I took a handful of days off recently. Completely. By that, I mean no computer, no smart phone. Not even a camera. It included about 8 hours of travel by train. The vacation itself was delicious, but the aspect that I want to talk about is that disconnection. It was the first time in 4 or 5 years that I've been "out of touch" and it was wonderful. It seems that all that connection to everyone stunts my thought process.
Do you ever say to yourself, "oh! that's a great update!" or "I've been scrolling for hours?" Or when something happens, find yourself wondering what others are saying about it before fully coming to your own opinion? I do.
During the course of a couple large writing projects over the winter, it became apparent that the internet is an escape. It stops thought and zones one out. It is necessary for business, but at the same time, there needs to be a limit. As one of the few people left in the world (it seems) without a phone that acts as a computer, people expect instant answers, and I'm not certain, but it also seems that writing an email late at night is akin to calling someone in the middle of the night these days, since they are all set to notify the recipient.
I really needed a break.
Sitting on the train, I was glued to the large window beside me.
People who live near train tracks usually stop noticing the trains at some point, or at least stop noting that they are filled with people. Most of my fellow travelers were engaged in conversation, or had pulled out electronic devices, so not everyone looks out the window, but there's a lot out there. As someone who spontaneously makes up a story about every vignette I see, it was a busy, busy ride. Why was that one man on a loading dock the only person visible along a block long factory? Were all those kids in the backyard pool having a birthday party? Why are all the work horses in the meadow today? Is it too hot for them to work? In the cities, people toss bags of trash right over the edge of their yards onto the tracks. Is it ever picked up? Do they get fined? In the poor sections of town, how many people in the country don't know that kind of poverty exists? Would they care? That little boy riding his bike along the other track... do his parents know he does that?
On and on we ride. I notice that the coarse gravel that lines the tracks and the embankments is filled with the glitter of broken glass. It is that way in the cities and in the countryside, so I think maybe it comes from landfills.
We stop in a town called Lindenwold. I look everywhere, but there are no linden trees.
Eventually I start noting the plants as they fly by. Close to the tracks they are probably sprayed, but I can see further back. Close to the ocean, it is swamp grasses with shore birds of all kinds. There are many bayberry shrubs, and I imagine that the birds eat the berries in winter. Various sumacs and junipers become prevalent as we move inland, and over the last few days the pink mimosa blossoms have opened. Salsify seedheads are everywhere, and when we stop at a small station, to my delight, a single parachute-like seed plays on the wind currents outside my window. Bittersweet climbs everywhere and paulonia trees with their giant leaves line the banks. Japanese knotweed is beginning to bloom in profusion. Yellow mullein flower spikes are abundant, along with yarrow, juniper, daylily, bamboo, pine, toad flax and sweet fern. In another week, drifts of jewelweed will be in bloom. I wonder if it will be yellow or orange.
And then there is the milkweed. Glorious, ready-to-bloom milkweed is everywhere! I see it close to the tracks, and way off in the distance. The deep pink flower buds are just about to pop, giving nourishment and a ready nursery to the monarch migration.
And there are wild roses. Elderblossoms dot the landscape, growing low and wide in great numbers.
At some point, I got bored. Writing was difficult with the swaying and rocking of the train. In my mind, I rewrote the lyrics to "City of New Orleans" popularized by Arlo Guthrie. "Riding on the City of Atlantic, changing cars in Phil-a-del-phi-ay... Halfway home, we'll be there by evening...We'll be gone 300 miles til the day is done." It wasn't great, but it amused me. I got stuck at, "pass the paper bag that holds the ... soft pretzel?"
And I liked getting bored. It made me think.
Then I got home and checked emails, saving them until I feel like I'm back. I ran outside with a berry basket and picked a pint of blueberries just before lightning cracked nearby. The router went out for a while on the computer. The clocks stopped. I must remember to disconnect more often.