Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"In Every Wood... a Different Green"

I woke up this Minnesota morning to heavy rain. We're talkin' cats and dogs. It's not something I've seen much since I started living in the high desert. Yes, we get our so-called monsoon season, consisting mostly of afternoon rains of short duration. This is rain that turns everything soggy, in a good way.

Yes, I'm still here, in the land of my youth, spending time with family and old friends. I've been doing some back road driving, some revisiting of places I've lived, houses full of my memories. Yesterday I drove by the house we moved to when I was thirteen, on Birch Lake, in Hackensack. My memories of canoeing that lake are among my favorites. There's something about the rhythm, the cadence of paddling, that speaks to me, lulls me into a fine and familiar place. On the water, surrounded by green, is a nice place to just Be.

My parents had a small cafe and rented canoes on the side. There were four of them on a rack on the end of the building. They were beautiful in red, yellow, turquoise, and white. We had our pick of colors most days. My sister, Jane, and I would carry it two blocks to the beach where we'd push off for an hour or two of paddling the shoreline. We were early teen-agers and having the time of our lives.

I plan to do some canoeing, as soon as it stops raining. I'm not complaining, though. It is so green, so lush, and it smells really good. I'm reminded of these lines from a poem by Tolkien:

"I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen;
in every wood, in every spring,
there is a different green."

And so it is. And Life goes on...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Trains in the Distance

I just arrived in the land of my youth, Minnesota, after two days on the road. I usually stay in North Platte just because it's the place I run out of steam. A friend, Murad Sayen, had mentioned in an email that it has a huge railyard, lots of trains coming and going. He has photographed some amazing railroad graffiti and is a wonderful artist. He did a painting he titled "Night Train". It has been acquired by collectors, but I've included an image, as it's a nice reminder of when trains and train stations were more a part of our consciousness.

It reminds me of the trains of my childhood. We lived a quarter of a mile from my grandparents house, which was next to the tracks. I heard stories of my grandmother, Lila, feeding the hobos who rode the rails back in the Great Depression, the one in the 1930's. I suppose their place was "marked" by those who knew she was willing to feed them, which was the practice then.

As a child, I had the train schedule memorized and would run down the dirt road, hot sand under my barefeet , and get to the top of the hill in time to watch the trains go by. I loved their mystery, their strength, the sound of the whistle which always blew as it passed the crossing next to my grandparents house. I dreamed of ridin' the rails myself, going someplace else, anywhere that would take me away, to be heading out west where destiny awaited. I knew then I was pulled to the West in some romantic, maybe even karmic way. It spelled excitement, adventure, a new way of life that I thought would fit me to a T.

My cousins had lived down the highway, but moved to a town a couple of hours away when I was eight. It might as well have been in another universe. Except for the trains. Each summer my sister, Jane, and I would be put on the train to visit them for a few days. We loved the trip, seeing a bit of the backcountry as we went. I felt special, as though my mundane existence was suddenly loaded with possibility. The open road, of sorts, which has always appealed to me.

We spent a few days doing foolish things, like racing their horses at full gallop down the dirt road, which was forbidden by my Aunt Lorna; piling into my Uncle Fay's new hammock, which, of course, broke. Stupid stuff kids do without thinking...

We thought our cousin, Mark, was the coolest guy we knew and loved him madly. Shelley, his sister, was our friend, but Mark was a guy, mysterious, the Other. His was a life of adventure, breaking the rules. No playing with a dollhouse. I didn't want to pretend to have a life, I wanted the real thing; one adventure after another. I guess I still do.

We rode the train back a few days later, often in the dark, and it was always bittersweet. We liked knowing we were going home, but hated to have the adventure end.

I still love to see trains as I drive cross-country, sometimes near Wagon Mound, which carries with it that western, "where the deer and the antelope play" feel to it. Many of the boxcars say Santa Fe on them. It seems, looking back, sort of prescient, as though I was getting messages then, whether I recognized them or not, about my life, the direction it would take. I believe we get signs everywhere once we start becoming more aware. But, that's for another time, a different post.

Paul Simon has a song, one of my favorites, with the line, "Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance...everybody thinks it's true." It's about love hanging on for dear life, but it speaks to me of the longing that I have come to associate with trains and limitless possibilities.