Category Archives: Nature

Sunrise on the Rails

Train Trip (92 of 404)(This is the last post in a series about a recent train trip across the Canadian prairies. The first in the series is here.)

Sleep eluded me throughout the night. Despite the gentle rocking of the train and the rhythmic lullaby sung by its wheels on the rail (ticatoc-ticatoc—ticatoc-ticatoc), I dozed off for what seemed only minutes at a time. All is quiet in our coach car, and all is dark out, save for the millions of stars dotting the inky black sky. I grab my camera and make my way back to the dome-car, careful not to wake my fellow passengers along the way, curious to see.

 

All alone up there, I marvel at the spectacle on display, just for me, I think. Venus dominates the eastern horizon, almost directly behind the train. And then, something happens: a faint glow lightens the darkness, a glow that would continue into daylight. An oncoming freighter reflects this light, like glowing embers, a dim orangey hue zooming by. Two young Chinese women join me, camera in hand, to capture some of this ephemeral beauty.

The land around us slowly emerges from the darkness, revealing lakes, tractors, buildings. The brightening morning luminescence slowly reveals roofs and fingers of smoke trailing skyward from their chimneys. The scene is magical, whimsical, surreal. Not a word is said.

 

High above us, an airplane races eastward, like an arrow to its target, leaving the twin laces of its contrail to stretch across the sky, lit in orange light. Those passengers, up at 41,000 feet, have probably witnessed the sun rise above the horizon already, unless they are asleep. Meanwhile, colours change subtly, lightening the dark: amber, bronze, copper, orange, yellow, melting into cobalt, indigo, violet, blue, gray, and green.

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The long train contorts itself through a switch, like a snake weaving through short grass. I can see the last car for the first time! In the sky, what seemed to take forever quickly comes to its natural conclusion. The sun breaks the horizon; its light floods the eastern sky and paints the western countryside. One minute, the sky is a bright yellow, the next a familiar azure blue. Beautiful. The Canadian rolls on down the track towards Edmonton, my final destination on this journey.

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Riding Into the Sunset

(This is the fifth post in a series about a recent train trip across the Canadian prairies. The first in the series is here.)

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For a while, I shield my eyes from the blinding sun peeking directly in the dome-car’s front windows. The dazzle subsides when we eventually turn northwest and follow the meandering Assiniboine River, which at times consists of little more than a lazy creek in this area—after drought-like conditions through the summer—and a collection of orphaned oxbows.

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We race the sun toward the horizon as the shadows stretch onto the plain, and the sun’s golden light turns the train’s metallic skin into liquid bronze. The passengers seated in the dome-car cheer, gasp, point their cameras, and smile at the spectacle. While the sky takes on a hundred different pastel hues, a dreamy palette to paint an unforgettable scene, the trees turn to black, backlit by the setting sun. I feel dwarfed by this grandeur and privileged to witness such beauty.

The terrain changes abruptly at St. Lazare, where the two deep scars carved into the prairie by the Qu’Appelle and Assiniboine rivers meet, accentuated by the deep shadows cast by the fading sunlight. The sun soon disappears below the horizon.

Preoccupied—fixated may be a better word—with losing the sun for another night, I failed to notice the latest celestial contender. Bends in the river flash at irregular intervals, reflecting the half-moon’s light, revealing Selena’s presence in the southern sky: a new beacon to lighten our journey into Saskatchewan. The silver rails thread through green, yellow, and red signal lights, pointing the way forward.

The cadence of the wheels on the metal track continues, ticatoc-ticatoc—ticatoc-ticatoc, like a well-rehearsed drum track to this rocking and rolling ballad. However, the sound of the whistle has softened, blanketed by the falling night. The train’s passengers curl into their reclined seats, or slip into freshly-turned beds, summoning sleep. Good night.

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Flying Colours

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(This is the third post in a series about a recent train trip across the Canadian prairies. The first in the series is here.)

The train reaches its cruising speed once again, as we leave some quiet little prairie town behind us; we’ve met but I don’t know her name. Travelling along a dirt road, the locomotive’s whistle announces every crossing; a sound sometimes so faint that I wonder if I only imagined it. The whistle a warning, a wake-up call, repeated several times every minute. I press my face to the window, trying to steal a glimpse of the upcoming intersection, a white post holding x-shaped tracks, sometimes red flashing signals, other times even a barrier. It comes into view, zooms by me in a blur, and disappears in the distance. Maybe I imagined it…

We gain speed. Leaves that blanket the track and its proximity fly skyward as the  speeding train rushes by, swirling clouds, slashing wild prairie grass, shivering reeds, and swaying bullrushes the only signs of its presence. The ticatoc-ticatoc—ticatoc-ticatoc of the wheels on their steel guides resembles the muffled sound of a Sten-gun, continuous, pervasive, almost hypnotizing. The wooooh-wooooh of the whistle pulls me out of it, like the hypnotist snapping his fingers.

At irregular intervals, the endless fields give way to a thicket of colourful deciduous trees, a flash of flying colours—probably aspen, oak, ash, maple, birch, and poplar—that dazzles for only a brief moment, soon replaced by more monochrome fields.

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The train rolls on down the track… Until it slows down, announcing a pause… To give way to an oncoming freight train… Once again.

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Hey! Hmmm, I meant “Hay.”

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Travel by rail across the prairies in late-September will dazzle you with fall colours—not quite as spectacular as the kaleidoscope on display in the Appalachians, but respectable nevertheless—and evidence of farmers’ hard work: combines, trucks and trailers, tractors, and hay. Lots of hay. Bales of hay. Hay, for the most part, is only the visible by-product of all this hard work. The rest of the evidence is stashed away in the bins or already on its way to its final destination.

One fellow passenger lamented the rarity of the old-fashioned rectangular bales. Wouldn’t you know it, just around the next bend in the track, rectangular bales came into view, strewn across the stubble of the freshly-cut field.

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Here’s a collection of hay.