Photo by Aaron Whitworth
I sit in the observation car, skylights arching overhead. The couple sitting next to me has set up a laptop in front of their window, watching a sitcom as the setting sun gilds green leaves, purple mountains passing at a more stately pace than the generous curves of the river, also gold flecked. On one hand, there seems to be a sort of balance between technology and nature’s beauty struck. On the other, it appears indicative of a general attitude, grandeur rushing by while we fill our heads and vision with more mundane things.
My pack, sans rock, is lighter but no less full, as if the debris of everyday life can’t stand the void left by that precious thing. With that focus, that (albeit weighty) something special gone, the real world has filled the bag to brimming, though I carry nothing extra save a small tub of hair dye, an even smaller bottle of stinging nettle and a few pieces of fruit. I rearranged my things twice, unable to understand why fewer items took up so much extra room. I suppose our minds are much the same, cluttering up with junk when we cease to remember the more priceless, unique bits, plastering last year’s reruns over top of ephemeral dusk for lack of attention and care.
Then again, maybe I am carrying more than I think. A letter, slipped into my hand as the conductor calls for passengers to board, weighs nearly nothing, yet the words enclosed fill my heart to bursting, swollen with sincere and loving sentiment. There is also a slim magnet, inserted into my journal, a token from an old veteran whom I sat next to on the way in. I had (unintentionally) made him laugh so hard, he snorted, handing me the magnet, whose text thanks me for my service. Smiles and belly laughs are utterly weightless, yet no less important to cultivate and carry. Then there are the smells of rain and leaves, sunlight and pasta dinners still clinging to my clothes, making their homes in air pockets, the thunderous concert, the whirr of a box fan as conversations wander deep into the night, whispered stories settling like a mantle over my shoulders as I contemplate this new dusk. All utterly formless, without matter, yet I wouldn’t discard them even if they pop the seams on this old bag so as to force me to carry two. It seems I have exchanged one valuable thing for many.
The train is running an hour and a half late. If we arrive precisely when the conductor says we will, I will be just on time to watch my bus leave. I do not want to spend who knows how long in the grubby in-between station I’m speeding toward, the return trip being considerably more lonesome than the outbound. Couples and groups remain in their private worlds and lone travelers make it clear they are content to remain so. But, seeing as there is not much I can do about it, I take a page from Tosha Silver’s book and give the whole situation over to Spirit. I’m not really the praying sort, so I don’t ask for anything, just mentally offer the whole mess. Assuming such an entity exists, surely He, She or Whomever has far more influence than I ever could.
The locomotive creeps into the station, taking ten minutes to line exits up to platforms. I step off at 6:40. The bus leaves at 6:30. It has left, I’m sure. Nonetheless, I hustle into the station after a moment of disorientation, my eyes detecting little but points of light amid miles of cement in the infant dawn. I step up to the customer service desk, but everyone has vacated their seats to aid the gaggle of boarding passengers. No help there. Crossing quickly to the front doors, I pop out in front of a bus, closed up and ready to go. The driver heads toward me, saying he has been looking for me. I show him my ticket, board and sigh in relief as two more passengers, from the same wildly late train as I, huff down the aisle. The driver has waited a full twenty minutes, to ensure everyone gets home. “Thank You,” I breathe
Wind sighs in the big tree out back, echoing the motion I still feel in every cell, though I haven’t been in a vehicle since nine. My belly is full and so is my pack, despite having been divested of its remaining snacks hours ago. I am reluctant to unpack it, dispelling whatever magic lies between each layer, half expecting the wail of the train’s horn, a blast of sound in the dark, to dissipate like smoke as the evidence of this journey disappears.
Still, I begin flinging laundry into a basket, smiling as the sounds and sights of home make themselves familiar again. Vaporous plans for new endeavors swirl in my head, aided by the confidence I’ve gained. Of course, I had plenty of help, but the idea that I am capable of making it 800 miles away from home and back again, more or less alone, still stands. Lessons from this trip still need sorting, but I continue to smile, enjoying the present. And why not? I know in my guts there is more out there, waiting for me. It is official, I’ve caught the bug. There will be plenty more adventures to come.