I'm riding the slow train, rounding the mountain curves and valleys, crossing from Pennsylvania into West Virginia.
My window offers quick snapshots of America’s beautiful terrain and just a small glimpse of the spectacular views this country has to offer. It deserves its’ own playlist!
I’m currently listening to Ray Charles — his “A Message from the People” Album with the cover graphics of Mount Rushmore reimagined as the faces of the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. I love Ray’s version of America the Beautiful.
The window opens to scenes of small town America: a landscape blending small creeks, railroad bridges, and tunnels through and statuesque rock mountains. Many of the small towns appear to be the same from the window of the train, but I know they all have a different feel and a unique energy created by the great people who make these spaces their home. I can’t feel that energy from my hiding spot in the train cabin, but I feel a certain privilege to just ease through the landscape and get a quick peak of their world without disturbing them. The train whistle, an all familiar universal language, connects us as I journey, putting the townspeople and myself to sleep at night and waking us each morning.
I’m thinking about that connection as Bruce Springsteen’s version of This Land is Your Land flows into my ears. I find it another interesting connection that this song was written as an answer to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. (That will be next on my playlist.) The patriotic tunes make my little journey all the better!
I enjoy seeing the locomotive round the bend and move up the hill as the vapors of spent fuel emerge from the stack and drift skyward … I like that! It lets me know we’re getting somewhere! Everything is so green! I keep my eyes peeled for a view of another big buck looking at us as if we are intruding. Sure is a change from yesterday’s downtown Chicago’s experience!
The combination of landscape and patriotic songs starts me thinking about “Our America.” It would be great if we Americans would all make a point to dig these old songs out and listen to them. Anyone younger than 35, and those of us busy with frantic life and work schedules, may need a reminder of past years, the cost of our freedoms, and how so many of our forefathers risked their lives and those of their children to come to America! We do tend to forget the past and take a lot for granted in this country. It helps to remember how special and amazingly beautiful our country is through the music we’ve created. And, hey, taking a slow train ride through America is a great way to experience that beauty and expansiveness firsthand! Wow! Just had a freight train fly by going about 40 times faster than us in the opposite direction! It felt like it was about three feet from my nose! That’s a wake up call!!
It’s really cool to see the open spaces and the variety of wildlife that can only be seen from a train! The quaint towns, all the old buildings that seem frozen in time, and the small depots where we stop and pick up two or three people. The comments from the back of the train asking, “Are we really stopping HERE – in this tiny town?” But, I’m really glad we do! I like seeing the stations up close, and I enjoy trying to envision what it must have been like with all the people traveling by train when that was the only option…the ladies with the big hats and the gentleman dressed up in their Sunday Best. It’s fun to imagine that life and those times, and train travel creates a feeling of past and present intermingling.
Well, they just announced lunch in the dining car, so I guess it’s time to come out of hibernation, stroll to the dining car, and mix with my fellow train travelers.
Look, we’re rolling into a small little stop, Cumberland, Maryland ... Next thing I hear will be ALL ABOARD! Great, isn’t it?
Ray Charles Album Cover courtesy of Google; Bruce Springsteen video available on YouTube