Kelly drops me off in Hoosick Junction after grabbing groceries in Bennington for her upcoming week. This greatly reduces the time for me to get to Northampton, MA from Dorset, VT since my boss can pick me up in Greenfield for tree work. I really need the work since I lost my job in the restaurant as a waiter due to the pandemic.
As such, now I walk the line right after dusk, past the string of latent tankers and grainers sitting at the wye as the ballast plonks and jingles beneath my boots with each quiet footstep. Coyotes howl in the shadows of distant hills and forest. Their presence echoes through the mountains as the acoustics of the river amplify each yelp. I smile as I hike up the slope blanketed in dead leaves and loose dirt, slipping and regaining placement of my feet until I hit a plateau on an ATV trail. Bare trees sway in the night from the whispers of wind like the silhouettes of gnarled fingers. I hide in the shadows of their twisted branches as I wait on my train listening for her voice to shatter the silence in the mountains.
Hours pass as I enjoy the cold harmony of nature and its soothing melodies. I start to walk around and wiggle my toes in each boot to keep my feet warm. It’s just below freezing and continues to dip lower as the sky sinks further into night. I sit back down. My mind drifts to self-reflection and after a while I feel free of stress and responsibility. A loud horn bellows in the distance ricocheting off the mountains like a cacophonous roar and my heart starts to race to the clouds in excitement. Trains never get old even if I’m riding for work.
I sit. I wait. The signal switches to green and I wonder if the 22K will roll through slow enough for me to catch on the fly. The anxiety tingles inside me like an undying itch, festering and disseminating throughout my body, warming my blood. It makes me pace back and forth in circles as I listen to her chugging wheels approach closer and closer.
After ten minutes, her headlights torch the landscape in a bright beam of rays. The ground rumbles and the silver bands glint. Those wagon wheels jumble along the steel and I lay down on the cool ground listening to the grumbling of three NS front engines pitter by me at a creeping speed.
As soon as the engineer is out of sight, I fling the straps of my pack over each shoulder and ramble down the slopey hill, slipping down the scattered leaves and sliding along the bank on my ass. I pop back up quickly unphased and full of adrenaline. A filmreel of Autoracks trickle by while I wait for a suitable ride to catch. I scan the ground for any loose debris and find a flat surface to run along as the single stacks start to roll by me.
My eyes focus on each passing ladder, and without thinking, I run along the next well prowling alongside me, reaching for her frozen rungs. My fingers clasp onto the cold steel as I sprint alongside her jangling wheels. The bright beams from the signal blind me with Christmas. I throw my leg into the last rung, planting my feet and pulling myself up and into the well. It is dark. It is cold; now sweat is soaking into my base layers of clothing, but the warmth flows through my veins from my boiling blood. I fling my foam pad against the bone-chilling floor and roll my bivy out with a quick jerk of my wrist, wiggling into my sleeping apparatus.
She puts along, screeching and clunking around the bend of Hoosick Junction, walloping through the quiet, small towns, chugging past the flashing lights and dinging bells, one crossing after another until reaching a solitudinal scape. Night paints the landscape in dark contours and shapes as the train slithers along the steel and shadows touch the earth from refracted light.
Deep in the silhouette of mountains chiseled out like a camel’s hump, the luminescent sky buries its stars in the atmosphere like grains of glinting sand under the splash of denim. The smell of manure permeates the thick, winter air, with an undertone of woodfire. I see the gray tendrils fill the sky in droves of smoke from chimneys scattered throughout the mountains. It’s a wonderful sight and pleasant aroma, all too familiar to me, like the smell of stoking a campfire.
I lay there basking in the comfort of a mini well on a 53′, snuggled inside my sleeping bag in multiple layers and a goose-down parka. My breath fogs my glasses as the chilling night nips at my nose.
I look up through the bare, twisted arms, draping overhead as she snarls and bites the steel. White-chocolate stilts of birch and black tricorns of conifers decorate the silver path that she gingerly leaves behind. Decadent colors of fall bronze the earth with a damp poignancy as the first frost of winter sets its roots. The moon shines through the porcupine limbs that dart up along the earth by the train tracks, crawling to the sky, while I watch the light show of shooting stars. They look like swift strokes of a paint brush, quickly disappearing into the canvas of sky, and then my eyes focus on yet another burst, igniting streaks into oblivion. I sit there looking at a million eyes staring down on me, watching me drift through the dreary shadows of night on a steel giant.
Jarring jerks and rumbles echo like loud steel dominoes in a vacuum of diesel exhaust. It sounds like a stampede as grinding metal squeals through the Hoosac Tunnel, but really it is just slow-rolling freight adhering to a speed restriction. I hear the dissonance as her back end trails behind me.
This is life for the night until I reach Greenfield. It’s cold. It’s miserable and unforgiving, yet infinitesimally beautiful even with all of the destruction from mankind. Mother nature’s heart still beats in the stars every night watching us sleep, and breathe. I fall asleep.