I love trains. And I love windows. When I’m on a train, I love looking out the window. It doesn’t matter how often I ride the train…I never get bored with the view because each time I look out the window I notice new things. It seems very few other people look out the window. I’ve seen this phenomenon while taking the train into New York City, as well as riding SEPTA into Philadelphia. Once, riding into NYC, I noticed that the only person other than me who was looking out the window was a young child who looked to be about 8 years old. It’s almost like not looking out the window is part of our culture. Here’s a picture from my most recent train ride:
Why aren’t they looking out the window? Some of them are reading, which is a worthwhile activity. Some of them are on headphones, listening to music, which can also be worthwhile. Some of them are talking on cell phones. If they’re talking on a cell phone, in my opinion, they’re really missing out by not looking out the window…because, *gasp*, it’s possible to do both at once!
What do I see out the window?
Ecosystems: One of the most interesting things I see from the train is a diversity of ecosystems. Here is an example of one of the many wetlands I see from the train:
In addition to passing wetlands, on the way to Philadelphia, I also pass the Delaware river, some forested areas, suburban yards, and lots of disturbed industrial ground. There’s even a US EPA Superfund site, the 12th Street Dump, which I noticed from the sign labeling it as a superfund site. The EPA website describes this area as being contaminated with toxic levels of lead. This is something I’d rather know about than go on unaware of. If I had not looked out the window, I would never have thought to research this area, and I would never have learned about that site.
Looking out the window on a train is a great way to see ecosystems coping with human disturbance, and spot areas that need environment cleanup, because train tracks (including many passenger lines) tend to be built close to industrial areas. However, besides the plainly evident tragedies of humans damaging the environment, there is also a lot of beauty to be seen. The picture of the wetland above shows a great egret. Other birds I saw on the same day include a great blue heron, wood duck, a flock of canada geese, a northern flicker (woodpecker), a killdeer, and many more common birds. I see many birds every time I ride the train.
I also see beautiful trees and flowers. Everything changes seasonally…new flowers bloom at different times of year…trees leaf out, grow, bloom, fruit, turn colors, and lose their leaves. The birds change, as migrants travel south for the winter and new migrants arrive here from further north, bringing a myriad of diving ducks and sparrows, many of which can be spotted, with some effort, from the train window.
Some of the observations I have made out the window could have ecological value in the right hands. I spotted an invasion of Kudzu out the window…this is the farthest north that I have ever seen Kudzu grow. Kudzu is one of the most problematic and devastating ecological invaders, and it’s important to keep an eye on it, especially at the edges of its range where it could be expanding.
Poverty and Economic Decline: On the way to downtown Philadelphia, the train passes through Chester, PA. Chester is a small, poor, mostly African-American city located on the Delaware river about halfway between Wilmington and Philadelphia. Sometimes I wonder if people don’t look out the window because they don’t want to face the reality of what’s out there. The heart of downtown Chester, pictured below, is one sight that I suspect some passengers may be avoiding:
This town exists in a state of economic ruin. The downtown business district, with buildings that show signs of once housing a vibrant commercial area, is almost completely boarded up. The only business that I saw that showed any sign of being open recently was a tax-preparation outfit advertising “Tax Refund in 1 Day”: likely a predatory operation designed to suck more money out of the people who have the least of it to begin with.
Every time I pass these buildings, and I see how many people get on the train at the station (the city is clearly not abandoned), I ask myself: “Why can’t we fix this?” I’m not close to finding a comprehensive answer to this question, but the one thought popped into my head: “Could it be because we don’t look out the window?”
Fun things out the window:
Even on a train that runs mostly through poor and industrial areas, there are a lot of beautiful sights and fun surprises to be seen out the window. To conclude on a positive note, here is a picture of two historic trolleys in the SEPTA trolley yard, which I saw while riding the same train on a different day.
You never know what you might see if you look out the window!
What can you do?
- Ride trains and look out the window.
- Tell people about the exciting, fun, beautiful, sad, important, or silly things that you saw while looking out the window on a train.