Even the best spiritual practice ill prepares one for the stomach kick of major disappointment. So, after a brief stop at my usual perch overlooking the river, off I went today – this time on the southbound railroad track out of Smithton.
Another unseasonably warm March day for Western Pennsylvania left me carrying my jacket once again. I will get a sunburned bald spot if I keep this up. But, I will take sunny and 65 over snow any day.
Just past the Second Street crossing, the tracks were covered with splinters and twigs, the fragmentary remains of a wayward tree that must have fallen in harm’s way. Ahead I saw what looked like the remains of another muskrat. Approaching nearer, however, I realized that the body was far too big and I worried briefly that a local dog may have wandered into the path of a train. Upon reaching the carcass, I saw a tell tale hoof in the wreckage. A dozen feet away on the other side of the rails lay the young deer’s decapitated head, confirming my identification.
I couldn’t help but think of the unimaginable power of a 100+ car train plowing into an obstacle. Companies probably don’t bother clearing the tracks of much because these mammoth engines likely pulverize anything standing in their way. When I stand near passing trains, especially from a vantage point below the tracks, the metal bulk hurtling past makes me feel insignificant in comparison.
Moving on, I heard before I saw a stream rushing down an embankment, forming a quite beautiful little waterfall over the stones. In the middle had popped up a bunch of yellow wildflowers. I couldn’t get close enough to identify them (poppies or yellowfields?), but they added a wonderful shock of color to the still early spring scene.
With the rushing brook in front of me and the river behind, the force of all that water moving, changing course, eroding, covering and uncovering earth impressed upon me the power of this change agent. This is an area capable of flooding, although it has been several decades since the water level rose to seriously threatening conditions. But, nature never lets us forget for long the devastation possible from water given the circumstances.
I again felt small and somewhat weak against such elemental power. I felt…vulnerable, an unpleasant sensation – one that only makes me want to walk along railroad tracks even more. So I did.
Up ahead on the hillside sits a long row of coke ovens, unused for more than a century. Many of the brick domes lie crumbling, with gaps in their ceilings and walls. But others remain remarkably intact, given that nothing has disturbed their rest except weather and plant for years. Looking at these holes in the hillside heartened me. Here were human creations, many decades old and discarded, still intact in spite of exposure and being ignored. The sudden impact of a train and the gradual fluid force of water’s movement dwarfed my own power. But, here in the hillside exhibited humankind’s power – endurance and persistence. Structures built to adapt earthen products into metals for construction, transportation, equipment still survived, a sign of our industrial heritage.
I thought back over the events of recent days. I remembered how results of my work left me fragile despite all my preparations and all my cautions. Then, I remembered (as I often do) one of my favorite movie scenes. In The Outlaw Josie Wales, Chief Dan George provided a marvelous performance as Lone Watie. He tells Clint Eastwood of visiting Washington D.C., where he and other tribal leaders were shown in the newspaper with a caption explaining how they would “endeavor to persevere.” He adds, “We thought about it for a long time, ‘Endeavor to persevere.’ And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.”
Well, I’ve had a couple days to think about it. And I plan to endeavor to persevere, as well.