Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Slow Trip Back in Time

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Slow Trip Back in Time

Article excerpt

The eighth-grade class and I had been on the Amtrak Downeaster for more than an hour before the obligatory question was asked by a certain wag: "Are we, like, there yet?"

"Nope."

We were in Dover, N.H. "There" was Boston. It feels like a long way from Maine to Boston, and we actually sought to make it a little longer by approaching our destination by rail on this annual class trip.

Sometimes, it's good to go the slow way. It's a test of one's attention span and powers of observation.

I appreciate trains. In fact, it's too bad you can't take a train all the way from Bangor, Maine, to Boston anymore. So we had to begin the railroad portion of our trip at the present northern terminus of passenger service: Portland.

Whereas steam trains once seemed fast, nowadays, diesel trains feel sluggish. But when you travel by train, you may see a few 19th- century vistas go by the window, and that was part of the point.

We'd all ridden down the Maine Turnpike to Boston by car many times, but the railroad thoroughfare makes you think of a different era of transportation, goods, services, and community, and of observing the landscape of the past.

We arrived, town by town, via the back door - via a right of way that has probably changed little since it was established. We clicketyclacked through town squares and depots new and old. Sometimes they were replica stations complete with old- fashioned railway clocks.

In some ways, it was a kind of "core sampling" of history - of human settlement of the Eastern corridor, the growth of suburbs, the decline of some New England industries and the ascendancy of others, as well as the decay and rebuilding of urban centers.

Here were old iron bridges in Dover;abandoned mills in Saco, Maine; beautiful farms (dairy and Christmas tree) with exurbs pressing their boundaries; and the constant fluctuation between cleared land and young forests. We passed clam flats, where clam diggers were hard at work, and salt marshes close to new condominiums south of Portland.

In some communities we rolled through, the tracks clearly used to be outside of town. …

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