The Amtrak Cascades

These long green lines and crushed stone, these flashing waves and soft horizons, these near stacked logs and distant white peaks—we think this is beautiful. We do. We all do. We share this fixed gaze, our silence, our reluctant blinks. These sudden pines and then the brilliant blue and we pull in our breath to hold the scene.


I’m rushed and my shins ache from walking quickly through these city streets to this train station which has a line, a long line, and I’m stopped at the end of it, feeling my heart. We wait and shuffle and check phone and wait. Four Chinese students pick up their seat assignments and I’m next and there’s my passport and he’s tearing off this assignment ticket—my fortune—and I’m worried and I ask “Is this on the left side of the train?” We are going North and the left side seat is the Sound and the Bay and the Cascade mountains and the right side is to be a cliff and an industrial park and disappointment.

She returns my passport. “We’re only giving out tickets on the left,” she smiles. Yes. Our eyes touch for a second. I am not the only one who needs to take this in. We all capture air and take food and this beauty—we all need this. And so here we are with these big windows and long stares and a silent horizon at a 78 miles per hour.

Our train is rushing up the coast—Edmonds and Bellingham—tickling the edges of Puget Sound. As we move our hearts endure these little deaths. Each gentle turn brings a new gasp—this bay framed in glory, this dock rushing to the horizon, these seagulls gripping the sky. The light dashes past our eyes and slips into our soul and we breathe like pleasure and goodness can’t be lost.

Then it’s gone. Our speed rips the scene away. In seconds we’ve fallen in love—timeless love—and then it vanishes. We blink. Our left hand drops our camera to our lap. We mourn. The death of beauty.

And then a gentle turn brings a new resurrection.


At ten-thirty, the need for coffee gets me out of my seat and towards the dining car. I am reluctant to leave my picture window, but we’ve found a patch of tunnels and power cables and the water has temporarily receded from view. I find the rear door to the train car—it steps aside with whoosh and clank, and step into the next car, the aisle and seats in rows. Faces are towards the windows and I walk by row and rows and into the next car and the next. The last door slides and this car is different: dark. A family has every curtain drawn, light angrily at the edges as each strains to see a dim laptop they’ve placed in the center. Here at least, Netflix has won over nature.


It was once the clouds had sunk back in and the straits traded for city parking that I could write here and wonder. I think it was just this: that the beauty was not only the brilliant greens and lonely mountains, but the shared need for them.

Us together on the Amtrak Cascades.


Past the words, here's a 28-second timelapse of my photos from the Amtrak Cascades train line: