The other day I found myself waiting at the railway crossing east of town for a freight train to pass.
Minute after minute passed by like the boxcars on the train. Without realizing it, my mind’s eye eventually began to focus on several white clouds that seemed to be suspended motionless in the sky above.
My thoughts began to drift back to summer days when I was a kid, standing near the railway tracks, watching and waving as a train went whizzing by.
Sometimes, when a passenger train would go by, I would wave to the passengers looking out the window. I would wonder where they were heading and what adventures might lie ahead of them in some distant part of the world. How many times did I wish that it was me on the inside, looking out at the world passing by?
Back then I felt sort of like a cloud that was doomed to just hang around, in a vast empty expanse of sky, waiting forever, for even the slightest hint of a breeze that might blow me away to somewhere else – far away. I still feel like that sometimes.
I remember when I was about nine or 10, I used to stand in the tall grass that grew not far from our house and wait for a train to come by. I remember how the grass was so tall and stretched so far that I could totally disappear into what seemed like a huge ocean of green waves that seemed to wash over and consume me. When a train did come by, I would shout out at the top of my lungs. Everything would be drowned out by the noise of the train. Lost in the sound and fury of the moment, I couldn’t even hear my own voice as the train passed. Then as quickly as it had come the train would be gone and everything would be back to normal.
Sometimes I would meet up with my cousin Charlie at our grandmother’s house. She had a big raspberry patch out back so we would dig for worms before walking along the tracks to make our way to the other side of town. There was a railway trestle just above where the creek flows into the lake. Back then you could always count on a few nice trout to be caught in the waters below. The trestle is now long gone and there isn’t much of a creek left to flow into the lake – not since they built the golf course.
I remembered another time when I was by myself walking along the tracks with my bow and arrow. A freight train came by and I took a potshot at a passing boxcar that had an image of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep painted on its side. I was so impressed with myself when I hit the sheep, but I was a little less impressed as I watched my arrow fade off into the distance, stuck in the side of the boxcar. The tracks still run by the old house where my grandmother use to live, although I don’t know how many trains still come by these days.
They built the “great steel rail” and called it progress. Now progress has deemed the railway a thing of the past. The old house sort of looks the worse for wear these days. A lot of good Sunday suppers and wonderful memories were had in that old house though. However, a lot of trains and a lot of years have passed by too. Strangers now live there. The last time I drove by there, I noticed that nature was pushing back. Weeds and wildflowers, bushes and bull rushes, tall grasses and greenery of all sorts seem to be encroaching on that thin, winding strip of ground where the rail lines run. I also could not help but notice that, in spite of all the carbon emissions that contaminate the ground beneath the rails, wild raspberries are growing in great numbers, as well as the purple and mauve lupines that have sprung up, in abundance, all along the rail line.
It’s funny how when you are sitting, waiting for a train to go by, your thoughts can sometimes get carried off like those passengers looking out the windows on those trains so long ago, or that boxcar with the image of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep painted on its side.
I guess there is a part of me that will always want to wave to a train as it goes by.