We’re going to be late into New York, I think. The train on which I’m writing this was over an hour late setting off from Montreal, kept waiting for a forty-five-person group incoming from eastern Quebec who’d been guaranteed a connection, and we’ve only just got up to speed again after passing over a recently-maintained stretch of track. Apparently after new ties have gone down the first couple of trains have to take those tracks very slowly, and the first couple of trains includes us.
None of which is as remotely as bad as it would be had we flown to Canada, though. Train stations aren’t as bad as airports to get stuck in, in my experience, and as a place to have to cool your heels during a trip disruption a train is orders of magnitude more comfortable than a plane. There’s plenty of room, better seats, you can easily stand up and walk around, there’s a good cafe car with actual tables you can sit and eat at, and instead of peering out of a scratchy little perspex oval for a glimpse of ground or a stretch of airport tarmac we’ve got big windows down both sides of the carriage and a non-stop progression of pleasing scenery. From home I’m most familiar with sparser, more open temperate eucalypt woodland but between New York and Montreal, as well as farmland (there’s a long expanse of orchard just opened up on our right) the view is packed with thick, lush greenery so dense that I often can’t see even a few metres out from the road. The foliage is denser and more obscuring than I’m used to, and the ground coverage much thicker than Australian woodland, and the sun is high and slightly to the right of the train, turning the view into cool green shadows alternating with flashes of bright yellow-green where the light’s coming down into the clearing or almost luminous banks of leaves where the angle is right and the sunlight is shining through them. Every so often there’s a birch trunk, sheer white against the green and often so slender it’s more like a stalk than a trunk, and where there’s a stump or a dead tree they’re usually so thickly grown over with ivy that they look like a living thing again, and I half expect them to turn and lurch toward the train as we pass by.
Houses in this part of the world are built high and narrow – to my eye they look chunky and top-heavy against the long, low, flat sprawl of Australian suburban or rural houses. I’m putting the difference down to climate: space is at more of an issue when you have to cut your house site out of forest, I suppose, and I imagine that heating in winter is easier where a stack of small floors can all huddle over a furnace or fireplace instead of trying to push heat out through a big horizontal home. On the other hand, Australian priorities like shade and a large expanse of roof for catching scarce rainwater would probably be less important here – instead, roofs are high and angular to slough off rain and snow. The crisp, blocky angles, bright paintwork and rich lawns give each little town a hyperreal quality, as though we’re passing through a film set or the box art for a child’s My Little Town play-blocks set. There’s barely any of the scuff and ramble of the little towns I’m used to passing through at home.
It’s the water I really can’t get over. No endless expanses of red dust and haze here. There’s an arm of Lake Champlain playing peekaboo through the trees on the left (we just passed Port Henry) and the route regularly crosses wetlands and watercourses, all piebald with patches of water lily and fringed with rushes. It’s funny that something that my childhood ideas about landscape thought of as utterly traditional – lots of European and European-style books and TV where there was always a stream or river to hand – actually makes this countryside feel quite alien to me now.
There are some writery thoughts ready to crystallise out of some of these observations, but I’ll leave them for another post. I’m off to raid the cafe car.