By Vita Forest
“This tastes like Snow White’s apple. It’s been sprayed with poison,” said the girl sitting behind us. Lucy, Max and I were on the train going to Canberra to visit our friend Fleur.
I like catching trains for holidays. There is time to look out the window and watch the world go by. On my first trip to Canberra by train, I looked out the window the whole way – no book, no phone, no music was needed. (This time I was taking notes and finding food for children and reading, as well as looking out the window).
Trains, although moving along at speed, are also slow. There is time to notice the expansive views of the countryside narrowing down to trees flashing by, to look out from the ridgeline of hills, from bridges crossing rivers, to see how we weave across from town to countryside, from roadside to field to bush, to watch sheep running away from the speeding vehicle that has broken their peace. There were birds to be seen too – flocks of white cockatoos spiralling over freight trains, pigeons returning to swing on electric wires and darting crimson rosellas that flapped and floated beside us, as if racing the train.
We ate lunch, wraps filled with salad and chicken. Lucy complained about the pepper.
“Next time don’t put any pepper on it. Pepper makes it bad. It looks like nit eggs. (“Nits are the eggs!” Max interjected, Lucy ignored him). It’s disgusting!” she tried to scrape the tiny black sprinklings from her wrap. I made her eat it.
“No chips if you don’t.”
Finally, she finished, grumbling all the way. But then she glared at me in horror when she pulled out the chips to share, waving them in my face. I had forgotten the flavour that Max had chosen – Lime and Black Pepper! Lucy managed to tolerate the pepper on those however.
Max too, wanted to move on from his wrap. And when a train employee came walking down the aisle carrying a garbage bag in front of her and asking for “Any rubbish?”, Max grinned at me and tipped the remnants of his wrap into it. There would still be no chips until he ate six pieces of vegetables. He counted them out into his palm, 4 pieces of carrots and 2 of cucumber. I drank tea from a thermos I had prepared earlier, with milk carried in the tiny plastic jar that used to contain vanilla pods. And read My Brilliant Friend, a book I had been saving for this trip, a book I suspected would be a Reading Event.
The train passed through towns beginning with “B”, bringing me memories of trips past. Bowral, Bungendore, Bundanoon. Bowral – where I had met Fleur for the day, Bungendore with the great woodworks, and Bundanoon, where I had holidayed as a teenager with school friends and where we kept losing members of our gang, one by one – two to sprained ankles going down to Glow Worm Glen at night and one to a bike accident in the middle of a pine forest (she needed surgery on her knee and has never ridden a bike again. We cancelled the planned horse riding after that and contented ourselves with a picnic… nice and safe.)
There were autumn leaves to be seen in the Southern Highlands, a lone yellow popular leading a row of dark green pines in a field, a line of bulrushes growing in a thread of creek winding through bare stubby hills, ruined houses without roofs with only the stone walls remaining, land-coloured lambs, their wool coloured a dusty-tan from the dirt, a lone cow resting under a lone tree, black cows solemnly grazing like blocky quadrilaterals, kangaroos, a stag stumbling across a creek and a windfarm on a hill.
And through it all the throaty gurgle and shriek of the train, rattling from side to side, as it sped forward on the tracks. We sat inside our metal capsule and looked out at the world and relaxed. We did not have to concentrate on driving, or what we would do when we got there, or when we would come back. We could simply unwind and take in the changing view as we headed Canberra-ward.