“Maybe I love trains because they’re a lot like life,” explained a father to his young son. The two sat together on the City Park Railroad, waiting for the short ride around the duck pond to begin. “You’re always moving forward, seeing something new–”
The small boy looked excitedly out the window.
He wondered what he would see.
He knew he’d see a whole lot of ducks floating out on the calm green water, and fishermen on the muddy banks casting their lines hoping to catch a prize bass.
He knew he’d see the short wooden pier jutting into the pond, and the bench near the end where he and his father had fished last summer.
He knew the train would eventually go over a bridge. His father had promised there was a bridge. It spanned a small creek that bubbled down into the pond through a patch of cattails.
And then the train might turn to follow the creek.
Looking out of the train’s window, waiting for his short journey to begin, the boy imagined the branches of willow trees fluttering over the sparkling creek. And dappled sunlight on long leaves. And a flock of blackbirds rising. And, as the creek wound upward into the nearby hills, a curtain of pine trees ahead.
Then the train might enter the pine forest.
And black towering trees would close all around, like a place in a dream, wind-whispering, wind-whispering.
The boy thought of stories he’d been told.
His father had been a young man hiking alone in the forest. Miles from home. He had heard the faraway sound of a wild turkey. He had turned to follow the call. It is rare thing to see a wild turkey. A very magical and lucky thing. His father had plunged forward through the deep forest, over slippery autumn leaves, pushing aside tangled branches, always turning, because that wild call kept shifting, from direction to direction, distance to distance. No, he never found what he sought. But he had found his way home.
And the story of how his very old grandfather, for one instant, had glimpsed a rare white deer in the forest. Nobody else in that forest had ever seen it. It was a chance encounter. Pure white. Like new snow. And then the vision had melted into shadow.
The magical deer was said to have vanished into the same dark trees where the boy’s great grandfather had faced a raging grizzly bear.
Perhaps, thought the young boy, he might also see a grizzly bear.
Then the train might emerge from the forest, climbing, winding, chugging over slopes of naked rock to high levels beyond the wildest turkeys, deer, bears. The cloudless sun, now so close, would shine brightly as the boy stared out the train’s window down upon a small patch of green forest and an endless world of hills, lakes and ponds scattered like shining pebbles below.
And then he would reach the highest mountain’s summit.
Suddenly the train rumbled and lurched.
“Here we go!”