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A Trip Away from Life with Horses

Published: 10/9/2009
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By Maddy B. Gray

It doesn’t take much to feel far, far removed from the daily flow of Life with Horses. That’s the life so many of us lead – one filled with mucking stalls, grooming, riding, graining, tossing hay. These chores are how my time is measured hourly, daily, weekly, and by the seasons.
But a train trip to see my son in Pennsylvania took me away from all that and into another world.
In the dark of 3:30 AM, we drove to Boston and boarded an early train with a crowd of white collar, Blackberry-toting, laptop-lugging, espresso-slurping sorts.
My youngest son, Cormick, and I snacked on goodies from home and napped ‘til we got to Penn Station in New York City.
There, we found a wall to stand against and watch the urban humanity as we waited for the train to Harrisburg. There was a strong police presence, the regular blue-uniformed type and also a pair of soldier-types in camoflage and carrying machine guns. I kid you not.
There were men in suits, women in uncomfortable-looking shoes, lots of colored hair, stylish clothes.
The only animal we saw was an Amtrak K-9, a German Shepherd. Of course, I just had to talk with her handler! He told me they select random trains and are on the hunt for explosives and ammunition. They hadn’t detected any bombs in the four years they’d been working the trains, but had confiscated plenty of concealed weapons, he said.

Not in Kansas anymore.

At one stop, a young Marine boarded and we all clapped spontaneously, a thanks for his service. I listened as he chatted nearby. He was on a 21-day leave from his unit and had been in Iraq.
An older Jewish woman (and I mention that she was Jewish because she mentioned it several times.) thanked him profusely for his service and then launched into a near-monologue about her years in Israel, her world travels, her thoughts on the war, etc., etc., etc. The soldier was exceedingly polite but her babble had the rest of us rolling our eyes.

The train took us through Lancaster to Harrisburg. We saw Amish folks working in fields, but alas, no horses viewed from the speeding train.

The 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and the Harrisburg station were both beautiful. They are relics from a time when no one gave any thought to energy-sucking, 90-foot ceilings. Then, there was money and motivation for art on the walls. Did anyone else notice this crazy 19th century mural by Karl Bitter, depicting the progress of transportation? From cart to aircraft before there was even public air transport? It didn’t seem so.

The college scene was again, void of animals. And after less than a day, I was realizing how intrinsic animals are in my life. Especially horses, and especially their smell and touch and feel.
We watched Aidan and his teammates play an exciting soccer game, under big flood lights and windy skies.
After the game, we went out for dinner at a nearby pub, recommended by the rental car agent. We talked about his classes, the new girlfriend, his team, the roommates.
We met a few of his friends for a late-night snack, handed off the requested items from home (winter jacket, dress shirt, extra pillow) and then hugged goodbye.
To bed after midnight. Up at 5 am to head to Harrisburg and the long return. At Penn Station in New York, a group of German tourists sat near us and we listened to them talk, only understanding the English sprinkled throughout their conversation (“New York,” “sirloin steak,” etc.)
All the way back, I couldn’t get the smell of burned rubber out of my nose. Must have been the train’s ventilation. Or maybe that’s the smell of air when there are no barn smells in it!

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"Nothing on four legs is quicker than a horse heading back to the barn" - Pamela C. Biddle/Joel E. Fishman