Sunday, April 12, 2015

24: Alan Meets his Downstairs Neighbor

This is the landscape south of Hazel, just down the road from Adrian's gallery and Alan's place.
Putney Bay is in the distance, with the sandy peninsula called The Hook, at right, on the horizon.
Adrian, the gallery's owner, did this drawing some years ago.
Alan looked around inside the gallery. A cat that had been sleeping on a chair looked up at him. There was not a sound. Alan impulsively shouted "Ahoy?" toward the back room, and someone soon called back with another "Ahoy." Finally, a fiftyish guy in shorts, sweatshirt, and sandals, and with grey hair that had a scruffy bedhead look, came out from the rear.  He stopped a moment to focus on Alan and his baggage.

"Hi, I'm Alan. I believe I'll be staying in the rooms upstairs...?" Eye contact, get right to the point!

"Ahh yes, well I'm Adrian. Glad to meet you. So you must be the chap they told me about, the depictor fellow who will be working for the guv'ment, right? "

"Umm, yes, they asked me to come here and make pictures for a tourism guidebook..."

They shook hands, Alan immediately felt something strange and electric - a not unpleasant sensation, but very curious. He looked at Adrian, then away, and they let their hands fall. Both stood there while the cat sniffed at Alan's loafers.

"So, aah, are you thirsty? Hungry? Would you like to see your lodgings?"
"Well, actually, I wouldn't mind having a glass of water."
"Oh, let's have is four o'clock you know...allow me to make us a pot." Here, have a seat, and I hope you don't mind cat hair...Osborne is shedding."

As soon as Alan  sat down, Osborne, a sleek, all-black tabby, jumped onto his lap and continued to sniff at Alan, then curled and flopped down. Alan was pleased the cat accepted him. He stroked its flank, and looked around some more while he heard Adrian filling a kettle and rattling cups.

The gallery was quite full of paintings and drawings, framed or loose on tables; mostly landscapes of what Alan figured were local places. At least they didn't look like anywhere else he knew of.  The work looked pretty good, which caused to Alan to ask himself, "Why didn't they hire this guy for my job?

And this place, this island, is so big - much larger than I imagined it. Where will I even begin?"

Adrian's gallery was filled with several years worth of  his work...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

23: Alan's New Home

Alan finally arrives in Hazel

"End of the line!" the conductor announced as he walked the length of the train. Alan abruptly awakened - they had arrived in Roseville, where all passengers wishing to continue on to Putney had to transfer to the Victoria-Putney train, which was due in a few minutes. Alan grabbed his baggage and then lumbered off the train in a kind of daze - he had been quite asleep!

Waiting under the "Putney" sign, he watched the Putney Express train ease into the station right on time, and then climbed aboard, along with about twenty others. He was barely settled in his seat on that train before it stopped at Hazel's open platform.

No one else got off at Hazel. Alan stood on the open platform and looked around. He enjoyed the fresh breeze off the water, the sound of waves rolling toward the nearby shore, and the warmth of the afternoon sun. Hazel was not much of a town, and not much was going on, which felt comforting. The railway platform was surrounded by tidy plantings of plump pink and red geraniums. He felt good here.

Margaret had told him, "Your lodgings are above an art gallery, next to the yellow Land Office building just outside of Hazel. The owner of the gallery, Adrian, will show you up to your rooms."

Alan's apartment is above the art gallery. This will be his home for longer than he anticipates.
Hazel, a town of about 400, is in the distance.

He saw the buildings from the train as it passed, so he knew where to go.

Now, walking along the road, he could see the gallery sign ahead, and he realized that he was taking the last steps on a rather incredible journey! It seemed so long ago when he got on that South Shore train in Michigan City!

The gallery's front door was open, so he walked in.

22. Beastey Bay, and then Inland to Hazel

After stopping near Beastey, Alan's train heads overland to Hazel, at top.
After Irian, the train again traveled inland for a short spell, stopping at the neat (as in well-kept) little town of Contentment. Small stucco houses sat behind prim picket fences and tidy gardens with flowers, clumps of exotic succulents and tidy bushy trees. More than one garden had a strange-looking "gnome" that looked like an otter. No big trees to speak of. The narrow streets were also well-kept, with not a car, or even a pedestrian, in sight. Alan wondered who might live here.

