Neal and I set off on Thursday morning on the train from London to Toronto. A big window to look out of, onto a big world. As we rolled through downtown, I strained to catch a glimpse of an elementary school I taught at for years, a building that has been the source of much joy for me. All I caught was the spire of the church next door but I knew that friends and students were in the school at that very instant, staying warm and throwing themselves into the life of the community. It made me happy to know that this was so.
East of London, fields and woodlots flashed by as we picked up speed. I thought of Jody’s words to me after her death: “I am all trees, Bruce. I welcome you everywhere.” And Jody most surely did. Groves of bare deciduous trees, groups of evergreens, a single tree spreading its arms in the middle of a field … Jody was all around. Her words flooded over me, blessing me with her love. Mile upon mile of Jody holding out her hands to me. My wife. My love.
I watched flags along the way, hoping that they would droop on their poles. But alas, they remained at almost full flap. And I was scared. I was sick, and dreaded four days of deep freeze and major wind chill. I didn’t think I was strong enough to cope with it all. I needed to be held and warmed.
I saw kids tobogganing down a hill, dressed in their pastel snowsuits. Wonderful! Just what kids need. And horrible! It’s far too cold for me to join them. I saw Canada geese winging their way. I yearned to see a deer and spent nearly an hour trying to spot one. Not to be.
I watched the man in the window seat in front of me. (I was on the aisle.) For awhile, he frantically jabbed away at his computer, with the screen seeming to change every few seconds. Half an hour later, his laptop was closed and he was asleep. I marvelled at the contrast.
Across the aisle and forward one seat, an elderly gentleman spent virtually the whole trip looking at a magazine. It was full of articles about the military and veterans. He looked so happy, immersed in something that gave his life meaning.
Eventually, fields faded away, to be replaced by, in singer-songwriter David Francey’s words, “good industrial landscapes”. Toronto had reached out, consuming a lot of the natural world. But the factories had their good stories too.
Homeward bound this afternoon. This time, my views were severely restricted by an awkwardly placed window. Mostly, I saw the tops of trees flowing by, no less Jody for their partialness. Still a blessing. Neal was on the lookout for deer, and finally I heard “There!” I had two seconds to glance to my right, just enough time to see about ten of them, heads down in a field. Yes. Another blessing wrapped up in constriction.
Everywhere I looked inside the train, passengers were bent over their iPhones and laptops. Ear buds abounded. We were all in our own little worlds, including me with my book. Part of me wanted to make contact, but I let that go. I wanted to be home. I wanted to be warm. And I wanted to be alone.
Journey done. Many more to come.