A world dressed in white

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Thursday, February 21, 2013

You enjoy traveling by train in winter. In part it's the comfort of being warm while outside your window it is bitterly cold. Trains aren't crowded this time of year, either, and the introvert in you likes that. Plus, there is a feeling of adventure you won't experience in summer. Who knows what storm lurks in the distance?

The temperature when the Empire Builder leaves Chicago is 17 degrees. The land seems vacant crossing Wisconsin. People are inside, as well they should be in weather like this. Brown stubble from last fall's harvest sticks out of the light cover of snow. Water puddles, frozen over, glisten in the thin late afternoon sun.

You enjoy snow like this, pure white, undisturbed.

At Columbus, at 5 o'clock, a crowd of several dozen emerges into the cold from the stone depot as the Builder comes to a stop. The conductor beams his iPhone on etickets, and people slowly board. At 5:15, the sun is low in the west, filtered through light clouds. Half an hour later, approaching Portage, dusk has fallen. This seems strange, the winter solstice having occurred a full two months ago. And by 6 o'clock, west of Wisconsin Dells, darkness has shut you into your own little world inside the train. No more gazing outside. You look forward to dinner in an hour, and a chance to talk to people. Maybe you're not such an introvert.

The next morning, at 7:30, you approach Devils Lake, N.D., in first light, under a gray sky. Outside, the temperature is 10 degrees. The blanket of snow is thicker.The four-lane highway running parallel to BNSF Railway's Devils Lake Subdivision is deserted. Everyday life in North Dakota seems suspended.

The conductor radios the engineer that the eastbound Empire Builder today is four and a half hours late. Your own train isn't doing so well, either. Like a deflating balloon, it slowlly lost time all night and is now about 90 minutes late. But who cares? You notice that it's starting to snow. Well, let the wind outside blow all it wants. You pick up a book and head for the lounge car. - Fred W. Frailey

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