Approaching Stonebill, the tracks again followed the water's edge, and the waves were much smaller than on the Skeleton Coast (he loved that name). Alan could see great white splashes in the distance, though, as breakers smacked into the rocks at Cape Fury.

The Stonebill stop was apparently the Beastey station as well. Several passengers got off here to board waiting pedicabs and a bus that said "Beastey." Alan was relieved that Jeremy was gone, and he could relax now that there were only a few people left in his car.

Under way again, Alan noticed fishing boats in Beastey Bay, and the town of Beastey off on a sandy point. As the train approached the Hills of Blackstairs, Alan watched salt marshes and scrubby bottomland merge into truck gardens and small farms. He noticed footpaths, busy with pedestrian and cycle traffic, leading off to several settlements, spread out to his left. Then it was all hills.

Alan went back to the dining car, which was actually a kind of snack bar with a short lunch counter. The varnished plywood and art-deco chrome trim looked original and quite classy, and all of it was well preserved. He sat on a stool and ordered an egg-salad sandwich, one of the "specials" on the small chalkboard, and a small glass of beer. Both were good! Two teenage girls were sitting next to him, and chatted something about what they'll need before walking to The Hook.

The Hook?  Alan pulled out his map and quickly found the hook-shaped peninsula to the north..." there it is - looks like a hook!"

Back in his seat, Alan began to read as the rolling hills drifted by. At the Pendleton station, the two girls passed his seat, shouldering large backpacks as they got off. He was impressed that they were undertaking such a long hike on their own - they couldn't have been over 16!

After Pendleton, the unfenced grassy hills were lower, broader, and dotted with what looked like small subsistence farms: low houses and a few outbuildings surrounded by tiny fields of oats or maybe wheat. Hard to tell.  The sky was so open - no cell-phone towers, silos or power lines (except those by the tracks) to clutter the land!

He began to get sleepy, and drifted off thinking of Carla...

Beastey is only slightly larger in population today as it was upon its founding as Beasteyville in 1816.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

21: Irian

In Irian, the the railway passes this bridge, built by the Russians in the  late 1950s. The statue-of-liberty light posts are a unique feature, and were meant to advertise Soviet freedom, and possibly tweak the Americans as well.
The Scully tavern serves up a good pint of Watney's.  
As the train rolled into Irian, Alan was impressed by the architecture here. The train slowed as it began to follow a city street to the elegant stone-and-brick station. The shops, lodgings, townhouses, as well as the train station had a humble early-20th-Century-European-Modern look to them. The brightly painted trimwork gave off the sense of a faded resort town.

Jeremy, suddenly awake, said, "Ah, we're in Irian. You know, this town is worth seeing. It was once the playground of the Russian military elite and other VIPs who wanted to rest in the sun. Since Independence, the place has become very quiet, and is literally half deserted! I grew up here, and I remember how busy it was when the Russian fleet visited, especially back in the '60s. We could sure use some fresh energy. If you ever want to come back and open a hostelry, there are cheap places galore, even at the beach!"

"I'll consider that," Alan replied.

"Well, I'll be getting off here. It was a pleasure to have met you Mr. ah..."

"Faramond," Alan replied. "Alan".
He was afraid Jeremy might hug him, but he offered Alan a card instead.

"Thanks for the card, and, ah, the same to you," Alan fumbled.

"Look me up next time you come this way", said Jeremy,  and he got off.

This was a 15-minute stopover, so Alan got off as well, and walked the length of the platform, then went into the ornate waiting room, found the toilets, then bought a coffee at a tiny lunch counter. Out on the street, a few departing passengers were walking away with (probably) loved ones, and Alan felt another pang of isolated sadness. 

The horn sounded two short toots, and Alan stepped back on the train.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

20: Brandonbeach to Palmer to Irian

Only footpaths connect the houses at Brandonbeach.

From the train, Alan noticed that everything was connected by footpaths. He saw quite a few people walking, or pushing a strange-looking carts, or riding bicycles. He also saw groups of  young kids, walking or on bikes, out on the paths far away from any houses, with no adult supervision! 

The train gathered speed and continued into a hilly valley and then back onto the shore, now among gentler slopes. The hills were quite pretty, with no roads or houses to be seen. Alan did notice an overland path off toward the beach, occupied by quite a few travelers on foot or bicycle.

