Xmas 2013 · on Env

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◌  Xmas 2013

26 December 2013


It’s Christmas morning and I’m on a train to New York. The sun is just up, flickering through horizon clutter: bare trees, steeples, utility pylons, sports field lights, smokestacks.

This will my third time in NYC. I grew up on the West Coast and never traveled much east of the Rockies. This summer was the first time I’d ever been to the Midwest. If you’re used to the Pacific Northwest, the train from DC to NYC is like this: everything is populated. There is never a moment when the train might be unheard. It is very flat. Not long after you leave the skyscrapers and suburbs of DC, you meet the suburbs and skyscrapers of Baltimore, and then Philadelphia. There are big smokestacks in the cities.

As you leave the fringe of Philadelphia, everything starts to point at NYC. The cities on the way, sizable ones where you could no doubt live a fulfilling and cosmopolitan life, are at the larger scale only satellites and symbionts of the metropolis. You start seeing the words “New York” on trucks a hundred kilometers away. There is a sense of drainage. In Trenton there is a bridge with huge words: “TRENTON  MAKES    THE WORLD  TAKES”. More and more towns slide past that make no sense by themselves, only as little birds that fly every day to peck the ticks off the rhino over the horizon.

Then – I’m thinking ahead now; as I write we’re near Elizabeth – there are huge things on the horizon, and a tunnel of some kind – I’ve only been through at night – with old shorings that must be seen by many tens of thousands of passengers a year, but only touched during the occasional inspection. One of the fine things about coming from the woods is that I have nothing invested in my worldliness. I am not somehow embarrassing my hometown if I gawp at a big city. And then you’re in it, this thing that puts its structure on a whole region, and it’s so big that it doesn’t have a center.

Now I can see them on the horizon: a crowd of buildings, matter refined and formed from around the world, matte with haze even on a sunny morning. I am very lucky that even across the country from my family I can have Christmas with people who bring me comfort and joy.