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Harrington: Frost In Transit

02/11/11 7:55AM By Elaine Harrington
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(HOST) Two memorable occasions - both involving snowstorms and Robert Frost - have convinced commentator Elaine Harrington that poetry and public transportation are a good combination.

(HARRINGTON) A few years ago, I became a frequent rider on Amtrak's Vermonter train to Washington, D.C., while living on Capitol Hill. I would walk to Union Station and travel all the way home to Montpelier. This was amazing, for a previously car-dependent Vermonter.

One February morning, during a heavy snowstorm, I boarded the train in Montpelier Junction for the return trip south. As we slipped through Northfield Falls and headed on to Randolph, I watched the soft banks of snow building up. It was so beautiful - and it felt timeless, as if we could have been on that train, in that snowstorm, 150 years before.

Suddenly, the conductor made an announcement. He began:

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow."

... and so forth.

With lovely intonation, he had recited "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost.  Our conductor explained that whenever there was a snowstorm on that stretch of track, he always felt called upon to recite this poem. He hoped that people hadn't minded.

The scattered passengers and I clapped - our long journey had been brightened by a unique, Vermont moment.

The second time I heard Frost recited on public transportation during a snowstorm was two winters ago.

I'm now a regular commuter on the CCTA Link Express bus that runs between Montpelier and Burlington. The trip that involved poetry left Burlington around 5:30 p.m., on a bitterly cold evening.  Our driver greeted us as we boarded the warm bus and settled in for a relaxing trip home.

His first stop in Richmond was without incident, and we got back on I-89. But five or six miles west of Waterbury, the bus started making odd noises. Our driver pulled over to the shoulder, where the bus absolutely died. He tried a few things and then called the bus company.

They would send a replacement, he told us. But it might take a while for them to find an available bus during commuting hours. Some sighs were heard - but we kept on reading our books and magazines. Then all the lights went out.

As the dark minutes went by, the body heat that we'd created began to dissipate. Our driver reassured a nervous passenger and gave us frequent updates.

He then began to provide a bit of entertainment as snow started to fall.  

First, he read from his annual review, sharing compliments about his driving and friendliness. Then a long pause. We really were ready for that second bus.

Our driver then faced us again. He wanted to recite a poem appropriate to the occasion, and he hoped that we wouldn't mind. We told him to go ahead, and he did.

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though."

... and so forth.

Another memorable moment on public transportation in Vermont. We applauded our driver warmly - and then enjoyed a few minutes of calm reflection about winter and life before the rescue bus arrived.

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