How can a sound or a scent, a colour or a picture have so much depth of meaning to a person?  It may be a simple memory of a pleasurable experience, so cherished, that it is pregnant within us, packed with dynamic potential to burst out at even the glance of our heart. For every individual these chosen memories carry the power of influence so great as to change one’s state of mind and enhance the moment they live in.  Do you have a safe place, a special place or experience that continually enriches your life and has remained almost sacred to you from childhood?  Can you identify that special thing or event that has grown with you through the years, continually surprising you as it surrounds your life with nourishment and pleasure? That faithful event is like a companion who delights your heart by just showing up when you don’t even know you need them. But wander in they do and with all the assurance that you are alive and all is well!

Sound of the RailroadWhen we look upon this iconic memorabilia or hear, smell or feel it, life is colourful and beautiful. As we discover that private trysting place, we can choose to go there or alter our journey to allow it to find us from time to time. Either way we are entering into a rich experience abounding with the wisdom of valuing the present moment that we have been given. Each time we embrace these moments, fully indulging our senses, we are building our own personal history with it. From this place we gain a sense of belongingness and a radiant peace that finds expression, as we then in turn share our history with others. For me, this fascinating place, where I am whisked away into another world, continues to be my life long experience with trains and the sound of the railroad.

As a little girl, I loved to play in the dirt, building new pathways through forests, making roads for me and my little brother’s dinky cars and trains. It wasn’t long before I connected the play toys with the real life trains passing through our town as it tooted its horn to warn of its coming. Whether at play or tucked into bed, I could feel and anticipate the rumble of the ground long before it was heard. As far back as I can remember, I’ve lived near the vibration or sound of the railroad. One of my earliest memories is of playing out in the woods and hearing the approaching cargo as the whistle grew louder and louder until the speed on the rails exploded. The metal screeches of shifting boxcars  screamed of strength of purpose announcing their task onward to a marked destination.  Then as quickly as it came the whistle would fade off, symbolic of the few times I caught a glimpse of the caboose man’s smile disappearing into the landscape.  I was sure the lands along the railroad tracks were a wonderful and interesting place to expIore.  So I kept this dream in my heart. One day I would join the journey of exploration if even I must walk one rail at a time…and try I did. Have you ever put foot upon the wooden beams drenched in the smell of the oil stains as the metal rails shone in the sun? I remember wee wild flowers growing aside the tracks and people’s pop bottle caps left discarded as they too set out for discovery and improvement. It was at this place that I learned to value change. Life on the forward motion of train tracks meant ever-changing landscape and hard sweat, grit and determination.

As the years meandered by through the summer to autumn, I loved the nature and the outdoors and would ride my bike to the spikes and ties to ponder my transient friend. Where had they taken their cargo now and who was building with it at its destination? What were they building? How many stations had it stopped at and how far away? Is it always moving or does it rest?

As a young girl with my parents at White Rock beach, the heat coming off the tracks fascinated me as we crossed to make our way down to the beachfront. It reminded me of the warmth of the pavement on our rural country road after the hot summer sun had disappeared over the mountains. The neighbourhood kids would gather to lie down on the black tarry blanket to snuggle into its warmth and wait to watch the stars come out. The heated tracks also provided me with windows of dreaming. It became a cozy safe place of movement and of limitless possibility as I saw one rail advance to another and yet another. My gaze was set to follow the train winding and moving forward into unknown places teeming to overflowing just as the steam off the engines. It simply fascinated me and captivated my eye.

One day my Dad had some fun with us kids. As the slow moving trains that even a child could outrun came through the station, he hopped on the back and waved us goodbye with a smile. As the train left the beach area with a clickety-clack, I was amazed it was that easy and thus began a happy daydream for me. On another outing to the tracks Dad showed us how the train wheels would melt a copper penny when lain on the rails…. just the anticipation of waiting for the caboose man’s wave was thrilling, for then it was safe to collect our treasure. There was always something so mystical about trains and the sound of the railroad. No matter what stage of life I was in, the sound of the horn was like a clarion call to me. Even while in the elementary school house, I’d stare out the window dreaming of where my heart belonged on the old toot toot trail. It became as clear to me as the sapphire blue skies that the only ticket I needed to ride was bought freely with the ability to imagine.

Child rearing years were naturally busy and challenging for a young mother, often leaving me exhausted and feeling alone. Whether it was reading a book about a transcontinental Canadian railway station during story time or just driving over the railway crossings, it was the most welcoming memory the ol’ chug a chug chug chug!

Trains are a symbol of movement into past history and future hope.  They speak of persistence and strength of foundation. Every single spike doing its part to secure a path for others to travel, this is the core of my existence. There is a steadfast anchor of a brighter day for me that is held within the sound of the train’s movement. And the whistle, it sings an invitation to those who lean into its call.  Oh how I dreamed of hopping the tracks as my father did that day, only for me I was sure I would never get off. I’d ride into the crimson sunset to other lands and peoples; see new color painted skies, dancing golden wheat fields and floral decorated hills. Can you too see wild daisies blown and tossed about as the swishing of the train winds through the hillside?

With every rumble clack and horn I rediscover the safety and warmth I know the winding rails have shared with me so many times. But more importantly the railroads are an iconic invitation and opportunity for change.

The train tracks mark a place where history has become etched into the very land itself. That land is both literal and a place in one’s heart where you can walk amongst the beauty and substance of memories. The worn and tired old rail ties truly do bind me to time and while offering stability they direct my vision onwards. I can’t imagine a life without them.

The featured photo was captured this week while meandering along the tracks that once carried my friends long ago. The surrounding hills and plains display their history.  Somehow I can still hear the whistle blowing, the rails clacking and the caboose man waving with a smile.

All aboard!!!

Katherine Matthews

Photo taken in Armstrong B.C. Canada in June 2017

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment