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Coming home on the train

On nature

POSTED: July 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
I leave the farm in the dark, drive thirty miles to Jesup through wisps of lowland fog and park at the dilapidated train station. The building looks as if it suffered a fire and now it is rotting away, boulder-sized holes in its low-reaching roof.
At least Amtrak has dragged up a portable bathroom and the station name is readable. A few people are gathered in the cool morning.
Soon we hear a whistle. It's here!
The Silver Meteor sweeps up to the station, making a terrific racket, clicking and clacking, rails creaking, brakes screeching.
In less than five minutes, I am settled in my seat, watching the landscape fly by the large windows, a green blur of woods and swamps, occasionally a river.
A year ago, because of the climate crisis, I decided to stop flying. I have become intimate with trains.
What a passionate, glamorous way to travel. How sane. There is something about boarding a train that I have never felt on an airplane: the huge steel beast, the surge forward.
A man in front of me is reading to his seatmate a poem he wrote. The poet looks as if he's a student, dressed all in black; he reminds me of John Lennon. His seatmate is older, a businessman with two pairs of glasses on his head. I lean forward to hear them talk.
"There is so much loneliness in the world," the poet said.
"Talking is an art," replied the businessman. Later he explains that one pair of glasses is for the computer, the other for books.
Outside the window, two deer stand in the bronze stubble of a wheat field.
We pass homesteads, old barns, crows on a fence, then we whiz through a town. A tractor-trailer waits behind a crossbar. Another train passes, going in the other direction, its flat cars lined with military vehicles.
I am reminded of a morning in March in a bed-and-breakfast in Amish country, where I'd gone to give a talk. I awoke to the sound of clopping hooves on the road out front and rushed to the window. A dark-brown horse was moving fast, pulling a small carriage.
Although I was born long after horses quit our roadways, the ringing of their hooves is a sound I miss. It fills me with nostalgia for something I never knew.
I am delighted to be able to return to the era of train travel.
My decision not to fly has not been easy. A trip to Chicago means two full days. Routes are often indirect, and huge sections of the country are not accessible by rail. Sleeping cars are expensive.
I'm lucky that thirty miles from my home, a passenger train stops twice a day, one southbound to Miami; the other northbound to New York's Penn Station. I can leave Georgia one evening and be in New York City the next morning.
    The pleasure I get from riding the train - glancing up from my reading or from my conversation with the friar across the aisle to watch America pass by on both sides of me - more than makes up for any inconveniences.
"Lunch is being served," says the conductor, who is moving down the aisle in his blue uniform. "Diner is two cars ahead."
I get up and go eat.
Try to do that on an airplane.

Environmental author and poet Ray lives near Baxley.
 

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