Friday, March 12, 2010

Train song

As I write this, it is very early morning in East Tennessee and I hear the northbound train approaching. The last several days have been damp and overcast and that causes fog to creep overnight across the Tennessee Valley. Fog, in turn, causes the sound of the train whistle and the train's passage along the tracks to carry more loudly across the hills and valleys. Having lived a great part of my life in East Tennessee, the sound of trains has always been a constant. Similar to how we can be lulled to sleep or calmed by the sound of rain, or a thunderstorm, so do the sound of trains rumbling, roaring and whistling down the tracks soothe those who have grown up with them always present.

I took this sound, this presence, for granted until I spent time in a city - Tampa, Florida to be specific - where trains weren't evident. I never did figure out this puzzle while I lived in Tampa; there were certainly train tracks around and about the city, but I never once heard or saw trains traveling. What I can report is that it took me almost a full month of living there before I finally realized part of my night time restlessness wasn't all due to being in a new city, new dwelling and new surroundings. It was actually greatly due to the fact that I wasn't hearing the familiar, comforting sound of trains traveling during the wee hours of the morning.

Once I did identify the source, I began to ask people in Tampa about the absence of trains in and around the city. I received puzzled looks and no ready answers as to why there were train tracks everywhere, but no trains visible. All I can say for certain is that it took me a good stretch of time to adjust to sleeping without the soothing sounds of far-off trains rolling along the tracks, and the occasional train whistle echoing and bouncing along the hills. Tampa doesn't have hills for the sounds to reverberate and echo across, so perhaps this is one reason I never heard the sounds the way I was accustomed to hearing in East Tennessee.

I have read of many people who have had near death experiences saying that they drifted from their bodies and went into an area that resembled a huge, limitless train station. Other people who have lived through tornadoes and hurricanes report that the sounds of the worst of the weather manifesting sounded eerily like a train running directly overhead. Years ago, I stumbled across an obscure book written by a hospice nurse who mentioned many of her patients who were slowly approaching death who mentioned hearing a train approaching from far away. I apologize for not remembering the name of this book, or the name of the author, but this woman reported this mention of a train approaching to be a common theme amongst many hospice patients.

It makes one ponder the train reference, the train station as a staging area for crossing over. Perhaps our Souls recognize something inherent to the concept of a train approaching that beckons us to release from the physical body, step onto that mystical and spiritual manifestation and continue the journey to the other side of the Veil.

Trains do indicate travel, and before air flight was accomplished, trains were the epitome of power, wealth, commerce and a literal ticket to the far flung, exotic, mysterious corners of the Earth. Distant and varied travel was possible, taking you as far as the train tracks lead. Perhaps it isn't that difficult a stretch to embrace that trains could also represent a mystical form of travel for the Spirit.

Here in my area, trains run day and night. To someone living in an area where trains aren't prevalent, that might sound horribly noisy and invasive. I am not describing endless activity; the trains run on schedules throughout the week and become a backdrop to our daily lives. To me, it isn't noisy. For the most part, it is similar to a clock in your home that you become so accustomed to that you rarely consciously hear the tick-tock sounds. Indeed, in the wee hours of the early morning, as I write this post, the sound of the northbound train is gentle, reassuring, and in its own way, quite majestic.

Perhaps the echoes of a train thundering along the track mimics in some manner a heartbeat, reminding us of our time in the womb. There is a rhythmic cadence as train wheels rattle and roar along the tracks. One close girlfriend has such a trained ear for the local train schedules that she can tell which direction a given train is traveling, simply from the sound of the whistle as the train approaches. I bow to her accuracy, because she really is incredible with this talent. That repetitive thundering sound could remind our Soul of a sort of homecoming, a welcoming portal to traverse from here to the Unknown There, the sure sound embracing us and wrapping around our senses.

For myself, the sounds of the trains each night are a lullaby that makes me smile and ushers me more deeply into sleep. The deep. smoky belltones of the whistle echoing across the Tennessee Valley rarely truly awaken me; it is more of a background reassurance that all is well. If I am having a night of fitful sleep, quite often the sounds of a train in the distance will relax me and help me drop off to deep slumber.

Much like an old friend, the song of the weekly scheduled train runs become so familiar to us that, were they to suddenly cease their normal schedule, we would become abruptly aware of the lack. As would the sudden cessation of that clock in the room, we would wonder why the wee hours of the night had suddenly grown so unusually quiet. Perhaps we would awaken and wonder at the strange lack of sound, not quite sure what was missing. I, for one, would be saddened to live in a world where there were no trains rumbling along the tracks, no piercing train whistles splitting the damp night air to travel, echoing their unique song across the hills.

It is a curiously gentle presence, the night train calling out. Distant, yet imposing as its inexorable rush onward is repeated week by week, year by year, imprinting in our memories with sound and vibration. This moment, this wee hour of the night that is slowly releasing darkness to dawn, the sounds of the train trekking northward inspire words to flow, to give voice to a sinuous, fluid trail of thought that mimics the journey of that train charging out into the distance.

In a moment, I will surrender to sleep, lulled by that soporific heart and breath unconsciously matching the rhythm of the faraway rails being ridden by the Iron Horse of yesteryear. That curious anomaly of a bygone era remains an active, modern presence and continues to weave into the minds and hearts of those gifted with vision to dream, to hear a unique Industrial Age melody wailing through the night air.

This is a jumble of perhaps not very well connected or elaborated ruminations about trains. Perhaps I will let it rest as I surrender to the arms of Morpheus myself, and return to it anon, to read through with more clear mind and judge whether it is worthy of posting or abandoning. The train rolls on in the distance and I am pulled to sleep....

...and the following night, I have returned, read through these thoughts, and deemed them strong enough to stand. Jumbled and disconnected though they may be, I shall publish them. Another train calls out its song in the distance, this one southward bound, rushing into the dark to grace the mountains with its chant along the tracks, its whistle smoky and drifting out through the night. That is the interconnecting thread, the train song that trills ever onward.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me at Healing Morning blog.