The Slow Train Through Hudson

The train from the New York City’s Penn Station doesn’t feel different from the last time I took it. It was late February and the city—even Hudson—was delightfully warm. You needed a jacket, but didn’t need to bundle. On the train that February, I buried myself in work since leaving the city for a work day meant doubling up to make it worth it. As it stood, the trip was work. It was Nina’s place that called me: her small apartment, her vintage eye, the street-found furniture that was placed in corners of her home, making it like tiny museums in Mexico, Botswana, or her native Sweden. Every art piece had a story, which she told me as I tipped my body over her daughter’s bed, bit into apples, sorted a plate of oranges at the center of her kitchen table, and shared space and air without fearing that I may be carrying a virus that would get her sick. 

The news about the virus back then was real, but to us, to New Yorkers, it didn’t hit us yet. It was far away. It was still in China, or slowly traveling to Europe, we heard. We shared sandwiches in Maker Hotel, and spit-laughed over aperol spritzes. It was the first time in a year I had seen my friend, Alexa, whose son’s second cancer battle was still raging. (He is a fire-beam old man of a child.) She spent days going back and forth from the city to Hudson, trading twins and hospital rooms, rotations, and we heard rumors from doctors and nurses. Alexa had done it twice now, and in truth, her ears were already tuning to the virus we couldn’t see yet. Mothers like her have a sense that isn’t afforded to the rest of us. It’s like she could sense the pH balance in the air had shifted.

Night had started to fall in Hudson by the time I caught the train that would slowly shuffle me back to the city, back to my children, and the sitter I would tap out after dinner and right before bed. As we walked on Warren towards Alexa’s car, someone she knew (a stranger to me) casually gave her a hug, then once dropping her arms, mentioned she just got back off a plane from China that morning. She dismissed the dismay with an “I’m fine!” and a wave of the hand as we slowly took steps to separate our bodies from her own. We gave a swift goodbye and went to Alexa’s car where her hands rapidly shook the contents of hand sanitizer onto one palm and the next, rubbing them together and apart in the ways the hospital teaches you. Two weeks later, I went to three pharmacies, a Walgreens, and two delis to find not a bottle in sight.

On the train home that night, I thought about that moment with that stranger and Alexa, though not much about the virus itself. It wasn’t tangible for me. But the transgression, maybe even, if I dare, the slight violence of it all, yes. That I considered.

The train was so slow back to the city, and the darkness hid the trees squeezing around the metal machine and my brown body. The only thing left to do on a train back from Hudson is wonder, which I am awfully good at. My mind kept coming back to this: When do we materialize someone’s struggles as our own? So that we respect their fears and, ultimately, their truth?

***

For the ride there this August, I took no work, just bags of clothes and hand sanitizers that remind of Alexa, plus two children, masks, and the energy necessary to eject myself from the city. On the train, the trees still hug us and we wonder what’s planted beyond the brush and how deep is that water and why does the moss look so green? I’m busy answering questions, allowing the sway of the train to rock me like someone’s baby. I can’t think too much of February. It seems a whole lifetime away; but I am still monitoring, for that person out there for whom the virus still rages. In New York, we live with the virus, with those who may have gone, with the sisters, brothers and aunts of those who may have departed. Maybe we don’t know them, but still we assume their pain, their fears, their loss.

Currently, Hudson is full of people who left the city in an effort to be close to it but not in it. There have been all-cash offers on houses that had been on the market for months and years. Who has all cash in a pandemic? Well, a certain kind of few. These people are not transient. They are people whose second homes are now the first, who will be a part of a large shift in Hudson, where black-and-white Black Lives Matter signs hang on every window.

But we are just visitors for a few days at the end of August, during the slow drip to September. Visitors willing to spend money locally and blend in–or not, depending on who you ask. Hudson for a few days without work, without a peek at social media or emails, is a place for me to step inside of myself again. I needed to reattach to my shell, its safety. A pandemic and an uprising have given way to the melody of ambulances, helicopters, police sirens, and nightly chanting, “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” Living, quite literally, at the intersection of it for nearly half a year, does something to the system. Working through it, raising kids through it, does something to a woman.

