Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Train 693: The second breakfast

I make my way inelegantly forward to the restaurant car, bouncing off the walls of the corridor and leaping through the vestibule connecting the carraiges, hoping not to get smacked by the door as we go over another bump in the track. I'm greeted with smiles and a friendly hello from the crew, who by now call me by my first name. This is one of the most pleasant train rides I've had, simply because I've had so many opportunities to get to know and talk with the on-board crew. I skip the larger plates and just have coffee and hot oats from the 'a la carte' menu to start my day (C$4.75). Carmel tells me that we'll be in Churchill some time before 11.00. It's particularly difficult for this train to ever make it's optimistically schedhuled 0830 arrival time. But I'm in no rush, and with a hot coffee, this is a lovely warming way to start the day. I'm back in my usual window gazing mode, drinking up the incredible bleak tundra landscape outside our windows.

I start talking with another passenger, who's also having breakfast. He's a father and a self employed truck driver from near to Winnipeg, up here for a few days helping to chaperone a school trip. The school children are heading to Churchill to learn first hand about some of their country's geography and history. In milder months, this is also a popular starting point for trips into the Wapusk National Park, which can be reached from Churchill by helicopter or (so I'm told) from the train line by kayak.

At about 10.25 I glance out of the window and notice something on the horizon. The huge, boxy grain elevators of the Port of Churchill are coming into view. Above and to the left, two birds flap together. We're nearing the Hudson Bay, and the end of the line. Off to the left I can just make out a thin silvery streak that must be the mouth of the Churchill River. Conversation in the mostly empty carraige seems to have receded, and everyone is looking out of the window at our approaching destination. I sink into the soundtrack of the train, hearing every creak, clank and high pitched squeek. It merges with an imagined electronic soundtrack that opens up to the horizon in every direction. I immediately remember an astonishing sequence in Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker in which three men break into a deserted post-apocalyptic 'zone'. They travel deep into the abandoned countryside on board a small self propelled rail wagon, and an intense scene of almost several minutes passes just watching the three men sitting on this car, contemplating their journey, their destination, and why they have come this far.

At 10.30, I am woken from my daydreaming. For the first time since yesterday, I hear the warning horn of the locomotives. We are passing over a level crossing, and after hundreds of kilometres of silence through uninhabited tundra, we are arriving into a human settlement.

No comments: