The smell is the same, a product of disinfectant and humans and manufactured air. The rocking is the same, a product of standard gauge steel and creosote soaked ties. The rhythmic ticking and the gentle swaying are universal. The sound of the horn is the same. A decibel subtler than that of a freight train, this passenger line’s horn is just as effective at clearing the traffic. It’s not loud here, a few cars back from the locomotive. But it starts soft and gets almost imperceptibly louder as we chase it and run through it like water breaking over the bow of a sailboat and washing its length.
This track, through central upstate New York makes a sharp turn at Albany and hugs the banks of the Hudson for the duration of the trip into the city. In its day, this route, by rail or by boat, was the only access to what was once wild and remote and now only feels that way to people born and raised in the city. We drift along the very banks of this historic waterway, so important to the commerce of the early country, even more important still to those who were here before us.
I see the same carpet of flowering lily pads that have blanketed this water for centuries before there was a record of such things. And I see beautiful watercraft, a refinement of those that have served man of record since the beginning. Some are graceful in form to fit function. Some are graceful only in that they function. They put humans on water and allow a communion with the birds and the fish and the geese who help mark the seasons by the direction of their flight.
Long flat barges, taller than their Mississippian counterparts, are pushed along by tugboats, with or without the aid of current. They maintain the tradition of waterborne enterprise and shipping of goods, in quaint defiance of air cargo and diesel trucks. Here and there, a tiny lighthouse, like dollhouse replicas of their Atlantic models, dot the center of the river, warning of obstacles and drawing the camera lens and the paintbrush.
It’s a busy place, this corridor of yesterday. It’ll be doing the same business tomorrow.
Robin Behl, La Cuentista