There was a time when I would have been annoyed at having to wait for a train to pass. I would have been in a hurry to go or get back from somewhere. I would have thought my time too valuable to just sit there waiting. My, how things change!
The other day, I was stopped at a railway crossing near Chase waiting for the Rocky Mountaineer to go by. A passenger onboard waved to me. I mindlessly waved back. As it rolled past, my thoughts drifted to summer days of long ago when I used to walk along the railway tracks near my grandmother’s house. Whenever a passenger train would pass by, I would stand at the side of the tracks and wave to people looking out the windows, wondering where they were heading, where they had come from and what adventures lay ahead for them farther on down the line. I used to wish it was me onboard, looking out as the train took me somewhere far away. Back then, I felt like a cloud that was doomed to just hang around waiting for even the slightest hint of a breeze to blow me somewhere far away. I still feel like that sometimes.
As a kid, I remember sitting amid the tall grass that grew in a field not far from our house. Back then, the grass seemed so tall. I was a lot smaller. To me it just stretched out so far in all directions that I could totally disappear into what seemed like a huge ocean of green waves. When a train would come by, I would yell and shout at the top of my lungs. Everything would be drowned out by the sound of the train. I wouldn’t even hear my own voice. It would be lost in the fury of the moment. Then the train would pass and all would be back to normal. Once again I would be stuck there alone, adrift in my sea of green.
Often when I’m stuck at a railway crossing somewhere, waiting for a train to pass, I think about the words to Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railway Trilogy. I think the two of us share a similar sense of wanderlust. I also cannot help but wonder if Lightfoot ever found himself waiting at a railway crossing somewhere and ended up writing some of the lines to his song.
“There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run, when the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun. Long before the white man and long before the wheel, when the deep dark forest was too silent to be real.”
It would seem Lightfoot and I also share a similar perspective on the history of the railway. How many trees, how many forests were cut down to build that railway? How many streams and spawning beds destroyed, how many lives altered, how many dreams dashed?
Yes, it can be said it was a different time back then when people had different attitudes, especially about the environment. The country was ‘a growin,’ but not without its growing pains. The railway may have changed a nation, but time has a way of changing everything.
While I sat there waiting for the Rocky Mountaineer to go by, thinking about the words to Lightfoot’s song, remembering experiences from my youth, I also realized a lot of time has passed since Lightfoot wrote his song. He recorded it back in 1967.
Things have indeed changed. In many areas of this vast country, trains are not what they used to be.
Where once steel rails shone brightly, weeds and wildflowers, bushes and bull rushes seem to be ever encroaching on the remaining thin strips of ground where rail lines still run.
The ‘great steel rail’ was built in the name of progress. Now progress seems to have deemed the railway unnecessary – a thing of the past.