But there’s Hudson and the slow train ride there. Our walks through town are slow, too. I peel back the layers I’ve collected, like bags we carried up that Warren Hill. We stayed in a home with terrible coffee. At night, Alexa arrived on my temporary porch with palo santo. I pushed the lawn chairs six feet apart, taking measures before she arrived. In the morning, we visited L, W, and A on their island, which she likes to playfully call a compound. A compound in which veggies sprout up to be picked by children, tables and chalk for play, and the sound of birds. Alexa dances to their tunes. Her clothes hang to dry in the distance, and I am in awe. It’s a sign of the pandemic, but a sign of living–possibly even thriving!–in these times. We entered a little bubble, and our children said separately and at the same time, it was the best day of their lives.

When not with Alexa, River, Oak and I found places to explore. I brought the film camera and requested they hold still as I pulled the lever. I realized I zipped up into myself. It took a day or two, or maybe it was the train. It could very well have been seeing my friend and chatting from behind our masks, six feet apart, and shouting, “You’re okay?” and “I’m okay!”

The rocking train home lulled O into a deep sleep, his six-year-old body stretched across two seats, and there was just enough light to catch the sun duck behind the Hudson as the trees and wind carried us back to the city.

(Photographs shot on film during our time in Hudson, NY)

31 thoughts on “The Slow Train Through Hudson

  • Reply Anne September 8, 2020 at 8:58 pm

    Loved this so very much.

    • Reply latonya September 8, 2020 at 11:14 pm

      thank you for reading, Anne

  • Reply Leslie September 8, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    Sooooo lovely. A quiet and grounding essay in a time when I’ve needed it. Thank you!

    • Reply latonya September 8, 2020 at 11:15 pm

      I love that you found it grounding. Thank you 🤎

    • Reply Margarita September 9, 2020 at 2:17 pm

      Beautiful thoughts

      • Reply Gwen September 10, 2020 at 10:41 pm

        Loved reading this

    • Reply Erica September 10, 2020 at 8:09 am

      What a pleasure to read. Thanks so much for sharing both the hardship and beauty of these times.

  • Reply Claude September 8, 2020 at 9:07 pm

    So beautifully written and captured. We went to Hudson for a day while upstate and it was quite lovely. I’m glad the children enjoyed that fresh country air.

    • Reply latonya September 8, 2020 at 9:16 pm

      I thought of you a lot. Literally said, I wonder if she’s done with the house? bahaha gives you a day. I’m so happy you all got to spend so much time away this summer as well.

      • Reply Sara Lynn September 8, 2020 at 9:25 pm

        Amazing photos! Love seeing these faces on film

        • Reply latonya September 8, 2020 at 11:15 pm

          the best stoop purchase 😉

  • Reply Juliana September 8, 2020 at 9:25 pm

    Loved reading this. The island seems magical.

    Hudson is a charming but oftentimes odd place! The BLM signs strike a dissonance to me. When I was there earlier this summer there was a GoFundMe for the West Indian store near the new Ca’Mea. It took a long time for it to get funded, but it finally did. In a place where folks can put all cash offers on a house, why was it so hard to raise $26k for this community pillar? Sigh. There’s such a commitment to display the BLM signs, but I don’t know that there’s a commitment to justice or equity.

    Some ramble thoughts.

    • Reply latonya September 8, 2020 at 11:19 pm

      Hi Juliana,

      I hear you. I actually just read an article (while taking a writing break) about this. It kind of narrowed in on the dislocation of Black people who grew up in hudson, long term white residence (many of which, are poor and have limited housing) and the white residents who are just moving in (many of which are wealthy). But also the reality that is: Hudson is funded by tourism. It’s interesting to see this play out in who gets funded and why, because of the obvious. Thank you.

  • Reply Melissa September 8, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you for sharing – such an accurate depiction of Hudson. I had to move back from abroad this May and ended up settling here for a bit. It’s been nice and pleasant and peaceful just as you describe! A lot to observe and witness here as well.