 At Palmer, a few people got off while the mail bags were exchanged. Alan noticed there was now a road alongside the railway again, but it was mostly used by foot and bike traffic. The train rounded another saltwater bay, and a sign said "Broken Bay Walkers' lodge", pointing to a shingled building, which looked very appealing, down on the beach. Near the lodge, the bay was busy with sailboats and kayaks.

The coast becomes more sandy toward Irian, the climate warmer and drier.
The train then pulled up at Beachwoods, a strange-looking subdivision of weed-filled streets but no houses. As a couple of passengers got off and then on, Alan studied the one modernist building with large windows and murals painted on it - very artsy, he thought. He noticed a few people with drawing pads relaxing out front - an art class? He figured it must be an art school or artists' retreat or something - a hopeful sign that the arts might be healthy here! The train moved on.

Between Beachwoods and Irian, the waves broke further offshore, crashing in long white lines before reaching the beach. Alan noticed that Jeremy had dropped off to sleep, his mouth open and snoring softly. A good time to read for a bit.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

19: The Skeleton Coast

Once the train rounded Roaring Cape, Alan felt almost dizzy when he looked down. The tracks seemed to cling about halfway up a very steep slope, chewed and clawed at by the huge waves crashing below.

"See, what did I tell you?" Jeremy piped in, "The waves are big today, and they are usually the biggest on this stretch of coast...sometimes 30 meters or more! We'll come to a place called the Oceanyard where the surf churns and erupts in all kinds of wild configurations. Sometimes they have to close this line because of rocks on the tracks, tossed up by the waves."

An early postal stamp commemorating New Island Railways' engineering feats
along the Skeleton Coast.

Just then the train slowed down, but kept a steady pace along the winding stretch of track. As it approached a long tunnel ahead, beneath Red Point, Alan saw some unusually large waves ahead splashing high enough to reach the train. And then whump! a good size breaker hit the seawall next to their car and splashed the windows, momentarily obliterating everything. He cringed as he heard bits of stone clattering against the glass. After the splash, more swells that were just plain huge lined up one after another, heading for the train...

Then they were in the tunnel, just in time!

Alan was loving the ocean's energy, but Jeremy looked a bit bleached. "Well, I think that's over," Jeremy said, looking rigidly across at Alan. As they emerged from the tunnel, the waves were less ferocious, and the train soon pulled into a settlement called Brandonbeach, the first town of any kind since Ocean Grove.

After a slowdown to exchange mail bags, the train continued, and as it picked up speed, Alan noticed a few smaller settlements tucked among trees by a creek. "Oh, how I'd love to hike up there and explore those villages," he told Jeremy, who yet looked pale and had said nothing more since the wave incident.

"Oh well, now I'll have some time for my thoughts," thought Alan.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

18: To Roaring Cape

Roaring Cape from the train stop.

 Alan noticed no towns or houses for quite a while, only larger hills covered with deep green grass and low scrub, edged at the ocean by an undulating line of sand dunes. Then he noticed houses ahead.

In the Newport Station, Alan hopped out and bought a bottle of root beer at a kiosk. The train had paused here for about ten minutes, and most everyone got off to stretch.The town of Newport rests on narrow sloping land between a huge and steep sand dune and the bay, offering a dramatic view of Newport Bay and the Hills of Blackstairs beyond. The dune shelters Newport from the often blustery Southern Indian Ocean winds, but encroaching sand has lately become a problem.

Soon they were on their way again, and within a short while Jeremy, proclaimed, "Ah, that would be Roaring Cape ahead, almost an island attached by a sandy isthmus."

"Yes, I can see that," Alan muttered.

The train stopped at a cement platform marked ROARING CAPE, a flag stop according to the schedule. A pair of backpack-laden women got off and Alan watched them head up the slope toward a scattering of  huts and tiny houses. "Aahhh, said Jeremy, "They would be members of the Hermits, who build their own shacks all around this cape, and never hold regular jobs. They just keep to themselves, scattered over these hills. No one bothers them, you know, because all this land is held in common - did you know that?  Their only way in or out of here is to ride this train, or to have a long walk."

Alan thought that he'd like to be a hermit and get off here right now.