My family moved to Geneva, OH, when I was seven years old. The first night in the new house, I remember waking in the middle of the night to the sound of a train, seemingly clacking and moaning in the vicinity of the house next door. It was loud enough to jar me awake from a sound sleep, sitting up abruptly in my bed near the dormer window.
I later learned that there were actually two sets of tracks, one north and the other south of our home. They weren’t visible from Crowell Ave., but were probably less than a mile away on either side. I don’t remember being awakend by the trains again, but the music of the tracks became a natural sound – simply part of the background – during my childhood, and for the rest of my life.
Today I was working at the computer and it was very quiet. I heard a train in the distance. Now that I live in Madison, the same tracks pass through the village several miles south of my home near the lake. Those tracks that flanked my childhood home converge in Madison, running parallel just yards apart in the village. They stop traffic heading down Lake to Main Street, occasionally with a train on one track quickly followed by a second going the other direction on the other track.
No one likes to be caught waiting for the trains, but I do like the fact that the distant sound of the trains continues to contribute to the background sounds of my life. It’s worth the wait, I think.
Also, now that I’m just a few blocks from Lake Erie, I sometimes hear the freighters sounding their horns out in the middle of the lake. It’s a low, melancholy sound. I imagine the ore boats are calling out to each other in the dark or fog. Here I am! Make way! When I sit on the beach and watch one passing in the distance, they hardly seem to move across the horizon. They’re like elephants lumbering slowly, dark hulking shapes creeping across the water. You have to look away, perhaps read your book for a little while or chat with a friend, then when you look up – you see that the boat has changed its position. Then at night, they appear to be hosting parties with lights from stem to stern. I think they must be lonely, quiet sailor parties. No women, no music. Just the sound of the water and maybe a bottle of beer.
I love living here where I can detect these distant sounds when everything in the house is perfectly quiet. The echoes are too romantic to be thought of as the sounds of commerce, though that’s what they are, of course. But more than 50 years after the first time a train woke me in the middle of the night, I continue to be enchanted and even comforted by those distant sounds on the water and tracks nearby.