04 September 2009

Advance notice

A two-engine, 32 car freight train went through Ridge Spring this afternoon while I gallery sat. I could hear it coming before it appeared, and, given the gallery's location -- off Highway 23 and slightly behind the Civic Center, I couldn't tell its direction until the first engine appeared directly across from the standing-open front doors, headed toward Columbia.

I never tire of the sound. My pulse quickens at least a mere bit at the first hint of a train's heavy rumble, of the faint far-off warning of the two-toned, almost discordant horn.

It's always been that way, my earliest memory of trains being summer vacations at my mother's parents' home in Milford MI. Hot, still summer nights in the upstairs bedroom, east-facing and overlooking the Atlantic and S Houghton Street intersection. How many trains tore through that little town each night? One, maybe two, I suppose. But, I remember it as the single most significant feature of Milford nights. That and sometime in the night the sticky sweat of that unairconditioned space giving way to a delightful coolness and a crisp sheet drawn up by morning. The gallery is unairconditioned, too. Hence, the standing-open front doors. Another connection, I suppose.

Until this summer and our Alaska excursion, the only trains I'd ever ridden were in metropolitan areas, basically buses on tracks, getting around San Francisco, Portland, going from Lafayette Hill into Philadelphia and from the Alexandria area to New York City and Baltimore. The extent of my "real" train travel had occurred only across Hungary, France, Belgium and in Great Britain where the schedule is convenient for the traveler and accurate to the minute, the experience in general one of remarkable hospitality. (Well, I might not include Hungary in that front, remembering now bayonet-equipped firearms toted by military personnel and confiscated money ...) Here on the east coast when distant friends have wanted to travel by train for a visit we've been required to be at the station in Columbia at 2:30AM to retrieve or to drop off, a schedule that doesn't count as convenient for anyone.

It's all romance, I know it is, this fascination. The tracks hugging the river under a towering cliff along the Hudson or the Columbia, that undulating line just under the horizon, likely some 100 miles away, on the Great Plains, the lonely whistle echoing through the hollows along the Appalachian Trail.

Someone is going somewhere, to interesting unknown places. I want to go, too.

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