Random Train Love #IdleNoMore
Little Ditty about a Train Ride I took back East, autumn 2012
On My Way to DC
As I look out my Amtrak window sitting cosily in my guest blue colour roomette
there is an embankment I see, majestic all-knowing beauties beginning to appear and reappear as if in a dance of sequential wonderment before a tired self.
I realize it’s trees—these trees, which are swaying past my vision in their all glory who are going to be my companions, on this unusual journey. Trees, trees, more trees—as if going on forever—“Shall Comfort Me”—they say to me.
I perk up, doubting I’d been spoken to, and suddenly a mill, spilling its ground-up sandy wood pulp into the train’s side—its sawdust in the air. Dishearteningly it breaks me, breaks my thoughtsbut without pause the train continues. Comanding to first station it goes: Everett, Washington USA is in sight. We’re well on our way now.
At Shelby Montana we stop. It’s snowing. Cold, cold. Some Albertans disembark, to yell and smoke.
A lovely man named Gul is assigned to me. He is a most wonderful maître- d’.
It strikes me that he might have been a child of parents of partition India, with his delicate manner and subtle recognition of the immense spiritual history of train travel. Interested in people, so very astute, to the point of knowing to have a glass of champagne poured for me at the beginning of the journey across America.
Pure poetry, he achieves, as he places the glass on a linen white napkin under my rectangular window beneath the expanse of the sky which is to be, yet another, of my journey’s friends in its moving and exquisite colour.
Misty dusk approaches—getting on for 5 in the evening.
A soft sound of the train horn breaks the orgiastic silence as we pull east.
“Supper”, Gul commands me.
“Oh yes”, I say. Food for the core was to be had in the dining car. And to be eaten, ever so happily, it was by me.
Then—returning to my roomette—cleverly nipping into the shower when the others were still chomping and drinking.
Under the soothing blue light that doesn’t turn off, above my head, I peer to the outside again. My peripheral catches the romance of another train passing by in the opposite direction.
Then—white lights—maybe stations, maybe just features along the rail-line, lending a helping hand to the strong steel ‘animal’ smoothly making time east.
America is beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.
As my train glistens along its deep worn tracks, steadily and courageously into the night, tears well down my face; Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones plays in the background on my IPod as I think about whatever residue faith I may have left in me.
I sense a kind of Spirit engulf me, but think “Ah, being silly again.” Trees don’t talk right, trees don’t hug you.
Alas they did, me—that day.
We stop again. Folks get out to smoke, others to stretch their legs.
Grain silos stand politely in the distance.
Chilly passengers recollect themselves after a short while. Satisfied now.
And we press on.
It’s the old side of towns we get to see from trains. Indescribably raw.
Poor in appearance, in parts, especially through North Dakota—sights that one might have the occasion to read about in a novel. But here, from my rectangular window, more vivid, ever so more vivid, as I gaze into the soul of the night to see what it has to teach me.
Damp I return to my window. Safe again.
Pitch dark outside—barely able to see even the silhouette of branches, now.
Blood red sky.
North Dakota. Home of American Indians.
Images pass through my mind of them fighting to protect themselves, their land—a land so plentiful with oil.
Oil that is voraciously wanted and desired with an angry vengeance, by all those who surround it. But with ‘The Indian’ in the way.
God bless the Indian, I murmur, between Stanley and Williston.
On the east side of Williston. I manage to fumble for my camera to take photographs of North Dakota’s oil rigs and their flame fires, only visible with a squint.
Oil, oil and more oil in North Dakota.
I witness tens and tens of freight trains. ‘Liquefied-Petroleum-Gas’ plastered on jet black and rust-coloured cars clambering by, in the opposite direction.
How many times we waited for the freight trains!—they get first dibs on the old tracks. Business before people is the way on the Amtrak these days. Not owning the tracks, [themselves], we must beckon to higher authority.
It’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe—BNSF—that runs things in these parts, with their cargoes and their boxes of chemicals.
Cleaning products, fertilizers, black cylinders containing this and that. I noticed black cylinder cars as early as of Spokane WA. They became more numerous through Montana and onwards.
Eerily a sight appears, then, of thousands of horses, crammed in a pen.
For what?—I imagined. It hits me like a freight train. They’re, for food! Horses destined to be—food!
A dreadful thought. One in my mind from which, like the horses, I could not escape.
But I knew I was right. Why else would so-many-horses be in a pen, squashed to that degree.
It was their place before execution.
Then I remembered that I’d seen an article that the ban on killing horses for food had been lifted in certain States.
Poor struggling States, no doubt.
St Cloud, Minnesota, it was.
Bleak. A kind of Hell, I thought. Factories run down—no longer functioning. Crushed cars on top of one another, everywhere.
CP freight cars, yes, indeed. Canadian-Pacific, with government of Canada printed across them, parked, abandoned, and surreptitiously, alongside the railway.
I choose to nap.
I awake. The train is dormant. We’re 10 minutes out of St. Paul, Minnesota, I hear on the channel box.
Did you know that the Mississippi River can be seen for an hour and a bit out of St. Paul?
Up again, to the dining cart, I go.
I meet Elsie Dodge—a children’s book author, from Denver Colorado. She’s a special needs teacher. She carries a teddy bear. Permanently. That’s how she does it. Gets through this life. She’s the one with the smile.
Getting closer to the East now. Nature’s features are beginning to change and modify. The qualities I recognize, from childhood, in Montreal.
Starting to see the maple trees and rust coloured leaves I love through my rectangular window.
Tributaries of the Mississippi seemingly going on forever. Then, more maples in Portage, Wisconsin—breathtaking.
Before the destination, we move through what I know to be the old stomping grounds of American Civil War soldiers, back in 1850.
I look to see for any Colonial fixtures that were still standing. There are some.
We move out of the country as sneakily and clandestinely as we moved into it.
Now, scenes of urban life begin to appear, outside my rectangular window. I know my stop is near. I pack up and plan my exit unto the pavement that I’d left so many days ago.
We arrive. I float to solid ground. My Soul incubated with the images I’d seen.
They grace my memory, now and forever.
I love that train, now behind me.
Hear me now. Take a long, long train ride. Never be the same.
Thank you, Maple.
Thank you, Sky.
Thank you, Pine.
Thank you, Indians of North Dakota.
Thank you, Gul.
Until Next Time. #IdleNoMore
By Diane Walsh
© mediageode 2012