Mary Beth Writes

“My” freight train (hah) is at the end of our block. The track is raised in this part of town so that it can cross our street on a bridge. Our street is one of only two ways to get into or out of Waukesha if a train is slow or stuck. When we hear a lot of car traffic, we know something is up.

Right now, the train is passing v-e-r-y slowly. I think it’s pulling empty gravel cars from Fond du lac to Chicago. The other day the train had dozens upon dozens of gravel-filled cars going the same way. We wondered if it means construction and road building is increasing, since so much gravel is on the move. Maybe in the South where it isn’t winter?

Of course, it might not be gravel. It might be sand from Up North, going to Chicago where it will switch and go to oil fracking fields.

We’ve lived here five years and I have become a compulsive locomotive counter (I don’t count actual box cars, that way lies madness). It used to be common for 3 to 4 engines to pull long, long trains. We assumed they were sometimes moving engines, too, from one hub to another. Once I counted SIX engines; that was a lot of ginormous monster-loudness rattling down the tracks.

Since Covid kicked in, I’ve never seen more than two engines on a train.

What I am describing is a bit of science, a bit of forecasting. We live here so we hear and see trains, sometimes as many as three per hour. Trains move for reasons, some of which we know, most that we don’t. We are used to the sounds and rhythms; that hum and rumble says something about our nation and when it changes, we notice and wonder.

This is my favorite thing about “my” train. From late fall through early spring the trees are leafless, so we can see the train from our upstairs windows. If it’s a clear morning and a freight train is chugging past at just the right time, the rising sun will light the sides of passing box cars and shipping containers. Those colors are beyond gorgeous; turquoise, seafoam green, rose, gold, clarion clear blue. It’s a loud, soft rainbow thundering past, just for me.

I asked Len if he could remember one of those evocative Carl Sandburg poems.

What he remembered was this.

What do you live close to that tells you something of the world outside yourself? 

What glows sometimes just for you?

Judy Saunders – “Birthing Daffodils”

(Judy was my cousin who died a few years ago. Dave sent a few more of her photographs and I will post them, one by one, to savor them.

Dave explains this photo: The image was taken of water (with maybe a bit of glycerol) droplets on a glass surface. Judy focused the camera on these droplets. The real daffodil is the big yellow one out of focus since it’s below (by about a foot) the plane of the glass; and the droplets have each picked up an image of the real daffodil.

The title comes from Dave who had seen a NASA Hubble image (in Science, pub. by the AAAS) of a so-called star nursery, in which a whole bunch of newly formed stars had come out of a big gaseous mass.

“We are not here to do what has already been done.” ― Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

“It is not so much where my motivation comes from but rather how it manages to survive.” – Louise Bourgeois

The gravel garden photo is from the Japanese gardens in Rockford. Franc Garcia.

The weathered wood is from Len, who took it on a bike ride this morning. 

“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” ― G.K. Chesterton

“Go in the direction of where your peace is coming from.” ― C. JoyBell C.


 Gary Cozette – Unabridged Bookstore on Broadway in Chicago.


Gary Cozette, Chicago from Fullerton and the Lake, I think.

“Nothing burns like the cold.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

  "You ever been arrested before?"
  "No sir. This is my first time."
  "The first time this week, you mean."
  "Oh, I been arrested in Michigan. I thought you meant in Illinois. I never been arrested in Illinois. I never did no wrong in Illinois."
  "What good does that do you?"
  "It don't. It's just that I love my state so much I go to Michigan to steal," he explained with an expression almost beatific.”

― Nelson Algren, The Neon Wilderness


I took this photo of the ceiling of San Xavier del Bac, a small cathedral 10 miles outside Tucson. The mission started in 1692. The church itself was built by O’odham people 1783-1797. 

All these quotes are from Willa Cather. One of the priests in 'Death Comes for the Archbishop' is a priest in this church.

“Success is never so interesting as struggle.”

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”

“Either a building is part of a place or it is not. Once that kinship is there, time will only make it stronger.”



Leonard's picture

We live in the City of Waukesha, but the train line that we see is the Waukesha Subdivision, which is part of the CN Railway. Here are two links that tell more about the tracks, although I do not understand what they mean: AND


Once during a very hard time in my life, I lived very close to some freight train tracks. I knew it wouldn’t bother me because I’ve always loved trains and their sounds. This was REALLY close though- feet or yards away, versus blocks or miles. Think of Elwood in his room by the El, in The Blues Brothers- this was the northern Illinois suburban version. I loved it! Yes, it was loud and rattled the house sometimes. Somehow it brought a feeling of life, movement, connection, travel, purpose when I wasn’t feeling those things. Strange, I know! Now I live about a mile from two different sets of tracks and only hear the distant whistles and hums, but those make me feel the same way.
Mary Beth's picture

I think you said it just right. That feeling of being close to life, to purpose, to things coming and going even when one feels small and left behind.

I grew up in a house in Massachusetts that had an active train track that ran through an intersection about a half mile away. I guess I became immune to the sound of the whistle during the day because I don't remember it much. It's at night that I remember being in bed hearing the whistle as the train approached the intersection and the clickety clack which faded into the darkness. These days and in this my present town, when the windows are open and the wind blows exactly right I hear the train and its whistle at night while it moves through the darkness and memories of childhood come flooding back. I don't think the Conductor knows I'm receiving a little gift.
Mary Beth's picture

This is a beautiful poem in a comment. The sounds of a train chugging close and then going on. Thank you.

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Quarantine Diary #507 YES #507!

Didn’t I announce back in March that my Quarantine Diary was done?

Argh. Never say never.

I assumed after two vaccines it was okay to meander the world as long as we are mindful of kids and people with fragile immune systems. So put on the mask in public places and don’t be overtly stupid.

Making Memories?

This morning the Washington Post has an article about how we make memories. Interestingly, just because we say we are “making memories” doesn’t mean we are. Most little kids will not start making many memories until they are around age 8. Memories get stuck in our mind if they involve several senses and we are going slow enough to pay attention. If one WANTS to remember something, stop paying attention to everything else that is going on, focus in on the thing you care about using more than one sense. Recall it again later. Deep sleep on it overnight and good luck with that.

Three Things & One Announcement 7/16/2021

Thinking Outside the Box: 

Len once told me this WWII story. The first generation of bomber raids from England to Germany resulted in a terrifying number of bomber planes being shot down. Experts carefully examined the returning planes to create detailed reports of the bullet holes as they tried to understand how to reinforce the planes to make them safer.

Three Things 7/7/2021

Israel’s Health Ministry this week announced that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — one of the world’s most effective shots — was offering only 64 percent protection against infection and symptomatic illness caused by the delta variant.

The vaccine was still highly effective at preventing severe illness and death, the ministry said.

(I read this in the Washington Post, though it’s other places also.)

7/5/2021 Three Things (Don’t miss Highland Mitzi)

Last year was the Covid quarantine so most of us didn’t do very much over the 4th of July holiday.

This year, with half Americans now vaccinated there’s more freedom to do things and be with people.

Three Things (Well, Four) 7/1/2021

Bill Cosby is out of prison on a technicality. The judge said 40-year-old Britney Spear still can’t run her own life. Yesterday 88-year-old war criminal* Donald Rumsfeld died comfortably in his bed.

My gut is twisting. How are you? Power, injustice, and money still row the boat that we’re all on. This nation is playing whack-a-mole with justice, hope, and human rights. It feels ominous. I thought I would just mention this in case you thought it was just you that felt assaulted this morning.


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