It wasn’t so much a look of wild surmise when I gazed at the Pacific. Or maybe it was, actually, a genuine one.
The Empire Builder was absoloutely on time — I haven’t been on a train more than half an hour late this trip, good old Amtrak has been operating just the way I like to think of it, slow but comfortable and reliable, far and away the best way to see the US. We left Minneapolis on Tuesday night and spent Wednesday going through the ever fascinating ever-changing landscapes of North Dakota and Montana. If people tell you there is nothing there, they must have been driving. On the train you are high up and can see how the bones of the landscape change and how the settlement patterns change. It’s entirely different from either the Canadian prairies or what I think of as the John Denver prairies further south. Also, it’s winter, which changes everything.
To Z’s intense and almost palpable frustration it got dark before the Rockies were more than a line on the horizon. I went to sleep before the moon rose, but he assures me it was worth waiting for and he saw some mountains, When we woke up and it got light we were in the Cascades, a mountain range sufficiently beautiful and snowcapped for me. Z couldn’t believe there were mountains that big that he hadn’t even heard of. This continued. Later yesterday, Velma told us that people used to worship Mount Rainer as a god, and Z immediately said that he was converted.
So, as you know Bob, the sun comes up in the east. This means it comes up behind the mountains, and so when you’ve just come through them the sky is light a long long time before you see the sun, which gives the most interesting kind of pastel light on a clear day, which yesterday was and today also bids fair to be. In that wonderful light we came out of a station in a little place called Everett and suddenly the train was running alongside the sea, with another awesome range of snowcapped mountains in the distance and a wooded island, Close up there was sea and rocks, and in the middle ground was sea and islands, and further off were these snowcapped peaks. It was breathtaking. Nobody had warned me, which in retrospect was very nice of you because I’d rather have the surprise and I’m sorry if I’ve spoiled it for anyone. It was far and away the most beautiful place I’ve seen in North America, and it compares well with Greek islands at dawn and the Scottish Highlands.
So I think it was probably more a look of delighted awe than wild surmise, but I can’t be sure. I can’t even be sure about Z’s expression, because we were both staring out of the window, transfixed.
[ETA: everyone told me Puget Sound isn’t the Pacific. Ah well.]