I took Amtrak up to see my sister in Boston recently.
It had been a while since I had taken a train trip that wasn’t the subway, It had been a while since I rode the rails to a familiar place in an unfamiliar way. It has been a while since I felt excited to not only visit Boston, but to travel there as well.
I had done the trip to Boston by bus more times than my motion-sick prone stomach cares to remember.
Perhaps that was why this time, this trip to Boston by rail was new and unfamiliar. The surroundings appeared to me the way train travel unfolds them; fluidly, coyly.
I am somebody who forgets a lot. Not just things I’ve learned or the names of people I’ve met. I forget parts of life. I think we all do. It would be hard to operate as a person otherwise, remembering everything all the time.
But there has always been something about train travel that I loved so much. The seamlessness of moving from place to place. Of actually seeing your surroundings change. I observed it the first time I took a train in Italy from Florence to Siena.
Watching the urban dwindle to suburban to rural and back again. Seeing how structures space themselves out, lowering themselves to the ground.
Air travel is amazing and wonderful if not nearly as luxurious or revered as it used too be. But I have always contended it is very much like teleportation. You take off into the air and unless you make a conscious concerted effort to observe what little you can out the window and look down, there is not much to see until you are about landed again. You are too far away to truly observe the change and nuance. To see the places where people life and grow and do that get no attention otherwise.
When I travel by train it always amazes me how much there is to see. Even at 70 miles an hour I am fascinated by small towns I’ve never heard of, wondering how anybody found any of these places to begin with.
What else have I been missing?
I find myself contemplating not the places I”ve wanted to go to, but the places I’ll never know about. It helps me rapidly realize how much more there is to living than the city in which i live. It is a city I love for sure, but it is a city which has slowly started to become less the center of my universe as it once was. For an aspirational and distraction seeking 22 year old the city was all the excitement I wanted, a city whose possibilities cosmically dwarfed any aspirations I thought I was having.
And while so much of that is still true...
There are only so many anythings that can happen sitting in one place. True, in so many ways, the city brings the world to it, loudly, gregariously.
But distance from places and experiences is often one of the greatest teachers I have for understanding my feelings about and relationships to those places and experiences.
Travel within a city itself can often feel like pin-balling, peripatetic and contained.
Train travel, while very much on a linear (somewhat) track, slowly unfurls and allows you to see what lays before you. Even if you are heading to a place you’ve seen before there is so much in the in-between.
Nuance and subtlety.
I have all but sworn off travel by bus except for the most extreme circumstances. It’s not just the nausea I experience, it is the stop and go on a concrete landscape.
While roads feel carved through and cemented to the landscape train tracks snake themselves under roads and bridges, between trees as leaves run their tips along the tops of the cars.
Yes this reads like a love letter to trains.
But it is more a love letter to the opportunities for exploration and observation that train travel allows, the peaceful and paced seeking of new places and an escape from home.
It’s a love letter for motion and rest. For discovery and uncovery.
For taking the time to see things you have no plans to see.
Its a love letter to tracks. Being on them, crossing them, or forever switching between the two.