Three days turn into four as we accumulate stoppage time for mile-long freight trains thundering down the track. We are passengers on Canada’s VIA service, where time, it seems, is no object.
‘This is stretching a friendship,’ as a fellow traveller puts it.
Rockies and prairies, lakes, forests and chiffon skies, a panoramic sweep from Kamloops to Toronto of this vast and beautiful country is ample compensation.
Most daunting are the prairies: sandless desserts that suck you in and threaten to tip you over the horizon. No parcelling of land into squares and strips with hedgerows and dry-stone walls, no relief of hill or tree. In these unconfined spaces the eye must shift dimension to find subtle shades in yellows and browns, fix on a distant tractor or trace telegraph wires in parallel lines. With steady gaze and firm foothold, I may yet distill this vision into words; like a blank page, the landscape cries out for delineation which only the mind can impose.
The Rockies have other qualities. Excitement bounces round the viewing dome as we happily snap our digital imprints of these stolid and graceful giants capped with snow; from distant heights they shed crystalline waterfalls. I’m put in mind of the flow that occurs, on a good day, after chiselling at the surface of language – an unforgiving material at the best of times – into some recognisable shape. Whether with camera or keyboard, we chase the shadows of nature’s commanding presence and perhaps our own half-expressed dreams.
Brakes creak as we grind to a halt to let an oil train pass – again. I have an intimate view of a pine forest and observe a spectrum of green as variegated as any sea. The trees stand close and tall, branches sweep skywards like dancers’ arms, spreading feathered hands to spiny tips. Mature trees are a muted bottle-green, others lead-green or verdigris – sometimes only a borrowed word will do. Younger specimens shimmer apple-bright with lime green shoots, light shining through still sparse growth.
There’s a jolt as the train moves forwards, to general cheering.
‘The destination is the journey,’ chirps a neighbour, which after ten hours’ delay, sounds like a gem from Forrest Gump.