Across the country on a Harley
November 18, 2004
Somehow, it seems life keeps getting in the way of work. Or is it that work keeps getting in the way of life?
I suppose the answer will depend on who you ask.
If you ask Editor Barry Smith, my life is definitely in the way of my work. If you ask my other half, or my kids, work is in the way of life. But for the last month we put all that aside and took a trip.
It was a trip of a lifetime. A month with no schedule, no deadline – only starting and ending points. We packed up the Harley and left. Left the dog, the house, the yard, the careers and the cares behind.
We crossed the Nevada desert and more, reaching the shore of the Atlantic in St. Augustine, Fla., 3,439 miles from our Minden home.
We saw dinosaurs, family, antelope, lightning storms, cotton fields, swamp land, the ocean and trains.
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Some of the most surprising things I saw were the trains. A native Nevadan, I grew up with the whistle of the V&T echoing off the hills in Gold Hill and Virginia City and we were stopped on occasion by a train taversing the Truckee Meadows. But I had no idea that they moved the world from one end of the country to the other in a day.
As we made our way east, we passed freight trains laden with shipping containers stacked two high. In Colorado, we passed a coal train with eight engines. Three on each end and two in the middle. I can’t even guess how that guy crawled up the side of a hill. He was stopped, no doubt to rest, on the plain. We’d see three at a time near the switching stations, and all the time on the black felt of asphalt the trucks trucked even more goods from one end to the other.
The trains were beautiful to watch as they snaked through the canyons framed in a halo of golden leaves, but their real mission was to remind me that we are indeed a materialistic and plastic society. Content to throw away and buy a new one.
This realization was further driven home as we stopped to visit the Castillo de San Marcos, an 17th-century Spanish fort that defended America’s shores against the Americans during the Revolutionary War, and still stands today outside the historic city of St. Augustine.
Its walls are several feet thick and show no signs of falling any time soon. The fort itself has never fallen to enemy hands.
Within the iron gates of St. Augustine is a living history museum. The workers, employed by the city of St. Augustine, dress in 1740s clothing and keep a village standing still in time. The walls are made of coquina, a building material composed of shell fragments cemented together. In the case of the carpenter or the cooper there are no walls, only a palm thatched roof to keep the sun and the rain off.
The carpenter was busy fitting square pegs into round holes, repairing the garden fence knocked down by the hurricanes. To build a fence in the mid 1700s you put up posts and rails then drilled through the slats through the rail with a hand drill. You then drove a square peg into your round hole. As time and weather loosened the fence, you’d drive the peg in farther and when it became flush with the fence you’d start again with a new square peg. The old one would work its way out the back as the ends of the new one held up your crop of beans. But your fence seldom fell down.
What scraps of lumber you had were given to the treen maker or cooper, who fashioned them into bowls, spoons or other necessary items.
Women wore their nightgowns beneath their bodices and skirts, because cloth was scarce. The file the blacksmith wore out would go to the carpenter until it was useful no more and, afterward, would go back to the blacksmith to be melted into something new.
The animals ate the food scraps, your dishwater watered the garden and nothing was thrown away.
But don’t get me wrong. I’ll take my indoor plumbing and hot water.
Kelli Du Fresne is city editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at email@example.com.