Travelling by Rail
There is no better way to look into God’s eyes than traveling by train. I have taken commuter trains all my life but I have never until now ridden train from one city to another. The 9:05 lurched out of Springfield just a few minutes late. The scenes outside the picture window next to my seat began to change.
The Connecticut River begins its dance with me; a game of hide and seek disappearing and then reappearing behind a thick lush tree line. This blue-eyed river begins its dance with me as a marvel at a landscape that is at once both rural and urban.
The flowers have an iron look and the color is predominantly rust. The jagged blue stones supporting the rails seem to absorb the reckless heat outside the car. The temperature is in the nineties and high humidity.
It amazes me that people still travel by train. It’s a cliché to talk about the journey being as important as the destination but it is true. There is a sense of journey here as is missing when one travels by plane or even bus. These forms of transport make one feel more like cattle. Moving at hyperchronologic rates is efficient and even necessary, but I swear that molecules in my body are rearranged when I travel by plane.
Train travel is over one hundred years old but there is something about NOT traveling on roads designated for cars or bikes or even pedestrians. In a train you move where the rails take you. There is a great sense of letting go that is not found in other forms of travel.
Windsor Locks – 9:28
When traveling by train, there is no need for a movie. For me, the landscape is a never ending movie. I wish I knew more about wildflowers in New England. There is this gentle and simple white blossom around us everywhere that just kisses my window. As we tumble along I notice the hypnotic effect of the flowers being so close as we pass. These pants stop growing just at the point where the train passes. There is an implied learning. This is intelligent life along these rails.
The train whistle is a scream almost bragging: “Get out of my way, I’m not stopping!” as we pass through small hamlets and towns at seventy or eighty miles an hour I would guess. It’s a youthful sound and such an old technology.
Hartford – 9:40
The train stops to pick up people as I spy a woman with burl wood colored nails get on. The color complements the rust color so pervasive around the tracks, old metal tools, rusted rails just sitting, old fences left to rot. At one point all these things had a purpose but now they are just left. There are stories everyone around the rails.
Skunk cabbage grows everywhere and a form of wild arbor vitae with their edges browned by the train being so close almost swallows up the rail at one point.
The river plays hide and seek again. The rocking of the car settles me; the quiet in me is deep and almost purposeful.
Meriden – 10:08
We always seem to short change time. I have come to this conclusion. In our mission to never waste a single moment we let the great vat of what is meaningful spill all over. Train travel is like massage, I think. Sometimes we pay money to have a masseuse put our muscles into configurations that our bodies remember as familiar, a natural state of relaxation. Train travel does the same for our spirit. It allows me to accept time as the natural condition of space and distance.
We have screwed ourselves by denying this.
Wallingford – 10:17
I can see other trains now and cars with graffiti, “tagging” they call it. Michelangelo painted ceilings, these kids “tag” cars. Moving art makes art moving – I try to think of some promotional slogan for the urban art form.
New York is closer and the haze is dense now. I can feel the city the way the train starts and stops now. The way the passengers look more commuter-like wearing those faces I used to wear.
New Haven – 10:35
I have dared to let the sexual swaying of the car seduce me; the Doppler effect of background noises as they pass my window adds to a composition created by the train. The movement of the wheels travel through my seat, into my spine and into my brain.
This used to be the fastest way to travel, I think. Perhaps there was someone writing about the loss of romance as the train replaced the horse and buggy or the stage coach.
All change involves trade offs. At one point, train travel may be been looked at as the downfall of man. Others saw it as a great time saver. Both views are correct, of course.
Anything that brings real advancement is by nature both a blessing and a curse.
We stop here to change engines. There is a flat silence as the doors open, and passengers move in an out, to smoke, to stretch their legs. Try that on a plane.
New Rochelle – 11:05
We have crossed over the mouth of the river and I can see the Long Island Sound outside the opposite window. We are bee-lining it right to city. We stop for a long time at New Rochelle as we wait for other trains to come northbound on the track.
Still, I am just like everyone else, impatient, waiting. But when the train is moving I can feel the blood in my body moving faster.
We start to enter longer and longer tunnels. New York is near.
New York City, Penn Station – 12:30
We round some large curve and I can see the gray noble outline of the city. I swear the city appears to have her arms wide open as the rails all seem to lay straight into her.
I am gliding into the city on steel – a city whose very skeleton is made of steel. Like a salmon swimming upstream I feel a sense of being home. There is an instinctual sense of belonging that overpowers me.
I am home and saddened, all at once.
M C Biegner 6/2005