Monthly Archives: May 2019

NINE YEAR OLD SELF LIVES From directly overhead I watched two trains pass in the night, except that it was a bright and beautiful morning with a lovely cool breeze comfortably brushing across my face and bare arms. It was a cool morning, just right for a short sleeved hiking shirt, thin hiking pants and of course my new Merrill Moab hiking shoes. I got up early (for me) today. My windows declared it to be an exceedingly beautiful morning, and my weather App added that it was 58 degrees, perfect for walking. I felt drawn to the River Walk, not the market, but the paved path that extends two or three miles from the entrance 500 feet from my building to the east along the bank of the Missouri River. There have been endless days of storms, pouring buckets of rain into the River and sheets of rain on to land nearby which then drained into it. To put a boat in that river and climb in it would mean certain death as the speeding current and debris dragged it into the swirling water. There was little space between top of the murky river and the bottom of each bridge in view. On a high observation platform I met first Michael and then later Mark, men only a decade or so younger than I, who had come to watch the water. Michael had spent a year backpacking around the world almost forty years ago when he was 26. There is not enough room here to record that conversation since we both had many stories to tell. We both shared the joy of meeting people of all sorts in our respective travels. Mark and his wife have just moved here for the same reasons I have moved to this spot. My family and I walked this path a couple of years ago, but this time the solitude of an early walk with only the occasional jogger passing by gave me time to engage the sights and sounds more fully and, as I repeat endlessly, to become fully present with the surroundings. The nine year old in me caught the sound of a Red-winged Blackbird. I spent much of my childhood at the nearby swamp where the Blackbird’s song became a sort of Siren’s call to play. Soon I found the source, a swamp full of cattails and wild flowers and birds and frogs. It lay between the walkway, a grove of trees, and then the river. The air was filled with the sounds of the birds and the frogs. Next, the path led to a lower area with the river only inches from the top of the cement wall at the edge of the path. The foundational support of one of the bridges rose out of the water just about a foot from the edge of the path. When I looked up I saw many birds swirling around the top of that support. They were Cliff Swallows feeding hungry young whose demanding beaks were sticking out of the openings in many dozens of mud houses. As I settled into the sounds along the way, the deep and powerful bass of a train lumbering along on the tracks on the opposite side of the path provided the basso continuo for a symphony. The symphony included the sounds of cars and trucks on the bridges and highways nearby. Solo instruments included train whistles, birdsong and when near the swamp, croaking frogs who refused to be drowned out by the other performers in the symphony. When I was walking along I heard the barking of dogs from the Bar K Dog Bar, where dog owners can eat and drink while their dogs are playing in a secure area. Later there were some construction sounds as the supply of lofts and apartments here continues to grow. I looked up at the buildings of the downtown sitting on a hill not far away above the trees on that side of the path. I looked at the river side where trees, water and more trees across the river created the feeling of being in a lush, natural environment. This Symphony was live, no recording, not sound only. I couldn’t help but think metaphorically about the experience. The balance between human produced and naturally occurring environments suggested to me that with a healthy, thoughtful and balanced approach both can exist in harmony. While this was hardly a pristine natural place, protecting those places is paramount to our long term survival as a species. When Human made and naturally occurring environments seem dissonant, it is worth the effort to collaborate and compose a symphony that will endure as pleasing music to the ears of our great-grandchildren and theirs. Now to the trains: While walking back to the city on the wood bridge over the tracks, through the trees I caught sight of a train in the distance that seemed to be coming my direction. I decided to go back to a spot on the bridge right over the tracks. The nine-year-old in me sprang to life. As I was walking to a better vantage point, I saw a train approaching very slowly from the other direction. I was a bit confused by how slow it was going until I looked the other direction and saw the structure over the tracks with three red lights over three of the tracks, one the track on which the slow train was approaching. It came to a stop. I decided I would wait to see if this played out as I expected. It did. The train I had originally spotted came around from behind the trees coming from the opposite direction. It was a very long train with huge containers stacked two high. When it passed the standing train, they appeared to be only inches apart. It took a long time to pass, and the standing train remained for a long time after it had passed. The light in its track was still red. Then the light changed to green. It took a while for the train to start moving, but when it did, there was one short but very loud sound of the train whistle. Now this may be a nine-year-old’s wishful thinking, but I had been standing by myself on that foot bridge in full view of that train Engineer for a very long time. I couldn’t see the driver so I do not have clear evidence that it is so, but nine-year-old Pete is convinced that he blew the whistle for me. I waved. It was such a lovely morning!

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