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A Journey to New Haven II: The Connecticut

July 15, 2009

We now continue with the log of my journey from Beloeil to New Haven, this time covering the part down the Connecticut river, from waking up in Bellows Falls, Vermont, all the way down to the train station in New Haven.

In the end, I don’t sleep long: half an hour, perhaps. I wake up to the train crossing a bridge over the Connecticut river: we arrive in Bellows Falls, I a little more refreshed. My camera as well: it is not fully recharged, but as it won’t be for hours yet, I feel what it has now will have to do. Bellows Falls fail to impress me (I don’t see the Falls this time around: that’s something I’ll only manage to glimpse – and photograph – on the way back home. In actuality, they are more akin to rapids. An intriguing feature: several buildings have had their windows replaced by painted murals.

Some intriguing painted building in Bellows Falls.

Some intriguing painted building in Bellows Falls.

Unfortunately, occasions to take pictures are lacking for the next few minutes: in addition to the woodlands, we encounter the sole tunnel of our entire road, a long black thing past Bellows Falls. It takes some willpower not to fade back to sleep.

When we emerge from the thick woodlands and the tunnel, it is to see a new sight: the valley of the Connecticut spread out before us. The hills ahead are far lower than those we leave behind: in the distance, some of those blue summits almost must belong to Massachusetts, and not to the Green and White Mountains. Rolling farmlands appear again, with cattle and horses. Still, we are by no means in the plain, and ridges still appear on the horizon.

The rolling farmlands

The valley of the Connecticut

A change since we left Quebec: there are almost no evergreens among the vegetation, except atop ridgelines. It’s almost all deciduous, bright green in the afternoon light. (Not that southern Quebec has all that many evergreens outside mountains. There’s a reason we have a maple leaf on our country flag, you know!).

It is not long before the next (and last) stop in Vermont, Brattleboro. It, too, has murals painted in lieu of what should be windows; they reproduce the local bridge anyone can see. There’s an Archery store right by the railroad too, and this amuses me perhaps more than it should. Unfortunately, it appears, at a glance, to be walled up, although a glance could easily have misled me. I can only hope it is not another victim of the recession.

This amuses me, for some reason.

This amuses me, for some reason.

We now often roll right along the Connecticut, mere feet from its waters. It’S a fairly wide river, and in appearance rather sluggish as well: low-lying reed islands dot the landscape. I am a great fan of the Judge Dee novels, and of course cannot help but find myself traveling back to the reed island bandit haven of The Chinese Lake Murders, and Water Margin, the old Chinese epic that inspired them. (Although, of course, those of the Connecticut could not possibly compete in size).

One of the reed islands of the Connecticut.

One of the reed islands of the Connecticut.

We head into what I can only describe as a washed-out area. Trees are to close to the track for pictures: but not far beyond their curtain, the roads have become dirty lanes, and the telephone poles have fallen down besides our trail. For a time, it is as if our train is traveling in a world of ruins; a world where human civilization has ceased to be, save for ourselves. The feeling lingers, unwelcome and uncomfortable, until we cross the Connecticut rivers, and cars crossing another bridge further north reassures us to the continued existence of the world.

We are in Massachusetts now: populated places become a more common sight. Along the way, we spy a handful of houses, nestled between the road to one side and the railroad to another: a woman hanging her clothes from a clothesline walks right up to the train, then back to her house at the other end of the terrain. I cannot imagine what living here must be like, what an horror the noise has to be. Eventually (and I believe I dozed off again), we reach Amherst, the first of only two stops in Massachusetts. I fail to think much of anything of it: it is a small town, and from what little I can see from the railway, it has nothing distinctive about it.

Around us, the woodlands become increasingly brighter, dotted with the occasional stream or farm. For reasons too complicated to get into now (suffice to say, I fell in love with the wilderness of Cape Cod, particularly the Nickerson State Park, as a young teen), Massachusetts of all American state has been often in my dreams, and those parts of the state outside the Cape that appeared in my dreams, look for all the world like what I can see now.

It is here, in Massachusetts, that the train reverse direction, in a small town by the name of Palmer. I see nothing of it: the railway here runs through a trench, and it is flower banks that I stare at while we change railroad. As I noted, we are reversing direction: I now find myself staring at the back of the train, not the front. I debate changing seat, but soon realizes there are no other good seats for me to take. There’s nothing for me to do but remain where I originally sat, and hope it doesn’t prove too inconvenient (it does not).For the time being, however, I still stare at the flowers, lavender and red. Some of them grow like great cobs: I am sure I have seen them before, at work, but cannot seem to recall a name.

Eventually, our train is on its way again: through forests that are well-lit, without much undergrowth to speak of. Again, there’s little to be seen: at most the occasional swampland, where grows lily pads and great reeds, and where long-dead trees remain standing in the water. These swamps should be teaming with animal life, birds especially, but as we hurl by, I cannot see any.

When the trees break again, it is to reveal our first truly sizeable city: Springfield, Massachusetts. There are tall skyscrapers here: it’s a very early XXth century city. It reminds me of Montreal – though smaller – a great deal, with the great red brick buildings, the fairly short skyscrapers and all. Another long stop here, then we leave again.

A scaled-down Montreal, I tell you!

A scaled-down Montreal, I tell you!

The woodlands have changed again. Vines grow on the trees here, and thick undergrowth of enormous bushes with large, long leaves, and red cobs of flowers. Breaking the trees are fields of wild grass and flower; the towns by the railway begin looking order and wealthier. Great willows grow here, their branches falling low toward the fields. There are still wetlands along the river, but now the birds are there: I spot a great Crane taking flight above one.

One of many marshes along the way

One of many marshes along the way. Unfortunately, I missed the Crane.

We cross into Connecticut to a very noticeable change: signs and some businesses are now in Spanish. (Toto, we’re not in the old North-East anymore!). The Connecticut is now very wide (and soon, navigable); we reach Hartford. Now that’s a city, with skyscrapers, and what appear to be a skyscraper-sized bellfry to some church or other (as well as a very gaudy state capitol). Another thing I begin to note now, and somewhat later around Meriden, (though I don’t think it’s new) : there are far, far more two-stories houses here than back in Quebec, where the one-story design is much more common (I mean, excluding pre-fabricated houses). It’s also, again, much more latin: cuban flags hang in front of some house, business have spanish names, etc. Meriden is reminiscent of Saint-Hyacinthe, where I studied for eight years straight, for some reason.

Don't try, Connecticut. This really just is over the top.

Don't try to justify it, Connecticut. This really just is over-the-top.

We’re in a far more urban region, by now, with all that it implies: an immense and horrible spare parts store/junkyard line the railroad for a minute or so. It’s unquestionably ugly, although the turquoise-and-pink building next by the railroad in Wellingford, the next-to-last stop of my train ride, gives it a good run for its money.

Ugly color scheme, or the ugliest color scheme?

Ugly color scheme, or the ugliest color scheme?

But still, the train begin to slow down, at last, with me too tired to notice much of anything anymore (beyond the red rock cliffs of East Rock, looming over the town, impressive enough), the train come to a halt in New Haven. The train station is much larger than any of those earlier, except perhaps Springfield. It is also much more ornate.

The train station.

The train station. Not all that gaudy, all things considered.

Next instalment will pick up with events once I arrived in New Haven.

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