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From Back Roads Unnamed

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

Reflections on the tangled bargain offered by the train's song.

They are everywhere, out here. Away from the city, they cross every pasture and crop growing square. Trains and their tracks I mean. Row after row point to the path beyond the trees, a visible comparison of two options for those of us from back roads unnamed.

All that we know and all that could be, a destiny of earth or steel. Both bone-crushing in their own way. And yet, that long, black train sings the siren’s song. You hear its call in the depth of summer’s wrath and in the frigid fields of winter’s desolation. Horsepower reverberating against the tracks and ties, the heartbeat echoes ch-chuff, ch-chuff, ch-chuff. Railroad crossing guards are the anomaly, the door is always open. Interrupting roads of dirt without signal or poles, look left then right before passing. After all, that is the choice at hand.

And what is the bargain waiting to be struck? Just the option of last resort. A one-way ticket away from subsistence, poverty, or simplicity. The glittering glamour of opportunity, enterprise, and complexity is the lure. But all too often, those tracks lead to misfortune and disconnect.

Dreams are bigger than where the dirt road ends, the rutted and worn merging reservedly with that of blue and black. Faceless willing migrants they are, bartering a birthright for a vision. The fine print of choice echoing across future generations.

What has the land to say for itself; what is its plea?

The continuity of ploughing, planting, harvesting, purveyor of broken backs, debt, and want. The scales lean heavily in flight. Perhaps, at first glance.

Trails of technology, nature and man both a commodity. Yearn for more, for the doctorate in rurality. A thesis of wisened words, citing names known only to gravestones and bibles, wisdom of the ages. A beauteous existence for a chosen few.

Dirt roads, that overused cliché and euphemism, have brought more than one lost soul home. Prodigal travelers need no map. Navigation by tree height and dirt roads passed, a forecast discerned by eyesight and life’s force.


I am not much removed from a year’s wages gambled in nature’s saloon of weather and pests.


I am not much removed from a year’s wages gambled in nature’s saloon of weather and pests. Standing in a field, I do not face the quandary; I am the residual, the fine print of choices made by those before me.

A mongrel of progress and nostalgia, I return to this place often, to the ties that bind. Wind tousled hair, a storm on the horizon, its electric embrace. In the distance, a forlorn whistle sounds.

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2 comentarios

This was so beautiful, thank you. It took me back to the days of visiting relatives in the country, and how my friends and I would walk the train tracks and would find coins, that we could buy bubble gum and candy with.

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Holly Bills
Holly Bills
20 jul 2022
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You're welcome! Trains are so versatile and can offer promise, escape, or regret. I thought it was worth writing about the choice it offers.

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