this isn’t about trains

I have a history with train tracks. Used to walk along them to school eating bunches of dark purple grapes from a nearby vineyard. This was before the invention of Canadian wine, when Ontario grapes were only useful for jelly, juice, or Baby Duck.

I think of this whenever I walk the path beside the tracks not far from my house—I remember the boys who played chicken with oncoming trains, and a ditch of tall grasses where older kids would hide and smoke at recess. The Brew Hole it was called. Maybe they drank beer too. I wouldn’t know. I was happy enough eating stolen grapes.

I also think of hoboes [different from tramps; hoboes work] and Arlo Guthrie. I imagine a kind of romance about riding the rails, leaning up against a bale of hay, watching the world swish by through an open door.

But tonight there’s no train. Just a few kids playing soccer in the field on the far side, near the school. Their voices so clear, laughter cutting through the evening chill. They’re not even playing a game, just kicking the ball around, making the most of the weather, keeping warm.

This is just before sunset. A brilliance of mango-ey light falls across the neighbourhood, over rooftops, making windows look almost liquid. I try to capture it but it never looks right; it’s like trying to photograph fairies.

The path beside the tracks eventually connects to the street where a woman about my age is strolling with her elderly mum. The mum uses a walker and goes slow and the daughter, hands in pockets, walks slightly ahead. I hear snippets of conversation: something something term deposits. It’s partly English and partly another language and only when I get close enough do I realize it’s German. The mother is asking questions about money and the daughter is short-tempered in her answers. The mother changes the subject. The daughter remains miffed. I feel for them both, but want to tell them: this time you have together… don’t waste it.

A man puts snow tires on his car while two boys ride different sized tricycles on the sidewalk around him.

And a few houses along two girls, maybe eleven or twelve, are drawing in chalk on their driveway. They wave as I pass and smile and they’re the ones who say hello first. It occurs to me how rare this is, the smiling and waving and speaking. Children have had so much of that warned out of them. But these girls—bless their brave souls—are fearless!

I loop around through the park, head homeward, and then I hear it.

The train.

If I hurry I might be able to make it back to the path and catch at least some of it but just as I get there the last car speeds by on the other side of the trees and then—silence. All those imaginary hoboes heading off to who knows where, who knows what kind of adventure, what sights await through that open door.

The sky has gone from orange and crimson to a yellow silvery blue.

The rooftops and windows look solid again.

I find a penny on the sidewalk, new and very shiny.

I toss it over my shoulder.


“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-coloured lenses which paint the world their own hue and each shows only what lies in its own focus.”  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

8 thoughts on “this isn’t about trains

  1. Lovely, Carin. There’s something about trains, their speed, their one-track perspective that slows everything else into focus, clarity. (I’ve a history with them too, as you know.) Did you ever see the documentary “Train on the Brain” by Alison Murray?

    1. I just googled ‘Train on the Brain’… and found a trailer for the doc. From what I can tell it’s about young modern day hoboes? I’ll remember the name and if I ever come across a copy, will definitely have a look. Thank you. [Yeah, something about trains…]

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