Thoughts on a train

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September 5, 2011
Adam Klassen |

In August I took a train trip from Manitoba to B.C. Here are some of my thoughts during and about that trip.

I ride the rails of my grandfather and a generation of the unemployed eighty years ago, swaying through seas of green, yellow and blue. This train, the Number One, the Canadian, is taking me across the prairies, through the Rocky Mountains and to the coast, where I will visit my extended family for the first time in four years.

The class distinction began at the pre-boarding. We are separated by an almost useless wooden barricade with small windows in it and covered with CN train memorabilia. Those in the Panoramic Salon section are treated to free coffee, a far nicer pattern on their bench cushions and CNN. While us in coach go un-caffeinated, have last years design on our cushins and TSN's top ten baseball bloopers.

One of the first things I notice is there is almost as much side to side movement as their is forward progression. I worry that my childhood predilection to motion sickness will rear it's disgusting head. Though I am comforted that it has been well over a decade since I was forced to vomit into a Frisbee on a mountain pass as there was no place to pull over and no better receptacle available.

Often our lines are accompanied by those of the power companies, rising and falling in their hypnotic way. There are a surprising number that sag all to the ground, occasionally disappearing underneath the waters of flooded ditches. Is there still power running through these lines? Or are theses lines finished? No longer bringing electronic ability to the masses, left to slowly crumble until they no longer stand in duty?

We roll by the point where a mighty river has been cut down to size. The old course of the river is still visible, now a large patch of vigourous grasses, taking advantage the work of the river from years past.

As the first night comes I make my way up to the observation car, a domed glass space set a bit higher than the rest of the train. From here I can look out over the prairies and take in the beauty of that expanse. The sun sets as it does, slowly at first, warming what clouds there are. As the light becomes more dramatic the sun moves faster, and it is over too soon. I try to steal looks at the sun, but only for brief moments, the voice of my mother's warnings ringing in my ears.

I rarely get to see a sunrise, but after a fitful sleep I woke as the first dim glow of day appeared. The world is still dark, but the horizon is visible. There is not yet a source for this light, and the glow seems to come from the fields themselves, radiated from all around. A village appears from behind a group of trees, full of one storey houses and two storey light posts. These points of light struggle against the dark and mist, only able to reach out a few feet, showing vague detail of the houses. There is a pleasing symmetry to this place, a perfect grid no road has yet disrupted. The light of the world becomes more specific as the sun crests the horizon and the day has begun.

The train encourages contemplation, something few of our modern spaces do. It is built into the fabric of this form of travel. We travellers have no responsibilities to keep this machine moving, no action is required of us. The steady rocking and quiet, constant sounds lull us. The greater time given to the land we travel through asked by train travel create a space for a person to meditate whatever one wishes to meditate on.

This is something I crave but have difficulty forcing myself to do, and is part of what I am looking for in this new community I have moved in to (which I explained a bit of in my last post). I crave a slower life, a simpler life. A life that allows space to look at myself and beyond myself, to try and understand the emotions I feel and what impact my actions have. To see and understand this world.

I do not seek full seclusion, I do not want to be a hermit, but what I do want is to try and figure out what it means to be in the world but not of it. This bit of scriptures has been one of the great struggles of my young life so far. What does this mean? How much of this world can I participate in? One possible answer I have is an attempt at intentionality. To have nothing I do be arbitrary, but the result of discernment. To do this requires the careful cultivation of space. Space where distractions are limited and obligations lessened, allowing for the time this takes. I found one such space on the train. These are not spaces to be lived in permanently, or at least I would not want to live in one permanently, for there is little action here. But it is a place where action can be considered, and hopefully understood. What is yet better is the have people in these spaces with you. A community dedicated to such spaces is something I hope for.

The train drops me not at a station, but a cement pad surrounded by blueberries fields bursting with their bounty. My mother is waiting for me and drives me the remainder of my journey, she has come to B.C. From Manitoba by a different route. I have a week and half to spend with this family before I board the train again to go east. As much as I am excited to spend time with my people I look forward to this travel, and to the space I hope to find again.

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