Arrival

The Pennsylvanian, Amtrak’s route 43, deposited me at Tyrone station yesterday after a lovely journey down from New York’s Penn Station. On a whim I took a picture from my seat of what could be seen of every station we stopped at and posted them to Instagram. This wasn’t possible for Tyrone of course since I had to shift myself and luggage to the one door of the train that actually allows egress and ingress at the stop so there’s an external shot.

All the journey was interesting scenically, not least because train tracks tend to run along the back of things showing the non-public face of place where image and presentation is less important for inhabitants to cultivate, apart from the graffiti artists who are all about display in this liminal space.

New York gave way to areas of poverty and decay where even signs proclaiming regeneration were peeling and abandoned. The bright burnt ochre of rust was everywhere making the landscape look as though it had been ravaged by fire. Piles and piles of junked cars and other bits of scrap. Ranks of disused shipping containers built like bricks into enormous walls. One, with rusted holes in its side, had even found its way onto the flat roof of a derelict building. Few windows on crumbling deserted industrial buildings were unbroken, many had been bricked over. Red brick chimneys many with faded white paint wording down the side proclaiming the pride of their long-ago companies remained erect. One, proclaiming “PRECISION” in block capitals down its length, had sprouted a top-knot of mobile phone masts. The graffiti was in exuberant contrast – huge flowing designs on the brick surfaces in bright neons and candy-coloured pastels.

Elizabethtown station

Beyond Philadelphia the rear of suburbia could be seen, collections of unwanted or temporarily unneeded objects piled chaotically at the rear of houses belying the regularity and precision of individual dwellings strictly bounded by their personal space of tightly controlled and mowed grass. Beyond the edge of the suburbs there were large areas of what appeared to be terraces of toilets, uniform rows of small structures each with one door, all the same colour. These turned out to be storage containers presumably for the “stuff” which didn’t fit in the suburban dwelling, basement, garage, attic, box room, shed and/or pile at the back of the house but which was deemed too precious or potentially useful to otherwise dispose of. Beyond the burbs, rolling farmland with the contemporary towers of silage and grain, round-topped and gleaming, the occasional majestic old wooden multi-storied barn surviving among the much less charismatic modern metal box structures.

Harrisburg station

Beyond the rather impressive and elegant Harrisburg station the pace slowed noticeably, due in part to the fact that this stretch of the line is shared with freight trains, the only other trains we passed in the entire journey. The scenery was breathtaking, from the east of this part of the Appalachian ridge and valley system across to Tyrone at the western end.

Trees! So many trees, their leaf-free branches strobing the setting sun when it was behind them, turning pink gold when it shone on them, revealing the geological contours through their branches of the land on which they grow.

Steep dark cuttings in the rock green with lichen interspersed with knob-like structures hirsute with bare branches. The Juniata river alongside the tracks was sometimes dark, sometimes green, sometimes aflame with the reflected sky.

It was so beautiful, now so familiar, and it felt like coming home.

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