27 January 2014

Ramblings from a train ... using travel as an opportunity to "see" the world as it is now and as it was!

Copyright 2014 Diane L Richard

I am writing this piece as I sit on a train.  Literally, I am on the Carolinian (train 79) and we are between Fredricksburg and Richmond in Virginia.

I love riding the train – there is a tranquility when I see so much untouched landscape.  I know that so much history has taken place along this route.  Every time I take this train, I see new things and have a greater appreciation for all that there is to see.

I am surrounded by individuals who are reading books (print or digital), listening to music, napping, working on their laptops (and often listening to music).  All I hear is the sound of the heat flowing into the rail car and the whistle blowing as we approach a crossroad.  It is very quiet and that often leads to contemplation.

How often in our hectic world do we take the time to notice and appreciate the roads we travel or the places we go?  Do you think of what life was like in earlier times?  Whose ancestors may have lived or died at that same spot?  History and people are all important to our research. 

Copyright 2014 Diane L Richard

On a train, I get to see the new, the abandoned and the historic.  I get to see the cultivated, abandoned or virgin forests along the way.  I have traversed many water bodies (small streams to pocosin (fancy word for a type of swamp in NC) to larger rivers) that we so effortlessly cross on the train. What we cross in seconds were huge obstacles (and time consuming to cross) for those living in the 18th century.

Most of my fellow travelers have not even looked out the windows as we journey!  There is so much to see ... much to contemplate ... much to learn.

Its one thing to know about the great Dismal Swamp (at the VA/NC line just east of where the train runs) and it’s another to cross mile after mile of pocosin and really gain some insight into what an obstacle this landscape was and continues to be both as one tries to navigate the terrain or to farm. 

Copyright 2014 Diane L Richard

As you cross disused and abandoned rail spurs, often leading to long abandoned or now nonexistent structures, you are reminded of industries that used to exist and employed many.

You pass through small towns where once-proud railroad stations used to sit, now converted to restaurants, offices, or something else as the trains no longer stop in these communities. 

You pass what once were vibrant main streets and now are mostly composed of abandoned storefronts.  You see efforts to revitalize these once busy locales in hopes of making them again an important hub in people’s lives.

Copyright 2014 Diane L Richard

You see wonderfully restored historic houses that preen in the sunlight whose neighbors have fallen into complete disrepair. You see new condominiums being built next to old cottages.

You see such untouched beauty!  I imagine some of it was just as it was in the 1700s when settlers first moved into the area or earlier when the

Besides the above, here are some of what else I have observed on my journey today – water towers of all sizes, a Civil War monument (Fredricksburg), ramshackle barns and buildings, cotton and other crop fields, abandoned factories, freight trains, main streets, college campuses, quaint country churches, dilapidated farm machinery, a colorful sunset, graffiti, lots of barren trees, railroad crossings, piles of railroad ties, trailer parks, cemeteries (from large and orderly to abandoned and un-kept), etc.

Next time you are traveling – whether by bus, train, car, airplane, boat, etc – try to not just view your journey as a means to get from point A to point B.  Use it as an opportunity to really look at the landscape that you are passing through.  I think you will find that you will gain a new appreciation for those who have and do live along your travel route. 


I don’t care how many maps I have looked at, how many documents I have examined or the countless county histories I have read, every time I take this train and look out the window, I gain an invaluable and intimate view of an ever changing  and yet often the same landscape.  A priceless experience ...



Editor's Note: Yes, the photos are not crisp.  Yes, they were taken by a cellphone camera.  Yes, they capture the often grimy windows and imperfect nature of taking images from a moving train.  And, most importantly, they provide a literal window into all that can be experienced by just really "looking" out at the world as we travel it.


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