April 16, 2003

Benchmarks, trains, other stuff

An important skill, when looking for benchmarks, as opposed to geocaches, is knowing when it is silly, or dangerous, or even lethal, to continue looking. I just came back from looking for this one, and I did not find it. I know exactly where it is, but I'm not dressed for it. For dying, that is. Perhaps I'll go back some day and look again. It's at the top of a cutting that the tracks run through, and so I had to go quite a ways down the track to find a way to get up onto the side. But then I could not find it without risking my life on the edge of the cutting, which was crumbling with every step I took.

Yes, I know, I should not be on the tracks. It's probably trespassing, or something, and a good way to get squished. But I've been walking tracks as long as I can remember, and have not been squished yet. Although my grandfather really liked to tell about his friend who went walking on the tracks, and all they found was his nose. There's something slightly apocryphal about that story.

I'm also perpetually amazed at how far out of their way people will go to throw away their trash. There I am, up on this cutting, sure I'm going to die any minute, and there's beer bottles, a dinner plate, a hub cap, and a car battery. I mean, come on, surely it would be easier to throw those away at home? I seriously don't know how someone could have gotten out there with all that trash. On one side is the train track, and on the other is a cow pasture. The area between is heavy brush, barbed wire fence, and a 20-foot shale cliff. Yet someone has taken the trouble to lug their coors bottle out here to dispose of it.

Later today, I'll upload photos of where I didn't find the benchmark, and of where I didn't fall to my death from a crumbling cliff.

Posted by rbowen at April 16, 2003 01:44 PM | TrackBack

I'd love to help you find this one sometime. Looking forward to the pictures of you not falling to your death. :-)

Posted by: Tim on April 17, 2003 03:22 PM

I remember being told that one of my Wisconsin relatives, perhaps a great-uncle or even great grandfather, died while walking on train tracks. The story is that he was walking along the tracks, heard a train whistle, and so switched to the set of tracks next to it. He probably never heard the other train blowing its whistle from behind him because of the noise of the first one.

I think I'm more nervous about this sort of thing than I used to be. Not sure if it comes of getting older, or of losing more people.

Posted by: sockmonk on April 21, 2003 03:08 PM

Title: The Tracks

The tracks – are they just two parallel iron rails supported by beams and a road bed, or are they something more? Many view the tracks as a thoroughfare; I see them as a destination. When I walk the tracks, I observe the coming and the going, and that which was left behind.
The tracks seem to have a magnetic quality. I’m drawn to the tracks as a stress reliever; a place to clear my head and explore. It seems ironic that in order to clear our heads we need to fill them with something else. For me exploring the tracks works well. The tracks seem to bring out the adventurous child in me. One minute I’m walking tightrope style on a rail, or stepping only on the ties – trying not to touch the rocks, or hopping over beams to avoid the dark oily spots. Then I’m stopping to look at a rusty spike, or any other item of interest.
Mental pictures are assembled like detective work from the remains of junk scattered along the way. Sometimes interesting sun-bleached wood or stones become found treasure to carry away. While exploring what was left behind, I am often interrupted by the comings and goings of all sorts. Other people are out walking, both in the park and on the tracks. Typically they are noisy. In groups of two or more, they can be heard coming from blocks away.
In my neighborhood the tracks serve as a boundary between the houses on one side and the park and wildlife preserve on the other. The park has a trail that winds through the woods, but I prefer the tracks.
More than once I have been in the adjoining park and counted more dogs than humans. Many of them running freely with no owner in sight. This can be frightening at times. Too often I have been stopped by a large dog, barking and growling at me. Then, some thirty seconds later, the owner plods around the trail bend, smiling and assuring me that, “she doesn’t bite.” This is a pet peeve of mine. Pun intended! I have learned to bring a walking stick along for protection. Interestingly, dogs seem to visually measure the stick length and will not come any closer than the estimated swing zone. In my experience, the domesticated animals are the real wildlife along the tracks.
In contrast to other folks who walk the tracks, I am a silent, solitary figure. I walk alone and quietly. The animals that live in the wildlife preserve are sometimes puzzled by my presence. My favorite example is an encounter with a red fox.
One windy day I was walking the tracks when a fox crossed just ahead of me. We both froze and stared at each other. The wind was in my favor. The fox seemed to be looking at me in disbelief, perhaps shocked by his own carelessness for not detecting me sooner. Or maybe he was trying to determine if I was for real. I finally took a short step forward and the fox ducked into the woods.
I continued up the tracks for a short distance and suddenly had the feeling I was being watched. I turned around and saw the fox again, standing on the tracks, looking at me. I took a step toward him, and once again he darted, so I sat down on the tracks. A minute later, there he was again. I stayed still this time. He watched me for some time – circling back and forth. Finally he decided I was not a threat. He then escorted his family across the tracks. The four of them included the mother and two adorable tiny pups. The reward was well worth the wait.
I made several trips back to visit them. I found them more often than not. Typically, the fox family Dad made himself bait, while Mom spirited the youngsters away in the opposite direction. He would even bark softly at me to encourage the chase. I followed him into the woods a few times and was amazed at his ability to swing around behind me. On one occasion I followed him down a trail and decided to sit down off the trail about twenty feet. Two minutes later, I saw something move to my left. There was the fox heading my direction on the trail, I remained very still, he walked right by me. Ten feet past me on the trail he stopped to sniff the air. He knew I was close, so he kept moving, but he never saw me.
I once found a turtle trapped between the rails, trying to get from the pond on one side of the tracks to the pond on the other side. I decided to help the poor fellow by escorting him to the other pond. Unfortunately, the pond edge was too steep for me to introduce him gently back into the water, so my new acquaintance made good use of his built-on armor, in what may have been his first solo flight. Afterwards, I wondered if he was too terrified to remember that I helped him out of a frustrating situation. Oh well, that was this boy scout’s good deed for the day. He should be glad that I wasn’t a raccoon.
Many animals seem to use the tracks as a sort of highway to get around more quickly in the neighborhood. I have encountered many animals along the tracks. Deer, fox, raccoon, weasels, turtles, snakes, and birds of all sorts. Most of these scurry away as soon as I am too close for their comfort. However, the most startling encounter I have experienced is with the huge beast that behaves as though it owns the tracks. It stands tall, at twice my height, and is as wide as the beams under the tracks. Many times I have anticipated its whereabouts and given it a wide berth. I want to be well out of harms way when it passes. But on occasion, the beast has come up from behind me, unnoticed at first. Fortunately, it usually signals its approach and I have time to flee its path. It roars as it lumbers past me. I show it all due respect. The tracks, of course, are part of a whole system of transporting goods and passengers, but to me, they are so much more.

Posted by: Steve Lundgren on April 24, 2003 10:04 PM
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