Metro North is the name for the train that travels the most beautiful path of all, up the Hudson River, or down the Hudson River, depending on whether you get on or off at Poughkeepsie. You can take it from Grand Central, the grand central of the great city of New York or Harlem 125th Street, also a divine location. You can’t get much more Metro than these two locations.
And then that word North. True North. Climb the hill to upstate. I will tell you more about the beauty, despite the stops at Croton-Harmon. There are the rocks at Cold Spring. The view at Dobbs Ferry. The Jersey Palisades. That once-deadly corner where you turn out of Spuyten Duyvil and you know you are on your way to the magic of the Catskills. You start to rip the van twinkle. (If they call a curve in the river Spuyten Duyvil, I can call my cat Rip Van Twinkle.) always try to be awake for the sailboats along the way but the barges and the tugs command my attention even more. I have always wanted to be a tug. And while I always get a window seat, facing forward, I do enjoy the opposite from time to time and love the grasses that show off West Point on the West Shore or at Peekskill.
My Metro meets its North all the time. I am not alone. Yes, I have a place in Greenwich Village and one in Fishkill. You must know “City Mouse, Country Mouse?” The city mouse goes to visit the country mouse and both are so unhappy that their stereotypes show. Remember the way the slips we used to wear used to show? They hang below the dress or skirt they are supposed to shape. People would say with a wink, “Your slip is showing.” That meant you were improperly and incompletely dressed. The city mouse and country mouse have a slip showing. The city mouse hates the country—its food, its landscape, its air. The country mouse hates the city—its food, its crowds, its smells. Both are wrong. Both city and country are wonderful, just in different ways. I love Metro and I love North, and the train threads them.
I am usually more charmed by the trip up than I am by the trip down. But you can’t have everything. I have several friends who actually take the trip “down” daily on the 4:45am. I am jealous of them.
The trip from Beacon to Poughkeepsie now includes the place where my ashes are going to go. Yup, the walkway. The walkway over the Hudson crosses the river both ways, east and west, just like the river itself goes forwards and backwards, along with the tides. Since I could never decide whether to be a New Yorker, born in queens, or an upstater, moved to Kingston, I am having my ashes scattered from the walkway, at a stop where my indecision can be understood. It would take a great river to get my complaint.
I never really liked the city mouse or the country mouse. They were both too small. You can find beautiful nature and lettuce in cities. You can find extraordinary sophistication in the country. Read Verlyn Klinkenbourg sometime. His articles in the New York Times for years were evocations of William James and E. B. White, both at the same time.
The same nuance can be found in the stereotype of some Upstate folk unwelcoming some city refugees. Or in the way we imagine the new politics of social distancing. If you’re a blue voter, you believe in the science of social distancing. If you are a red voter, you think the science is all hyped and you go out to parking lots and drink. These stereotypes would embarrass Verlyn, who know how beautiful both the city and the country are. Thus, Metro North.
Metro North lets you appreciate the Hudson in all its moods, the way the green of spring sneaks up on you, the way the art on the Manhattan high line shows easily 80 different colors for the river. In my years of paying the senior rate of $10.75 per trip, I have seen many more than 80 colors. Shades of gray, blue, heather, brown, all making the long numbers on a paint can look trivial.
My real life goal was to travel. Remember travel? All I really did was go up and down the river, then up and down again.
Donna Schaper was born in Kingston, New York in 1947 when people wrote letters and went ice skating and had three channels. She is now Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church, where the Good Work Institute had its first meetings. She grows a great tomato at her place upstate and walks the Appalachian trail for fun.