Thursday, September 07, 2006

i was somewhere in the canadian rockies, not far from the trans-canada highway, when i saw a train that was going the same direction i was, and slipped onto a little back porch of a boxcar as it was starting out. it was very noisy and i didn't see much, looking out from between cars, but what i saw was incredibly beautiful. we got out of the town, lake louise maybe, and were following a river through some stunning mountains that rose dramatically from the train tracks. the air was fresh, and it was a beautiful day, a little cold, and i couldn't take it any longer, so i left my pack there on the little porch, and climbed the little ladder to the top of the box car.

up there it was stunning- i could now see the mountains going all the way up, to where there was even snow, way on the top of some of them. pines blanketed them and an occasional waterfall dropped its fresh water beneath the tracks and into the river. the train was long and i couldn't see either end; looking back was easier because the wind wasn't in my face. i sat there on the ladder, on the side of the car, facing backwards, taking for granted the steady rumble of the train, and looking at the mountain scenery. i saw a few animals that were apparently not afraid of the train, deer, or elk; the highway, however, was a ways away, and i lost track of it. there were no people in sight, no houses, no cars, no mountain climbers. below the tracks, and following them, the river gurgled a little, and shined in the sun.

the wide wild west just seemed incredibly expansive, full of possibilities, full of life, more than a lungful of fresh mountain air. but suddenly i felt a vacuum at my shoulder. luckily i ducked- suddenly we were in a tunnel. i hadn't foreseen this at all. i don't know what made me duck, right then, at the last minute- it was like the wind behind me just died right out. with my head down now, in total darkness, i was afraid to move even an inch, because i knew that i was on the side of the boxcar, and the walls of the tunnel would not be too much above me. glancing toward the back of the train, i saw a tiny hole of light receding into nothing. total darkness, and nothing but the noise of the train echoing infinitely around the walls of the tunnel. i didn't dare move a muscle- all i could think of was how lucky i was that that mountain hadn't just knocked me right off the boxcar, and down between the cars.

but, sure enough, a few full minutes later, we came out the other side of the tunnel, and now the mountain, and the tunnel itself, receded into the past, a small black hole becoming smaller and smaller. i was back out in the full sunlight again, mountains rising on both sides of me, sun shining above. the river, still sparkling, following the tracks, the only witness to what had happened. it would have never told the story, but i had to: i still see that tiny little light, receding into the distance. and i get the feeling that seeing the big picture might be dangerous- but what's traveling through a place, knowing you may not be back in a few years, and NOT at least trying to get a good view? it was only on a train that, alone, i'd experience whole western valleys, vistas, and feel that, in life's journey, our souls can only occupy our boxcar for a short while - and just hope that the great yard dick doesn't close both doors on us while we're taking a nap...

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