The two-carriage train pulls way from the station with slow revving of the engines. Like an extended cough, one that makes no dent in the conversation between a father and his boys in which the former is laying out the plan for the trip he has planned for all of them to the north coast that includes looking at the beach but not walking along the water and some fish and chips for dinner at Cromer.
Another diesel-shaped chug escapes from the machinery apparatus that makes the engine move.
A different boy emerges in the aisle and snaps a photo of the group with a disposable camera. I didn’t think they made those anymore.
The father takes a sip of something hot from the metal top of the stainless steel, insulated flask — likely tea or coffee he had prepared before setting out for the two-day journey with his boys. A few other young men, some also fathers, seem to be a part of this group, and they nod along while slightly smirking as they listen to the older man who is now starting to spin tales of his previous visits to the coast.
Another roar of the engine, a tired roar that could only barely be called a roar. The chugging is palpable, vibrating the seat cushions as if to publicly declare the effort the pistons and gears are putting in to get me and the other passengers — numbering no more than 50 by my quick estimation — to station stops between Norwich and Sheringham.
The heaving train starts to huff now, like an over enthusiastic tennis player who cares not about distracting the player on the other side of the net. We are moving steadily north. Lush greens of the landscape on either side peppered with crops of varying colors. Wheat, it seems, as well as something that grows tall like well-behaved grass.
Along the side of the railway tracks, plants lie with their roots turned up to the world, neatly arranged in haphazard patterns. This was clearly the work of human hand and not the hand of nature, as was the case across other parts of England earlier this year.
Salhouse. A bare stop, nothing fancy but still with a cream-colored metal bench on which the weary or lazy might wait for the approaching and departing trains.
And more wheat fields. Or is it dried grass? The lemon-tan color is a drastic departure from the brightly green colored fields filling the windows on the other side of the train. Spinach? This trip is clearly telling me I know next to nothing of plants, edible or otherwise, while they are still in the ground, unpicked, still growing, that is.
The sight of power lines has become surprisingly unsurprising.
I don’t know where to look when the trees and greenery closely hug the train path, offering no vistas. Only suffocating embrace.
People live here. And here. And over there.
The dad has not stopped talking. He is entertaining his boys, sharing with them the gems of his everyday wisdom, offering advice about model cars, upkeep of one’s bike, the best way to cook a trout while camping (hint: the frying pan is key).
A mosquito falls on the table in front of me, tumbling more like — as if escaping from the web of an invisible spider. The average life span of a mosquito is ____ days. This one’s demise might have come too soon at my hand, not intended in malice but rather in an attempt to save its soul.
Now dad is debating the benefits of cooking with butta versus maargereen. Are parents programmed to always assume a pedagogic posture? Is it hard wired in humans such that the arrival of progeny transforms the most measured among us into babbling, incessant narrators of experience, information, wisdom, advice, meta-analysis? Reaching in and bringing out our inner entertainer?
Shoots of some recently planted crops are visible on this only partly cloudy day. Or is it partly sunny?
The train conductor stops in front of my seat, a credit card machine hanging from her should on a think, shiny, black, braided strap. My ticket sticks to the table and I make three attempts before successfully lifting it off the table. In one swift movement, she accepts the apology I offer for my clumsiness, punches my ticket, and hands it back to me.
Pea shoots? Perhaps.
What does the in between landscape look like elsewhere? When there isn’t tree cover or greenery for miles?
A rusted out carriage behind tree cover, like out of an episode of Little House on the Prairie, the wooden wheels are large to hold up the short, tunnel-like canister on top that was once the color of Union Jack blue and that now look mottled from the weathered iron.
This train on the Bittern Line pauses in North Walsham to pick up and drop off passengers. As many get on as get off. We break even. The dad sings a few bars of a song that causes one of his boys to slap his hand over his own face. One of the boys looks back at me. And looks away, shyly.
A wispy cloud that looks stained with newspaper ink edges closer to another that is the embodiment of sea foam, more robust in holding its shape.
The dad provides information, offers encouragement, asks questions, shares memories, makes observations, shows emotions, confesses childhood transgressions as the red and brown rooftops of clustered neighborhoods pass us by.
The roadside spinach is starting to look good.
Gunton. A bit fancier than the other stations, with a proper brick station house on one side and a covered bench structure on the other.
We are approaching the water. I can feel it.
I can also read a map.
Wire affixed to wooden posts along the tracks mark the boundaries of the farmlands. Keeping us out or the owners in, I’m not sure.
The blinking blue light tells me two things: that my iPad has connected with some satellite somewhere to determine our location, as we are inching ever closer to the North Sea. And second, that I have betrayed my mission to seek out Lowestoft. For now.
Suddenly along the line of shrubbery, amidst greenery no one looks after but that makes plain its existence with avid growth, there appears a patch of Foxglove. Lavender, the color of ice cream I once ate in a garden café – the flavor was lavender basil, the silky texture formed perfect scoop-shaped globes in the earthenware dish — with flecks of white inside. Or perhaps it’s not Foxglove. I’m no whiz at flowers, neev-uh.
Ferns are the silent kings of the roadside forests.
We pass under the arch of a beautifully crafted, brick bridge. The image of bricklaying hands flashes in my mind.
“I see the sea!” “I see the sea!” “I see the sea!” “I see the sea!”
and now, in technicolor