I never expected that the most memorable image of a two-week rail and ferry journey encompassing the nation's capital, the Connecticut and Rhode Island coasts, the island of Martha's Vineyard, and the shores of two Great Lakes would flash by the train window within my own adopted home state – and certainly not as we approached Chicago across flat, tiresome northern Indiana.
I had all but dozed off among the cornfields when Charlie suddenly fumbled for our little disposable camera and handed it across the compartment to me, gesturing out the window (he was facing forward, and the train was rapidly leaving the scene).
We'd just whipped by an Amish woman standing at a crossing holding her buggy horse steady, her arm raised in a shy wave. By the time I snapped the picture, she and the animal were diminutive in the distance, but the camera took in the country road curving up toward a big Midwestern barn and silo – and a cumulus-laden sky that N.C. Wyeth might have brushed.
I thought back on all we'd seen – dozens of brightly clothed white-water rafting parties along the New River Valley of West Virginia (from the Cardinal, Amtrak's train linking Chicago and Washington D.C.); the big, bold skyline of Manhattan; the lighthouse, water-dashed rocks, and quiet tidal pools of Beavertail, R.I. (visited during a two-day stop with friends in East Greenwich, a beautiful little New England harbor town); the sailboats bobbing in the wake of our ferry to and from Martha's Vineyard and the winding green path across our hosts' salt marsh to Chilmark Pond; and finally the wildflower-bordered towpath we biked next to the Erie Canal, east of Rochester, N.Y.
All were vivid, photogenic images. Yet, unused to taking pictures, we often forgot to bring out the camera.
But something about the Amish woman and her horse at the rural crossing asked to be recorded. The Midwest had come home to us – and we to it – in one fleeting moment.