…tugged my memory of a long time ago when my grandparents lived on an old farm in Machias Washington. I say old, because they weren’t the first there.
The original farmhouse had long since decayed and been bullhoused to make room for my grandparent’s double wide trailer but the old barn was still there as well as a canning shed in which could still be found quite a few canned goods and a lot of empty jars. They got a few year’s use out of the barn for storage before it too collapsed.
When they cleared a blackberry field near the road to plant an orchard in, they uncovered a 1930s era car that had crashed there, the stinky remains of the driver still sealed within, clutching the steering wheel he was hunched over with one hand while the other still clung to an open bottle of since dehydrated brandy.
Grandpa got with the authorities to identify the next of kin and remove the body but kept the old car. He stripped away the body of the car and built a wooden wagon for the back of it in place of the back seat and converted the rest, still in surprisingly decent condition, into a tractor. He let us kids drive it now and then with him in the passenger seat laughing.
He even let me drive it despite my being too small to see over the steering wheel and press the gas pedal at the same time. That was how he lost his newly planted cherry tree and STILL he laughed.
Grandpa built Grandma a chicken coop wherein a young rooster chick imprinted on me and became my pet. Even when he was a full grown and very large white rooster, he would still let me cuddle and play with him though he was mean as the dickens to everyone else, my poor grandmother included.
Beyond the chicken coop, they allowed some blackberry bushes to remain where we all picked berries for Grandma to make jellies and pies. Once, Mom and Grandma freaked out in that endeavor to find a mama black bear and 3 cubs eating berries on the other side of the bush from us and we walked away real slow then.
Just past the berry bushes was the edge of an old growth forest with huge trees, loads of thick moss, and a little creek running through, just deep and wind enough to make a great swimming hole. Grandpa even built us a rope swing there. It was a lovely place. I wasn’t much of a swimmer yet, but it wasn’t too deep for me. When I wasn’t swimming there during the summer, I was making chickens out of the mud, feathering them with fern fronds and moss and setting them to dry on the nests of twigs I’d made them along the shore. I think I was about 5 or 6 when I was into that.
Grandma by her creek in the woods and grandpa and grandma in the snowy woods one winter in the 1960s.
The thing is, this place was thick with history buried only a short way under layers of time.
One fall day, my parents left me and my sister Gail alone while they went up the mountain to cut wood. I was 6 and Gail was 7. Parents did that back then. Kids were disciplined very sternly then and expected to behave well. Also, there were nearly the dangers around then as there are now, especially not deep in the countryside, except for one tiny thing…
My sister was obedient at that time in her life. I, on the other hand, was more adventurous than obedient and, also, I wanted to be where my mother and grandmother were and I wanted it NOW. So while Gail yammered frantically on about how I was being bad and she was going to tattle on me, I pulled on Grandmas rubber wading boots and ran clumsily away from the trailer and down into the forest above which the mountain rose.
It didn’t dawn on me that the grownups had taken the truck and therefore could not have driven to the mountains this way since there wasn’t a road in this part of the forest. And I didn’t realize either that the mountain was a lot further away than it looked. It was so big in the landscape here that I assumed it was just a short walk away on the other side of the creek.
I waded across a shallow section of the creek, crossed a meadow, and entered another forest even deeper and darker than the one before.
I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. I’ve always felt very strangely safe in deep forests, like I was part of them or something. I did become just a little worried though to realize that the mountain was not only further away than I thought but also much bigger than I thought. What’s more, I could no longer see the mountain for the trees so couldn’t tell if I were going in the right direction or not. Still, I trucked confidently on, sure I’d just miraculously arrive there and find everyone if I just stuck to it.
I was eventually surprised to notice stumps and fallen trees and thing that looked identical to those I’d passed before. Thought that was rather odd. It never occurred to me that I was going in circles, but that’s what I was doing for the most part. Didn’t seem to be getting anywhere though, so I finally deviated slightly and came across and old railway track running through the woods, another oddity, because I’d never heard a train in the distance from the farm or forest here. Yet where there were track, there had to be a train, right?
But no. The track wasn’t even entirely whole. Parts of it had been twisted off course and broken by apparent mudslides near creaks that had washed the earth away beneath them. The ties, tar coated though they must have been, were in an advanced state of decay.
Something strange happened here. Or not. I’m not sure. I know I have always had a hyperactive imagination and this abandoned ail track surely excited it so I’m not sure if it happened here or if I just dreamed of this place later… but there came a place where the rail track descended into a tunnel that broadened out into a room, some sort of busy medical center where people were being examined by strange small doctors, being prepared for something…
It must have been a dream. It doesn’t make sense what I saw there.
I was on the track again, the tunnel nowhere in sight, nor my family, so I diverged off it back into the wood on the verge and heard people calling me.
“I’m here!” I called back and they came crashing through the brush toward me: my parents and grandparents and Gail too.
“Look,” said my grandfather as we walked back, crossing over my boot prints made previously.
I looked to where he was pointing and saw a cat paw print, just a much larger one than cats normally have. I was puzzled at the size. “It looks like a cat print,” I said, “but how could it be so big?”
“It was a mountain lion,” Grandpa said. “It must have been following you. We found its tracks overlying yours every step of the way.”
My mother and grandmother made panicked worry sounds but I just shrugged at them. “It wouldn’t have hurt me.” I was completely and irrationally convinced of this. I don’t know why. I wasn’t even all that interested. “Did you see the old train tracks though? Pretty cool, huh?”
“You are in SOOOOO much trouble!” was all my mother said to that. “You do remember being told to stay put don’t you?”
I thought about it. “No… I don’t remember that and I wanted to come help you. Wouldn’t you have liked that?”
I got a spanking before dinner, bath, and bed that night. I felt so misunderstood. I think perhaps this is when I may have dreamed of the rail tracks going under and all the little doctors preparing people for who knew what.
Years later, I researched about the mysterious train tracks and found out that there were many of them crisscrossing Washington State. Most of them were for passenger lines that people used to be very dependent on.
In WWI, the passenger lines were commandeered by the military to move troops on to training facilities before they were shipped overseas. This meant civilians no longer had use of them. By the time the military released them back to civilians, cars had taken over as the main form of transport so they didn’t get as much traffic as they used to.
WWII came and the dwindling passenger lines were commandeered by the military again. Afterwards, there was almost no business traffic for them at all, so most of them were abandoned.
We do have light rail again in Washington just recently, but it’s very limited and unreliable and no longer an efficient way to get around. More’s the pity. When I was stationed in Germany during the 1980s, passenger trains were thee way to get around and were very efficient and well maintained. I loved them and went everywhere on them. Someday, I hope we have that here again. It would so beat the hell out of rush hour traffic on Interstate 5. You know?