  • Reply Taylor September 8, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    This was such a beautiful read, and precious photos too. Thank you ❤️

  • Reply SaSaDi September 8, 2020 at 9:55 pm

    Loved reading this and so glad you had this little escape to feel the slowness of life and the little bubbles outside the city. We had a similar experience spending time in Greenport last month – a taste of life kind of away from it all, just enough to find ourselves again, to refuel and then return to the city for all its rawness.

  • Reply Briana September 8, 2020 at 10:21 pm

    Beautiful piece!

    • Reply latonya September 8, 2020 at 10:31 pm

      thank you!

  • Reply Kathryn September 8, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    Beautiful essay and photos – thank you. I particularly appreciated these questions, this wondering that means so much: “When do we materialize someone’s struggles as our own? So that we respect their fears and, ultimately, their truth?”

    • Reply latonya September 8, 2020 at 11:25 pm

      Hi Kathryn,

      I’ve been thinking about this a lot— especially when it comes to the virus and invisible illness and those at-risk (when antiquing a man who I was buying stuff from asked me (politely) if I’d be willing to stand back a few more feet though I had on a mask etc because he was taking medicine that lowered his immune system and left him immune compromised— which puts him in particular risk for the virus. At the same time, the argument and call— as see even on the streets in Hudson, for Black lives to simply matter— to white people, our system and our government, puts this sort of wondering in a different light. It all matters all the time. The fundamental problem with Americans is the inability to see our neighbors issues as our own— which in and of itself is community ethics.

  • Reply Anna V September 8, 2020 at 10:38 pm

    So lovely to see Hudson through your eyes and words! I’m glad you could have this time here with such a sweet family. This city is a special and complicated place with a lot of work to be done to support our longtime residents.

    • Reply latonya September 8, 2020 at 11:27 pm

      Thank you for reading Anna. I enjoyed it (always do) and want to go back 🤎🤎

  • Reply Katie September 8, 2020 at 11:03 pm

    Wow – a beautiful essay. A lovely mark at the end of summer.

    • Reply latonya September 8, 2020 at 11:27 pm

      Thank you, Katie 🤎

  • Reply Nicole Sheehan September 9, 2020 at 3:05 am

    Just finished watching your recap on stories about your time away and staying unplugged. I see you and hear you loud and clear so here I am 😉 I love the way your write about your world and the world around it. Always have, always will. People are really missing out if they only catch snippets of you in an instagram caption or a story thread. I was particularly sensitive to what you wrote, “When do we materialize someone’s struggles as our own? So that we respect their fears and, ultimately, their truth?” I’ve lived my whole life being highly highly sensitive to noticing and taking in others’ struggles and desires. I had no idea what a gift that was and what I could make of it until the buzz word “empath” started popping up. It’s sometimes a hard position to be in because I constantly feel the weight of the world on my shoulders (albeit as it may I can never truly understand what a person is actually going through), but just know my ears are open. Love you and thanks for always inviting us in.

    • Reply latonya September 9, 2020 at 10:27 pm

      Nicole, I love you! I also always appreciate your DM’s. I totally know you are an empath and tbh thinking of why I needed to reroute some energy was simply because of that too. Just sucked in and unable to untangle myself. I wish it was a way to more easily spread what we’ve got around, I imagine that people would get it a little better. And maybe that’s why i posed the question.

      I appreciate you. 🤎

  • Reply Ryan September 9, 2020 at 9:20 am

    Long time follower, first time commenting. Everything about this was just so dreamy and beautiful. Thanks for sharing your vision ❤️

    • Reply latonya September 9, 2020 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks Ryan for commenting and following.

      xo

  • Reply Michelle September 9, 2020 at 9:26 am

    This was beautiful

  • Reply Priscilla W September 9, 2020 at 7:56 pm

    I love this essay ! You are a really good writer

  • Reply Maureen Bleeker Paal September 13, 2020 at 11:41 am

    I literally am sitting in the sunshine, reading this post and smiling. Your writing does that. Virtual hugs x

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