The term “social distancing” may have been coined by a dedicated train watcher, a railfan with a beach chair in his trunk, bottled water in the cooler, a radio tuned to the railroads’ frequencies, and the prerequisite empty jug for what can only be put off so long. He also knows the routes of the area railroads and even has a good idea as to the schedules.
I don’t quite qualify, not all the way, but I love the trackside solitude of a remote location awash in the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. I am learning what it takes to be a self-sufficient member of the club. In these times, if you didn’t pack it yourself, you don’t have it. No stopping at Heavenly Donuts or Starbucks. It’s a sandwich and a jug of coffee made with your own two hands. You put it in a bag with a book, a copy of whatever periodical gets you through, a hat, and soon, sun block. Each time I think I’m going to read, but once I’m ensconced in some idyllic location, the overwhelming beauty and silence takes my breath away. I’m content to wait reminding myself how lucky I am to have this solitary, joyful time.
Just when you think it can’t get any better, you hear a mile or two away the barely audible horn of the diesel locomotive calling to a grade crossing. Your breath catches, you wait for another call just to be sure. When it sounds again, discernibly closer, the adrenaline lifts you out of your chair, or out of your car. You smile in anticipation.
If you’re thinking that’s way too big a deal for an approaching train, you’re not hanging along one of the lightly used short lines of the Willamette Valley, mostly carrying the P & W along a century-old Southern Pacific right-away. These tracks split huge fields of everything from grass seed to lilacs, where old agricultural silos sprout higher than any tree. The long, and sometimes fruitless, wait along one of these tracks can often yield something other than another train photo. Instead, it brings peace of mind, and a grace of gratitude for life in these trying times.