As a commuter on the Long Island Railroad, Deep Travel would come my way at different times, along two different routes. I grew up in Stony Brook, which is on the North Shore of the hundred-mile-long island, about two-thirds of the way out. When, in my twenties and early thirties, I was living in Manhattan and would visit my parents back home, after the first hour of the roughly two-hour trip, I would see things differently. (You had to change trains in Huntington, near Long Island's midpoint, so I wouldn't have let down my guard, so to speak, until after the switch. Not that there was any way to end up somewhere else, because at Huntington everyone got off and either waited for the new train to pull in or, if it had already pulled in, shuffled along the tracks to board it. But knowing that it was coming – that there was still a task ahead – would keep me more conventionally conscious.)

I don't think it was any sight in particular that would get me going. The land along the tracks for many stretches there is still pretty wooded, but it wasn't as though I was spotting deer or even birds – it was more the sense of the immediacy of the world itself, somehow, which engendered a sense of excitement or enthusiasm (even though the destination, just seeing my family in a totally routine way, was not exciting).

The funny thing, though, is that it also occurred on a different branch of the LIRR. The last nine months before we left NYC for California, my husband and I lived with his mother in Valley Stream, near in to the city, and on the South Shore line heading for Babylon and, eventually, the Hamptons and Montauk. We both commuted daily (usually separately) by train. It was a short run – 30 minutes – and some of that, of course, was underground, leaving Penn Station. And the scenery was fairly urban – Queens and only the very beginning of Nassau County. I would generally start off the homebound trip from NYC to Valley Stream reading – especially for the boring underground part – but would usually end up staring out the window once we got above ground. (I had – and still do – a knack for always snagging a window seat.) And even on that commuter run, somehow the view out the window never got boring.

It wasn't a zoned-out sense; it felt more like the inspiration you get from that first morning cup of coffee, rather than something strictly meditative or contemplative. It was more an intense interest, even though nothing on the route really changed; it wasn't like I'd be coming home with stories. (And, maybe because of the underground aspect and the time it initially takes to get settled, this never occurred on the way into the city, only the way out.)

Some of what you get on an LIRR ride is a private glimpse into people's backyards, the rear faces of their houses, which, I suppose, one doesn't normally see. But not in a voyeuristic way, more to do with a sense of possibility, of wonder. I think the motion (as I believe In Motion says) somehow brings a traveler into a different part of their consciousness, their brain itself. You think in a more subconscious way, though it's also accessible to you consciously – you could write it down if you had a pen, though you might miss the next succession of moments in this mode if you did.

I remember only once seeing something extraordinary: two or three children, barefoot, running around the backyard of a particularly broken-down house in Queens, a scene of such poverty that it immediately made a deep impression on me. But even though in subsequent days and weeks I often tried to sit on the same side of the train and remember to watch at just the same spot, I never could pick out that house again. And I never got tired of watching for it.

Scenes seen from train windows

This post struck a chord with me.  I've always loved train travel and can stare out the windows of a moving train for hours on end.  Maybe it's the rhythm of the sounds & motion of the train that almost immediately lulls me into a state of Deep Travel.

We moved out of NYC to NJ in the 1990s.  I spent the next 12 years commuting to my job in Manhattan via NJ Transit's Bergen County Line to Hoboken.  Every morning and evening the train would take me through the Meadowlands.  I would look out at the swamps and the reeds, Berry's Creek and the Hackensack River, watching the shifting play of light and shadow at different times; it was never the same twice. 

I came to mark the passage of the seasons by the arrival, burgeoning, dwindling and departure of the egrets that stalk the Meadowlands for food.  Once in a while there would be a grand blue heron visible, as well as owls, red-winged blackbirds, and the more common groupings of ducks, seagulls and geese.

The most remarkable experience of all came one early fall morning, when a large, strikingly marked pheasant suddenly emerged from the marshes, flew right up next to my train window - mine, no one else's - and flew along parallel to the train, staying right by my window for half a minute or so, before veering off and disappearing back into the reeds.  It was an utterly astonishing moment, as if the Meadowlands had reached out to me personally and granted me that brief time with this remarkable bird as a reward for all the hours I'd spent peering at the quiet wonders out there.

I looked at the passengers around me, wanting to exclaim to someone, "Did you see that bird?"  They were all buried in their newspapers, cell phones and laptops; no one else had even noticed this splendid winged creature that had graced us with its presence.  I guess I've always been the sort of oddball that sees these things.