Through the train window, I saw snow-covered field after snow-covered field, miles and miles of whiteness, set off by grey sky and the dark branches of trees. The only color in the landscape came from groves of hemlocks, with their dark green branches and sometimes fields of reddish gold grasses, rising above the white. Whenever we passed through a small town, I saw empty backyards, pools covered with dark plastic for the winter, playhouse and doghouses covered with snow.
People around me on trains always seem to be crinkling plastic packages of treats. This time, I'd remembered to pack a lunch and a bag of trail mix. I unwrapped my sandwich and ate it slowly as I stared out at the peaceful scene moving past me. When I looked around inside the coach, I could see passengers sleeping. The teenage girl ahead of me had fallen asleep with her head against her mother, who was quietly reading a book.
The train wound slowly through miles of sleeping farmland, and then we followed the river the rest of the way, a river filled with grey water and floating chunks of ice, a beautiful but deserted landscape. No boats, no people, no activity, just grey water, bare trees, tall bridges, and bluish grey hills in the distance. After hours of rolling through this quiet landscape, the train pulled into a tunnel and we rattled through darkness, the lights flickering off and then on. Passengers woke up and began gathering their things as we approached the station. I could feel a shift in energy as the train doors opened.
The station was filled with people scurrying in every direction. As I made my way up the stairs and outside onto the street, moist air hit my face. Yellow taxicabs swarmed about, lining up to grab passengers. Horns honked, brakes squealed. The air smelled like grilled meat and french fries and stale urine. People hurried about, running every which way, carrying packages or briefcases or backpacks. A kid in a bright blue coat wove through the crowd on a bicycle. Neon signs flickered from store fronts. A man yelled at the kid on the bicycle. Two women called to each other in Spanish as they hurried across the street.
It always feels like a surprise, after traveling for hours through farmland and woods, to arrive in this noisy, fast city, filled with people and color and frantic movement.