Tracks through the back yard…

Posted on 10 May 2011

I recently took the train north from Massachusetts to Vermont, and once again found myself marveling at how much I love this mode of travel!  The (usually) gentle click-click of the train wheels is calming and peaceful.  The seats are large and comfortable compared to other forms of public transport.  The seat next to you is usually empty so you can lazily expand into the space with various snacks, bags and sweaters.  The air is fairly normal—not too hot, not too cold, not too dry—and there are no vents blowing directly into your face or next to the windows (one of my pet peeves on buses).  Last but not least, you ride along with the soothing reassurance that you have helped to minimize environmental impacts by taking the most sustainable mode of ground transport available.

Above and beyond these benefits, however, are the joys of train track views.  Unlike the highway, trains cut through the heart of the countryside.  They sneak through back yards and tiptoe along river edges.  With only one or two passing per day, trains are different from the constant, nagging disruption of cars traveling at high speeds.  Train tracks are consequently blocked off, or alienated, much less from their surrounding landscape than highways.  Although some sections are lined with berms or fencing, most of the train right of way in rural areas is simply that: two tracks running through the woods, or along the edge of a field, or through a village.  From the large windows, you suddenly find yourself peaking in the back door of people’s lives, and seeing what they intend to hide by putting it in the back yard.  It’s a fabulous little foray into American culture!

With that in mind, here are a few highlights (glimpses or observations) from my most recent train voyage:

– A flock of turkeys in a dew-soaked field.

– Abandoned children’s toys.  LOTS of them: big wheels, plastic shovels, balls and bats.

– Rusted old iron bed frames and old automobile carcasses.

– Amazing amounts of trash.  One house, in particular, whose back door is barely visible for all the junk in the back yard.  A nearby gully is filled with heaps of trash casually pushed over the edge…to make room for more trash.

– Graffiti, of both the artistic and angst varieties.

– The two-sided coin: As a train passenger you spend most of your time looking out a single window, on exclusively one side of the train.  Occasionally looking out the opposite side can therefore result in delightful surprises, or sometimes disappointments.  For example, on one side you may be enjoying a quaint little farm house set on a backdrop of gardens and fields; but a glance out the opposite window reveals that this little house is not, in fact, isolated among rolling green hills as you had imagined.  Instead, it’s right across the tracks from the grey, hulking forms of an old industrial site.

– A pair of deck chairs perched on the edge of a river, facing the quiet water and away from the small house nearby.

– A single deck chair in the open bay of a wooden barn.

– A sculpture park, including circles of stones and giant, gangly human-like sculptures cavorting around in an open field by the river (this one took me by surprise!).

– Fluttering laundry lines, raised garden beds and dog houses.

– At each stop, people getting on and off.  Friends greeting friends, relatives collecting relatives.  A little boy running into the arms of his grandparents.  An older woman searching the platform for her daughter.  It’s fun to imagine the stories.

– A beautiful, rambling old farm house and barn…with a mobile home only a few yards away.  Two generations, illustrated?


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