I’m just back from a train trip from Belleville, Ont. The nearly 24 hour trips is excruciatingly long, but I’m glad I had a room to lounge in, pulling a bed down and night and allowing myself to be rocked to sleep by the trains movement along the tracks. I was also jolted awake each time the train came to a stop throughout the night.

Train travel gave me an inside peak at the outside world. I was detached and withdrawn from contact, unlike traveling in the car, where if I wanted to talk to the people we passed by, I could have simply pulled over and struck up a conversation.

As we pass by the back doors of houses along the way, I wonder what stories are inside. Lavish homes by lakes, dilapidated shacks by the tracks, farm houses away from the city and condos in the thick of down towns. Workers of the land, offices and homes, why do you live where you do? Why did you choose the train as your neighbour? Do you get along with your neighbour? What’s going on in your life to bring you to this home? I hope the people living in the run down apartments and shacks can find the inner strength they need to find a better home. No one should have to live like that.

Before I booked my ticket, I debated over whether to get a room. I did, and, cocooned inside, I spread out my books, papers and clothes in my own little space.

Through the woods of Northern New Brunswick at dusk on the way to Belleville, I anticipated the chance to see some wildlife, but the closest I came was when the stench of a skunk seeped into my little room during the night. I guess it tried to outrun the train and lost. However, there was a certain comfort in knowing that air is being circulated in from outside, and not just recycling smelly feet air.

The graffiti along the route is amazing. Sometimes it’s right near the train station, on the backs of retainer walls or on the slanted sides of overpasses. Fat, round letters in black and white spray paint but there are many colourful ones to see too. At Dorval Station, vibrant blues, yellows and reds create words. I can’t make out what it says, but it doesn’t matter. I can instead admire the simple beauty of the artwork, knowing the white stucco was probably a very inviting canvas.

I changed trains in Montreal, leaving the wrapping of my private room to regular seats. I treasure solitary time, but human contact is interesting too.

In the seats, we’re certainly closer together. Maybe even too close. The old woman beside me has fallen asleep. She’s snoring softly and her relaxed arm is increasingly creeping into my space. I lean closer to the window just a bit.

The crying baby is finally asleep. I was getting tired of hearing other passengers heave sighs of annoyance, as if the mother was pinching the boy, keeping him awake and fussy on purpose.

Remember the little movie cards we has as kids? Hold the deck with one hand and flick your other thumb quickly through the edges on the outside. The fast movement makes the pictures on the cards come to life. I always loved the little “zip” noise as my thumb passed over the cards.

Corn fields flick by and their straight and narrow rows make me think of the movie card. There’s no movie, though, although I’m sure the farmer growing the corn has some fabulous stories to tell.

There are many stops along the route and it’s fascinating to watch reunions at the train station.

Happy children bound off to meet awaiting relatives, or run across the yard to greet disembarking grandparents. Middle aged husbands efficiently whisk luggage out of the hands of their wives or extend a friendly pat on the back to young men.

At one stop, several young adults, probably around 15 years old, were greeted with deep, strong hugs from who I presume were their parents. One girl gets off and nearly falls into her father’s arms and sobs. As she melts into her mother’s arm, the older woman takes the girl’s face in her hands and wipes away tears with her thumbs, smiling reassuringly to her at the same time. The young adults were hugging each other too. Long, compassionate hugs that clearly showed a strong bond between friends.

What’s going on? My only guess is they’re a sports team, but they don’t appear to have any equipment with them. I wonder if they won or lost. I search their faces for clues, but I really can’t tell.

The whole scene is gripping. Despite only being a few feet away, since I’m still on the train and they’re on the pavement outside my window, we seem worlds apart. I can’t ask them what’s happening and I can’t hear what they’re saying… it’s like watching a silent movie.

The hugging continues as the train pulls away and I turn backwards to catch a different point of view, maybe see a clue on someone else’s face. It’s only after they’ve disappeared from sight that I realize I’m crying too. I’ve never seen such an obvious display of affection.

It was a long ride, but enjoyable. Peeking into the backyards of homes along the way, wondering about the people who live there and catching just a peak of another world.

I took some other photos, but they’re on my cell phone, which I left on the train. I’ll have to make another trip down to the station later tonight to pick it up.

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