In New Orleans, I stopped by to visit Cree McCree and Megan Holmes of Righteous Fir, a group that has developed an ingenious way to repurpose invasive nutria in Louisiana. Instead of discarding of nutria carcasses after their removal from the ecosystem, McCree uses them in what she calls "a massive recycling project".
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Millennial Trains Project
I had the pleasure of joining a few San Antonio locals who have made it their mission to fight back against invasive weeds in their hometown. Cheryl Hamilton, Lonnie & Judith Shockley, and Liz Robbins took me to three different removal sites to show the progress they've made and how much further they have to go. Some photos are below, with an article to come!
The train is a steel beast, groaning and sighing with the trials of an ever-changing landscape. Sometimes it is a mellow beast, one that creeps along steadily and surely, lulling you into a sense of peace. But it is also a fretful beast, one that is quick to assert its power with one jolt of the rails, a reminder that you are simply a passenger, not an agent.
It is a kind beast. Once you allow yourself to succumb to its rocking, its consistent metal breathing, it will accept you into its journey. It will show you things you have never seen before while simultaneously teaching you a new way of seeing. The landscape rolls by both breathtaking and pleasantly expected, like you have been a part of this land all you your life. It rocks you to sleep with the gentleness of a song and the strength of a guardian. And you do not fear.
It is an honest beast. The train does not shelter you from the realities of the scene, but rather draw your attention to every detail of the rich Americana. In its wake the train leaves dotted towns of lost prosperity, towns that once relied on its creeping roar but now cling to whatever the train can give. Boarded warehouses sit next to gentleman’s clubs and souvenir shops that promise excitement they likely cannot give, meanwhile locals go about their business barely glancing as the beast rumbles by.
It is a patient beast. It has confidence it will reach its destination with little care as to the means. Despite being seemingly left behind by more modern forms of transportation, it maintains its sense of self; a tortoise in a flurry of hares.
If you are lucky enough to experience the true beauty of the beast, you will not know it for long. They say all good things must end, and this magical experience is no exception. You will part and continue on your journey, each in your own direction.
But you move forward with the comfort that the steel beast is out there, traversing the landscape one heaving breath at a time.
After a straight day and half on the train, we've seen sunrise over Arizona, a heat storm in New Mexico, sunset in Texas, and crept along the US-Mexican border. Meanwhile the train is a hub of innovation, exchange, inspiration, and questioning. Here are a few shots from the first day on the train.
First stop on the Millennial Trains Project: Los Angeles. I stopped by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to check out some of their citizen science projects to track the spread of invasive species, including Eastern grey squirrels and assorted invasive reptiles. I was fortunate enough to go behind the scenes to see some of the museum's invasive specimens. Here's a preview of some of the photos from the visit!
As the Millennial Trains Project begins, I wanted to resurface a piece I wrote in 2013 when I took my first overnight train. Little did I know that a 10 day cross-country train journey was in my future...
There’s something magical about trains.
First and foremost, trains don't make me abhor traveling long distances. Other forms of transportation encourage gritted teeth and a racing pulse with the pressure of getting ahead- whether that’s switching lanes on the highway to get in front of that lumbering tractor trailer, or scooting in front of that guy with a million bags at the airport security checkpoint, our minds are programmed to hurry through the transportation process as quickly as possible. Gone are the days of glamorous air travel and leisurely Sunday drives. Cars and planes are simply vessels to get to our destination.
But trains…trains are different. I’m talking traditional, long distance passenger locomotives, the kind with dining cars and conductors. Picture the ones from children’s storybooks or old movies; gleaming machines that creep through the countryside like great beasts.
From the moment you step off the platform into that great metal car, you sacrifice all control of the trip. No amount of scheming or frustration will make an ounce of difference in your arrival time. You just have to trust that the train will get there when it gets there, and you are simply along for the ride. There’s nothing to do but settle in and peer out the window at the passing countryside. If you were on a plane, you’d see nothing but clouds and distant skyline. If you were in a car, your eyes would be confined to the road below and bumper in front. But trains give you a ticket to experience sections of the country that you may never have seen otherwise. The land passes by the window like an elegant motion picture, and you are one of the few lucky enough to see it. As the world passes by, the steady, rhythmic motion of the tracks makes you pause, if only for a moment, and breathe.
Traveling on a train is truly an experience, not just a vessel to deliver you at your destination. They add a touch of luxury in a world where people tolerate travel only as a means to an end. And although I’ll quickly return to the necessary car trips and flights, I’ll always view train travel as bit of a treat.