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A Journey to New Haven IV: Northward Bound

July 16, 2009

And so we come to the thrilling (not so) conclusion of my epic (not really) A Journey to New Haven saga (written in completely non-saga style).

This one, I’m afraid, may have slightly less of interest in it (less than not very much) – I’ve already covered most of the locations we’ll see in The Green Mountains and The Connecticut. Moreover, most of the pictures I took on the way back in were actually used to illustrate these two parts, particularly Along the Connecticut. Still, I can but try.

The train finally leaves New Haven at 1:20 PM. I try to snap one last picture of East Rock on my way out, but I’m too slow and the hill on the wrong side of the train; I don’t even so much as get a picture. (The train is, at this point, full, so sitting on the other side is not an option).  I have a quick conversation about the train and photography with the lady sitting behind me: she was selected for a photography festival in her hometown a few years ago. She also recounts her experience on the Vermonter, back when it was known as the Montrealer (and went beyond St Alban), and had bed wagons.

The ride through Connecticut is quick; we’re in Hartford (and she leaves the train here) without much of anything else happening. It’s past Hartford that the ride becomes a little bit more…interesting. First, we spend several minutes immobilized along the shores of the Connecticut between Hartford and Windsor Locks. I won’t complain too much: this gives me some of my best shots of vegetation along the Connecticut river, and the Connecticut itself, including allowing me to set up a wide-mode shot (unfortunately, I fail to get a good full panoramic shot before the train gets moving again).

IMGP0464

Have I mentioned how I love the wide and panoramic features of my new camera?

We eventually get moving again, but not for long: we get to Springfield, and end up stopped there for twenty minutes if not half an hour. I take advantage of this to step out on the platform and stretch my legs: probably the last chance we’ll get, after all. This is also where I get to examine Springfield a bit more, and how I come to my conclusion that it actually looks somewhat like Montreal (as discussed in part II). There are two other Amtrak trains in Springfield with us: I don’t know for sure what lines they’re on. Possibly the Lakeshore Limited or the Northeast Regional; I just know they’re not Vermonters or shuttles.

After Springfield, things are very slow. We stop, again and again, as part of the reversal procedure at Palmer that I mentioned in part II, and because we have to let a Chicago-bound train pass first.  During one of the stop, with nothing to think about, the fact that I probably won’t see Aba again for at least a year if not more comes to mind, and I scrib in my notebook the lyrics of a campfire song from my childhood – loosely translated, “I can sail without wind, I can row without oars, but I cannot leave a friend without shedding a tear.”

The flower beds by the railroad at Palmer: melancholy-inducing.

The flower beds by the railroad at Palmer: melancholy-inducing.

One thing that really frustrates me over this part of the journey is the amount of times where there are great tantalizing vistas just on the other side of a thin curtain of trees planted right next to the railroad. I would like to photograph them, but taking picture from a moving train requires a clear shot, and, with such curtains of trees, a clear shot is a very occasional thing. If you blink, if you so much as fumble a second, you will miss perhaps your one and only chance to photograph a distant mountain or a deep valley stream. Sometime, among the trees, there is a hunched black shadow – boulder, perhaps, or maybe an old tree. But I’d rather imagine it as a bear, nevermind that we’re not that far from the nearest houses.

One of many, many times where a wayward tree sabotaged my shot.

One of many, many times where a wayward tree sabotaged my shot.

The land soon begin rolling upward again as we head beyond Massachusetts toward Vermont. For the first time in all the train journey, I take note that a train really does make a chug-a-chug-a-chug noise, even modern ones. We’re shaking and trembling as we head up a slope into the mountains. Sad sight: someone discarded an old amrchair in the woods, where it lies, just a random obstacle to the forest animals. You’d think people would realize this isn’t the best thing to do. There is hardly any sun breaking through the foliage; but when it does, through a break in the trees, the light is intense. The Connecticut, when we see it, blazes with a white fire.

Unfortunately marred by the window of the train, the Connecticut blazes white.

Unfortunately marred by the window of the train, the Connecticut blazes white.

As the afternoon wears on and we head into the mountains of Vermont, however, the sun dims. Clouds sweep in from the west, and, occasionally, rain splatters against the window of the train. At times, the sky turns to black, but never very long, and though it gets dark, there are no lightnings, no sound of thunder (but would we hear it over the trembling of the train?).  But still the sun goes on breaking through, leading to some dramatic scenery. (I didn’t spot it at the time of the picture, but there is a rainbow above the second tree to the left, too.)

Dramatic lighting, I believe I said.

Dramatic lighting, I believe I said.

The clouds go on and out several more times along the way. They vanish, only to return, and swirl in the sky. At one point, after we leave the Connecticut to follow the White River, they take new, pastel tinges to mark the sun’s fading: this gives me the picture that became the banner of this site.

The site header, in full. I just love this picture.

The site header, in full. I just love this picture.

But soon, the clouds are back. With the diminishing lights, it becomes hard to take pictures, and, though I can still observe, it becomes hard to make out anything. Still, I manage to capture one or two last pictures of interest: the movement of clouds sweeping into the Vermont sky, headed the opposite way from me, for one. After this one, there just is nothing: the low light means my camera need a longer time to get a picture, and, in a rapidly-moving train, this result in hazy photographs in which it is impossible to make out anything. We pass by a coral with ten or twelve horses: I wish I could photograph it (just for you, Ashley), but there is no way to do that.

The last picture of any interest I managed to take

The last picture of any interest I managed to take

In the fading light, I can still make out the mountains of Stowe – the backbone of Vermont I alluded to earlier – as we pass them by. They’re only more so impressive now that it is getting dark: slopes black against the still-lit sky. Suddenly, they’re not just mountains: they’re place of shadow and darkness, just like the mountains of Franconia Notch (in the White Mountains) that so impressed (and frightened) me as a child all those years ago. I can’t help fight back a single shiver, while the great mountains vanish behind closer hills, only to reappear again seconds or minutes later. Even the river with its waterfall can’t completely appease me.

It begins raining again, and the last of the light vanish by the time we hit Essex Junction; so do the mountains, after one last glimpse. There are almost no one left in the train now: the crew invites us to move to the Business Class wagon for the last leg of the journey, while the passenger cars get closed. Aside from the more comfortable seats (they’re leather, and larger), though, I’m not entirely certain what the difference is: drapes for the window, perhaps. Not that I intend to use them. Even in the night, I can still see a small hill to the east, between us and Lake Champlain: it has the pimple-like shape you would expect a child to draw for a hill or mountain, and would never expect to see in reality, much like mount Saint-Grégoire back home.

Then, finally, we reach, Saint Alban. My parents arrive not long after; and though I’m still under that spell of melancholy, it will be the last one. Hearing some French again is a great relief ; I’m fine with using English, I’m relatively good at it (all things considered), and I actually like using it at times…but it remains a tool, and a foreign tool. French, on the other hand, is written into my bones, my soul. It’s my mother tongue, and to hear it, with a Quebec accent, is a great, deep breath of refreshing air.

And on that note, the journey comes to an end, and so does this story.

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