With such a lovely voice you chime
Playful song sparrow
Brightening my morning coffee time
It will be a good day
A loud and distinct song you sing
A final act before the evening
It will be a good night
Star for just a day
Resplendent in all your charm
Take my breath away
The sun’s warm rays
Brought bursting colours to branches
The small winged creatures
Will blend in nature’s colourful canvas
I spent hours watching a couple of yellow-rumped warblers flying around playfully from the chokecherry tree to the walnut tree, tirelessly. I hadn’t seen these little feathery creatures around our backyard in past years; maybe I just wasn’t sufficiently attentive. Everything about them—their colours, their flight patterns, and their musical songs—conveys a joyful, happy, carefree nature. What a treat!
Plenty of backyard visitors as the days warm up and the trees green up. This wood duck couple was literally “on the fence” about settling here. They eventually flew away to find something better suited to their accommodation needs, like a nearby lake shore.
(This is the last post in a series about a recent train trip across the Canadian prairies. The first in the series is here.)
Sleep eluded me throughout the night. Despite the gentle rocking of the train and the rhythmic lullaby sung by its wheels on the rail (ticatoc-ticatoc—ticatoc-ticatoc), I dozed off for what seemed only minutes at a time. All is quiet in our coach car, and all is dark out, save for the millions of stars dotting the inky black sky. I grab my camera and make my way back to the dome-car, careful not to wake my fellow passengers along the way, curious to see.
All alone up there, I marvel at the spectacle on display, just for me, I think. Venus dominates the eastern horizon, almost directly behind the train. And then, something happens: a faint glow lightens the darkness, a glow that would continue into daylight. An oncoming freighter reflects this light, like glowing embers, a dim orangey hue zooming by. Two young Chinese women join me, camera in hand, to capture some of this ephemeral beauty.
The land around us slowly emerges from the darkness, revealing lakes, tractors, buildings. The brightening morning luminescence slowly reveals roofs and fingers of smoke trailing skyward from their chimneys. The scene is magical, whimsical, surreal. Not a word is said.
High above us, an airplane races eastward, like an arrow to its target, leaving the twin laces of its contrail to stretch across the sky, lit in orange light. Those passengers, up at 41,000 feet, have probably witnessed the sun rise above the horizon already, unless they are asleep. Meanwhile, colours change subtly, lightening the dark: amber, bronze, copper, orange, yellow, melting into cobalt, indigo, violet, blue, gray, and green.
The long train contorts itself through a switch, like a snake weaving through short grass. I can see the last car for the first time! In the sky, what seemed to take forever quickly comes to its natural conclusion. The sun breaks the horizon; its light floods the eastern sky and paints the western countryside. One minute, the sky is a bright yellow, the next a familiar azure blue. Beautiful. The Canadian rolls on down the track towards Edmonton, my final destination on this journey.
These rail sentries first appear as a dot on the horizon. The train pushes ahead, the heat and condensation of its engine blurring the view, like peering through a liquid veil. The dot grows quickly into a familiar shape, with its tower and angular side. The trained eye recognizes the grain elevator… Sneaking up on unsuspecting passengers, it grows rapidly to fill the dome-car’s front windows. The passengers point their cameras to capture a scenery that is fading into history as these grain elevators disappear, one by one, replaced by larger, more modern concrete facilities. That’s progress.
The Butze elevator, a faded stack of brown boards for its walls, comes into sight. The structure was built in 1920. At their peak, 538 brown Alberta Wheat Pool elevators lined the track. Today, less than 12 remain: some privately owned, others maintained as museums.
The scene repeats itself down the track as we race toward Edmonton, our final destination. We approach a structure that contrasts with the previous mostly-white elevators, a brick-red-and-green structure flanked by three grey silos and a blue-and-white pumpjack: the Chauvin grain elevator.
The orange half-moon winks at us as it drops to the ground. The Canadian continues its journey westward, unaffected by the darkness that envelops everything around it. In the dark coach car, only a few reading lights point their narrow pencil beams to the seats below, lighting the worn pages of books in the hands of passengers awaiting the sandman.
I lean my head on the cold window and close my eyes, hoping sleep will come soon. I can hear the young couple chatting and laughing, loudly, a few rows behind. They’ve never heard the saying “use your spa voice,” obviously. The lady across the row, the one with the sleep mask, the fluffy pillows, and the thick comforter, talks to the characters in her dream. I hope she doesn’t sleepwalk. A green light flies by; I see its glow through my closed eyelids.
Then two red lights. Don’t two red lights mean stop? For a brief second, I wonder if the engineer could have missed the signal, barreling down the track toward the next freighter heading in the opposite direction. I shift in my seat and look around. Seems I’m the only person who has noticed. The train’s whistle blares, its sound sliding by me toward the back of the train. The collision I imagined never comes. The night steals Saskatchewan… The sun will rise in Alberta.
Night time on the rails
Signal lights break the darkness
Lonely and cold out
Harvest arrived early in Manitoba this year, compared to its western cousins. Soya and corn was pretty much all that was left standing in a few fields visible from the train, whereas still plenty of canola lay neatly piled in rows, drying out in the sun, and waiting to be harvested in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Staring out at the fields, their neatly organized rows mowed down by now, I remembered my first walk in a field of stubble. Unlike a lush lawn, or warm soft sand, the sight awakes memories of walking on nails: rough, dry, unwelcoming. Unless you’re a Canada goose that is, who revel in the seeds that escaped the metal munching machine, before heading south.
A long lonely day
Collecting the year’s bounty
Goodness from the earth