Deep bass tripping across the river toward my bedroom window. Tracks groaning. Wheels clicking.
Some would have called it a lonesome sound. To me, it was a combination of freedom and security.
The whistle said, “I can go anywhere. I can see anything. I have a new view. Come with me.”
The track’s groan said, “We guide to destinations needed. From you, dear, we take your fear. Rest your weary head. We’ll take you on an adventure someday.”
And I would sleep with dreams of faraway places coming to me. To me! Small frame tucked in a small twin bed in a one-story house down a long driveway in the rural Midwest.
The tracks were right. They took me on an adventure as I followed them north, up the river, away from the long driveway where scarce a car could be heard to live next to a state highway. The next four years spent at a school supported by a 60-ton mascot with a beautiful deep whistle. Oh, how I loved the sound. And when there was no mascot chugging down the road, there were still whistles dancing on the fog south of town, near the river. At night, they came, tucking me into bed and comforting me after a long day. They were always there.
Then I left the tracks. Some days, I wonder why. Why leave the track? What good can come of being derailed? I went to a place where the nearest tracks were far away, and I couldn’t find a river. I needed to go there. But there was no deep bass.
It was such a new place, I hardly noticed, until one day, the mascot was visiting. I could hear it, roaring down the main street. I just soaked in the melody and the next day, stood in front of it for a picture.
Then it was gone. And I noticed the silence. It closed in around me, asking, “Where is your freedom now? Isn’t pavement and concrete good enough for you? Who needs sky?”
I listened to the voices and forgot the sound. But then I heard it again on a trip and remembered. I recorded it so I could keep the sound with me. And when I returned to the trackless place, I would listen to it before settling in to the work I was given to do in that place.
One day, I found I had settled too much. My derailment was now comfortable. The landscape around me was familiar. I was used to it. Yet it was missing what I needed.
So I returned to the river and to the tracks.
They serve as anchors. I drive and I see them: brilliant sunrise echoing off fog stretching from bank to bank. Proud engines bursting out of tunnels, racing alongside me, cars clacking along the metal. With each anchor, I roll down my windows.
And a crazy grin sprints across my face.
I had needed derailing: an unfamiliar landscape, a crashed engine, a boiler doused.
Wheels hissed to be put aright.
And they were.
Steel hardened. The engineer strengthened his resolve. And the whistle kept blowing that beautiful deep bass.
Because that’s what trains do.