BECOMING BETTER

Jean Croker Petke


Trains and Other Interruptions

Trains and Other Interruptions

I’ve been living on a different schedule lately. Some might say I’ve been in an alternate universe. Many say I’ve not been home much.

I’ve been listening to stories and hanging out with friends in the fall mountains. I’ve been tailgating wherever convenient and enjoying a roaring fire. I’ve been alone with my music in the wee hours. I’ve gone to bed early, risen before dawn, and forgotten to check the time.

I want to share a few moments with you — moments that would have caused anxiety and stress and delay in my city life. These are the moments I brought home with me — moments I savor and moments that remind me to slow down.

In Jonesborough, TN, the train tracks run very close to the storytelling tents. Very close. So close that the rumbling drowns out the performing voices. We can partially see the train cars through a tent opening and we hear the whistle announcing the crossings. We wait. And wait. Once the train is gone the teller resumes as if there were no interruption. I marvel at how easily the train disrupts our program, but no one minds. I remember again watching the occasional trains with their black steam engines near my childhood home, and waiting until the red caboose vanished from sight.

In West Virginia I travelled with friends on the twisting back roads, following the river and crossing the mountains. Our two-lane asphalt road with center line narrowed to unlined asphalt, to gravel, to dirt. At the flagman’s direction, we stopped. The music of a cool breeze and rushing water wafted through our open windows. No one checked the time as we had no place to be. Eventually the flagman changed his sign from STOP to SLOW, and waved us on. We picked our way through the ruts and potholes, winding among the construction equipment, and wondering how many years it will take to upgrade this little-used road. And we wondered about the people living in the houses scattered along our way. Life seems to move slowly here, unfettered by conveniences.

On a different morning we explored the nearly abandoned train station in Hinton, West Virginia. Divided wooded benches sat silent in the waiting room. The ticket agent’s office was empty. We sit for a bit, wondering when the train will arrive — the special excursion for the annual Railroad Days in this coal mining town. No one seems to know, though one man says Amtrak is always late. We wander outside and sit on the steps, hoping the train will come soon. There’s something special about waiting for a train, even though we’re not meeting anyone.

And then there’s dinner. The restaurant at the bottom of the gorge can only be reached by aerial tramway. The ride is slow and quiet, down the mountainside surrounded by trees and rocks and the late afternoon sun. After dinner we return by the same route in the dark. Light or dark, it’s magical either way.

I’ve not hurried in recent weeks. I’ve waited. I’ve listened. I’ve enjoyed one moment at a time. Not once did I wish things would hurry.

Try it sometime. You might like it.

Until next Tuesday . . .

 

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