornish game hens.  I simply doused them with generous amounts of salt, pepper and garlic. then I double wrapped them in heavy foil.  I rolled them back and forth over the grill, listening to the spit and crackle of rendering meat.  Couple that with potatoes baked the same way and maybe some corn or a veggie bought from a farmers' market on the way, and we had a worthy meal.

This became our planned routine for camping until we ran into hornets.  Camping with our dear friends, Bob and Susan Lee and their two children, I treated everyone to this cornish game hen banquet.  However, who knew that there was a hornet nest nearby?  And who knew that they would be frenzied by the scent of grease?  It turns out we were more in danger of eating a live hornet than we were of being stung by one.  This definitely modified the pleasure intended for this meal.

They say with age there comes wisdom.  I think the point is with age more mistakes have been experienced by all the dumb things one has done.  If this is wisdom, so be it.  The wisdom I have gained in lo these many years has me enjoying the camping we do at resort hotels.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Termites and their work

Many years ago when I was up studying for a sermon late at night, I heard a distant noise, sorta like Horton hearing a Who.  It is amazing what sounds can be made by an old house when there are so few competing decibels to mask them.  It was a tiny cross cut saw, or like the distant crunching of a corn-on-the-cob eating contest.  I rose from the table and crept about the room, where ever my ears detected the source of this curious sound.

My keen hearing (remember, this was many years ago) brought me to the fireplace.  In this clean and seldom used fireplace was one old log, cradled on the andirons. And it was definitely from this log that the sound was emanating.  It wasn't a constant sound.  It wasn't a freak or capricious sound.  It came in a deliberate series of cadences.  It was too tiny to be creepy, but it was--in its own way--ominous.  I concluded that it was an army of termites, so I kindled a fire and consumed the log.

Fast forward many years.  A friend in the building trade, a contractor who does a little of everything, told me that, yes, you can hear termites at work, but usually it requires a stethoscope.

I'm sorry, my ears are not as sensitive as a stethoscope, but I did hear those dastardly beasts at work in my fire place.  I can't imagine any other explanation for that tiny munching sound.

The reason I was reminded of that silly experience is that recently my wife awakened me to listen to the definite sound of gnawing.  No, this was far too noisy for termites.  In the middle of the night, my judgment being muddled, I told her that it was probably a tree in the wind rubbing against the house.  Not a bad description of the sound, actually.  But in the light of day it was obvious there was no tree anywhere near the house to comply with that simple explanation.

The next night I heard the noise myself before the narcotic of sleep dulled my senses.  It may have been a rat or raccoon (please, not a beaver) chewing a two-by-four in the crawl space under the house.  I haven't heard it again, but it is on my mind.  I may have to ask some daring, slender young man to inspect the foundational timbers under our bedroom.

My friend says, just be certain it isn't in the attic.  He claims that rats, and other assorted rodents, tend to chew on the insulation of electrical wiring.  This may cause the house to catch fire, or at least it may electrocute the varmint, creating a growing stench