I rolled over in the dirt this morning, poking my head out of my bivy, lying in viny tendrils of plants scattered along the river between remnants of dead birch and leaves. A garden of amanita virosa lingered in the shadows, hidden in the cracks of decayed earth, under a canopy of hardwoods. The only sign of autumn flowered from the rhus skirting the bank of the river, painting parts of the verdant mountains a crimson red.
I sat there for a moment, listening to the silence, gazing out at the cold breath of the Connecticut. The white haze dissipated into the gray sky after some time and my attention diverted towards the sheen black ripples grazing the riverbank. I watched this for some time until the wind spit up a cloud of ash into my face, from the previous night’s fire, speckling it in a salt and pepper film. I smiled, wiping the dust from my lips and no longer latent on the ground, I stood up, moved around, breathing in the fresh morning air and watched the sun peek through the clouds.
I heard a distant horn echoing through the mountains some miles out of town. It was my southbound train. I was in no rush to pack up, taking my time to organize my gear and shimmy into more layers for the cold ride ahead of me.
I climbed the hill covered in loose dirt held together only by the roots of trees scattered along the slope. I slipped. I slid, bracing myself on the trunks of young birch as I monkeyed my way to level ground.
Twigs cracked. Leaves rustled. The ground crunched as I walked through the narrow pathway in the woods towards the yard. Overgrowth brushed my arms like gentle fingers tickling my skin until I reached a small clearing of freshly mowed grass. I peered beyond the chainlink fence that covered the perimeter of the wastewater treatment facility in barbed wire.
I watched as NECR front engines idled on the tracks, guzzling and gurgling up plumes of smoke, latent on the steel. They changed crews, switching out the driver after an 8-hour shift, and shortly thereafter, the train inched further into the yard, halting and cutting power to work.
I moseyed along entering another dense section of woodlands behind the yard office, stepping over tweaker treasure in the midst of old jungles. The trash flourished in a graveyard of old camps, covered in twisted limbs and pine, trickling down the slopey banks to the Connecticut. I zigzagged through the maze of litter; my feet scrunching against bunches of torn nylon and squishing under soggy cushions as I scanned the ground to avoid loose syringes.
When I got far enough away from the yard office, I poked my head out through the woods, stepping over stray railroad ties and abandoned track, walking the line towards the Amtrak Station.
Of course, there were no rides again, but I didn’t want to stay in Brattleboro. As much as I liked the town for its beauty down by the river and near the gallery, seeing the many monikers left by riders who traveled through over the years, recently it’s become a hipster scene. So I hopped on top of loaded lumber two stacks high and waited for the sound of air to sail me away on a slow and low ride to Millers Falls.
The train shuffled around cars in the yard dropping some tankers and picking up lumber before reattaching power. When I heard the sound of air, the train jerked forward and I dipped down into the spine, hidden between stacks of lumber until she rolled through the yard.
She crept by the Connecticut. I watched its stillness sprawled out across the landscape painted a deep sapphire under the calming sun. The canopies popped with vibrant shades of green immersed between traces of yellow and red hues. Fall was in the air. My favorite time of year.
The train putted along, rolling, squeaking, and squealing through little towns and I just lay across my sleeping pad, my head tucked on my pack, nestled in the corner, letting the breeze hit me in droves. As she slowed, approaching the curve by the Millers River, I walked the plank, switching my ride to the front of a tanker.
The river thrashed about beneath the train bridge. I looked down at the blur of railroad ties, zipping by under her rolling wheels, prepared to get off once she crossed the Millers.
My heart sank into the pit of my chest, blood boiled, and once I saw a level clearing after the wye, I shifted my weight to my lower body, clinging my hands tightly to the ladder and lunged forward in long strides. In those split seconds, I maintained speed with the train and balance, letting go to run it out along the ballast, watching as she thrummed away along the curve towards Palmer.
I spent little time in Millers Falls, just enough to grab food and go, following the Pan Am lines for the long walk towards East Deerfield.
My eyes drooped from lack of sleep and I felt miserable from a sinus infection, but wandered along down the rickety tracks anyway, towards Lake Pleasant as I scouted for date nails.
Under the torch of clear sky, I walked for a few miles with little shade but the brim of my cap, stepping on ties and the pointy ends of ballast cutting into my rubber soles. I veered off down the hill, sliding on my ass, jamming my feet into the mushy silt by the base of the lake.
Despite all of the times I’ve been in and outta here, I’ve never stopped to enjoy the lake, to just sit under a pine tree and do nothing but listen to the wind, the birds chirping, the leaves rustling, their shadows quaking beneath the sunny sky. I enjoyed sitting in a cushion of pine, looking out at the lake surrounded by heaps of conifers and the bluest of skies as I rested and basked in the light breeze.
And after a few hours of peace, upon hearing distant horns and faint thunder along the tracks, I shot up and quickly packed my gear. Her screeching squeals became louder and louder and I rambled on over between a cluster of hardwoods and conifers shooting up out of the steep hillside. My feet dug into the bronze slope of leaves and pine needles, slipping and sliding until I situated myself on a tree stump.
A Pan Am junk train sauntered through at a reasonable speed with a consist of grainers, racks, boxcars, tankers, and gondolas towards the EOT. She rolled a little fast, but I timed the speed and ran along an empty gondola, reaching and grabbing a rung before climbing up into the empty box of splintered wood and loose debris.
I taxi’d her for a few miles until she stopped just outside of boot heaven and found myself taking another walk in the woods. I wandered for hours searching for mushrooms and a quiet place to nap. Chicken of the woods was plentiful here, occupying many oak trees, especially deeper in the forest where it came to a tabletop of young hardwoods and pines, with sumac, thorn bushes and those lonely, dying oak trees fruiting dried up chicken.
I roamed around some more down the line, walking the plank of old, warped wood, gripping the metal railing as I pitter-pattered over the Deerfield River by the train tracks. Freight clinked and clanked in the yard as the dog shuffled around strings and I just tiptoed along, looking down at the long plunge to the water.
I hated heights. They didn’t get any better with age. Sweat oozed out of my palms like deep fear, but eventually I crossed over the river, dipping down under the trestle to watch the sunset splash the skyline, coloring the Deerfield in pink lemonade.
Darkness painted the sky after some time and I trudged along the access road to get to my usual spot in hopes of catching the 11R. But, I ended up rolling over, resting my eyes, and sleeping through the commotion and soothing cacophony. There’s always tomorrow or the next day, I guess. It doesn’t really matter.