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Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - January 2015

Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller -
January 2015

Model train buffs come out of their corners around Christmastime. Is it because they remember the joy of seeing the Lionel come chugging around the tree on Christmas morning? At the Depot Station Museum here, Coastal Valley Lines, an informal association of novice to expert model railroaders put together an exhibit for the Museum, and on December 12 I was invited by executive director Patricia Cullinan to a holiday party to celebrate the exhibit.

It was a delightful afternoon at the Depot. I got into a conversation with geologist Jim Berkland when he handed me a copy of the December edition of his Earthquake Newsletter. It is called Skzygy (pronounced sizz-a-jee), which means “linked by a common need and interest,” something we certainly can use today. He began telling me about a hike he took through Nun’s Canyon with a friend who wanted to show him some fossilized seashells. Seashells? Yes indeed, he said, sharp eyes sparkling, the Pacific Ocean once came that far East, as indeed it may do again after the melting glaciers cause the sea to rise. Jim didn’t speak about that, by the way, but I am looking for information about how far the waters are expected to come.

Railroads, you see, bring up climate change, and I’ll show you how in just a minute. But first I want to share a charming story Jim told me as we stood on either side of the miniature train track at the museum. Jim grew up in Glen Ellen, and every morning he would go out to wave at the passing train on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad as it went by. One day the conductor leaned over and asked him, “Would you like to ride in the engine to Santa Rosa? We’ll give you lunch and a ride back. Go and ask your mother.” He ran all the way home, knowing his mother would never let him go off on his own for the whole day. He was only seven years old. She surprised him by saying, “Well, what do you want to do?” He thought for a minute and then demurred. “I might not like what they give me for lunch,” he said.

He has regretted that decision for the rest of his long life, he confessed. But I’ll bet that missed opportunity has spurred him to take advantage of other adventures life offered him.

The romance of the old trains isn’t over, and it may be getting a boost with the new SMART train, a two-car affair expected to begin operation in 2016. According to its website, this energy-efficient, clean diesel train traveling 79 miles an hour will not only get you out of the traffic jams on the freeway, it will “help cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of cars on the freeway.” Those sleek green and black engines may not hold a candle to the steaming black locomotives of yore, but they are certainly a step in the right direction, and not a minute too soon. Climate change is coming. Word is that if we don’t very soon get our arms around this buffalo coming towards us stomping its hooves and threatening to overturn our entire way of life, we will be stuck with the painful consequences. Don’t tell me you “don’t believe in climate change.” That’s like not believing in your left foot, but I heard Alaska Senator Imhofe say on the radio that people who are worried about it “don’t believe in Providence.”

California has been ahead of the curve on greenhouse solutions, and Sonoma County was recently honored by the White House as a leader for its efforts to reduce emissions. Good on us, as the Aussies might say, but whether this is a bit of fluff or a serious development would take a little more investigation than I have room for here.

I’ve just about run out of space without even telling you about my visit to the G3 in November, a Conference for women engaged in life and career transitions, organized by three exuberant local gals. So much going on, but I’ll tell you more about that next month, which is still timely because the threesome is organizing a second event for March. For more information and to register, go to

Happy New Year everyone! May all good visions prosper in the coming months, and chaos and violence begin to subside! Let me know your news and stories,


Stephanie Hiller is a writer and life coach. She blogs at