The Other Side of the Tracks

img_9607Arkansas Freight

Always, there were the trains. Whistles in the night; the sharp, insistent whining of brakes; the vibration at the country grade crossing as a highballing freight passed by: all hinted at goings and comings, arrivals and departures, denied to us as children.

Fascinated by the trains and intrigued by everything surrounding them, I visited a roundhouse with my grandfather, to see where locomotives lived. From the bridges leading into Kansas City, I admired the terminals and rail yards filled with long lines of cars and chubby cabooses. Always, I wondered at the mysterious letters painted on tankers and boxcars alike: ATSF, RI, C&NW.

Even the tracks provided entertainment.  Encouraging one another, my friends and I laid on the ground, pressing our ears to cold, hard rails in hopes of feeling the rumble of an approaching train.

Sometimes, pennies in hand, in thrall to darkly superstitious fears, we discussed whether we — uninhibited eight-year-olds — might derail the afternoon freight by placing a coin on the rails.

When summer arrived, with its long days and intoxicating freedom from school, we grabbed our bikes and flew off down the streets, heedless of our mothers’ frail and ineffectual pleadings: “Don’t go to the park! If you go to the park, stay away from the tracks! If you have to walk the tracks, don’t walk the trestle.” 

Of course we walked the trestle as soon as we arrived: tossing aside bicycles, scrambling up the embankment, scraping knees, and daring one another to traverse its length before the next train arrived.

At my grandparents’ house, trains were different: less exciting, but equally compelling. Lacking trestles, fancy streamliners, or high-balling freights, we took our amusement from the short, slow chains of hopper or box cars that passed behind the house, rolling our eyes at yet another parental warning: “Whatever you do, don’t cross the tracks.”

We knew why they warned, and we knew the caution really wasn’t necessary. We’d met some of the men who stayed at the hobo camps tucked into fields and ditches on the other side of the tracks, both in our wanderings and when they arrived at the back doors of our homes, seeking food or work. Quiet and generally polite, they seemed more tired than threatening, and always were grateful for the water and food that was offered. In truth, their Hobo Code of Ethics, if adhered to, might go some distance toward reordering our own, disordered society.

During the Great Depression, hobo camps were common. Some became so well-integrated into the surrounding community that towns have memorialized them.

In Fairmont, Minnesota, two wooden trestle bridges belonging to the Milwaukee  and Chicago & North Western lines sheltered a camp from the 1920s through the 1950s. According to a sign at the location:

The Fairmont Hobo Camp was conveniently located on a major westbound rail line, and may have sheltered over ten thousand hobos during these years. The hobo jungle, or bum camp, as some people called it, featured a secluded spot near town with good fishing in the channel and a fresh water artesian well bubbling up from the ground.
An eye witness from the early 1950s remembered the camp site with five or six men standing around, several smoldering campfires, and four or five crude, tin-roofed shelters thrown together using scrap lumber and cardboard.
When it was time to move on, the men would make their way up the ravine’s gently rising runway to track level, where they’d scoot out and hop on the freight cars. We mark this site in remembrance of the hobos who stopped here to rest, and the people of Fairmont who helped them with odd jobs and food.
hobo3Hobo silhouette at the Fairmont camp

The mention of bums in the Fairmont sign is a reminder that tramps and bums also were part of that era’s rail camps. Differences among the groups were real, although sorting them out could be complicated for outsiders. According to blues musician Seasick Steve:

A hobo is someone who moves around looking for work; a tramp is someone who moves around and doesn’t work; and a bum is someone who doesn’t move and doesn’t work.

Before one of the nation’s better-known bums, Charles Greer (affectionately nicknamed Charlie the Mole) died in New Orleans in 1961, he provided his own definition of the difference between a tramp, a hobo and a bum:

A tramp is a migratory worker. A hobo is a migratory non-worker. And a bum is a non-migratory non-worker.

Despite reversing the meanings of “tramp” and “hobo,” Charlie clearly was a bum: at least, for a time. He didn’t work, and he stayed in New Orleans. At his death, newspapers around the country reported that:

[Charlie] was one of the principle builders of the Hotel de Bastille, and lived in it himself. The hotel was a subterranean abode for panhandlers and tramps under the old New Orleans criminal courts building.
Charlie and his friends tapped the water lines, hot and cold, and the electric cables to the municipal building, to give their abode the comforts of home. They even had steam heat. The “King of the Hoboes”  had a private apartment befitting his status.
They lived under the feet of policemen for some time until a dozen years ago, when someone discovered the hotel. Charlie was hauled out, blinking and sheepish. He was promptly dubbed “The Mole,” and became something of a local character. The criminal courts building was demolished to make room for a modern structure, and the honeycomb hotel beneath it was filled in.

At some point after the eviction, Charlie seems to have relinguished his claim to bumhood. He took on work: traveling every summer to New Jersey, where he cut grass and served as handyman for a nudist colony.

Eventually, everything changes. Charlie the Mole takes a job, automobile travel replaces the train, and adults so effectively hobble children they hardly can walk to school, let alone walk a trestle.

But for inveterate railfans, kids-at-heart, nature lovers on a limited budget, or families with limited time, that “other side of the tracks” that served the hobos so well still has something to offer.

During my recent travels through Arkansas, I found roads and rail lines intersecting at every turn. It proved as easy to walk beside the tracks as to drive the roads, and along those tracks the world revealed itself to be beautifully diverse.

img_9891Where ditches and right-of-ways basked in sunlight, the partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) abounded.

partridgepeaAt the edge of mixed woodlands, beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) twined with goldenrod, or branched to shine against the sky.

bberrymagnetcoveSmooth sumac (Rhus glabra) provided a bit of traditional autumn color,sumacleafwhile pristine, elegant Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) seemed to speak of spring.

queenanneOne “little brown butterfly” sipped nectar from Arkansas gayfeather (Liatris compacta),

liatrisbutterflywhile another enjoyed the abundant goldenrod (Solidago spp.) that inundated the state.

goldenrodnectarA flashy, metallic green sweat bee (Augochlora pura) cruised an equally vibrant thistle (Cirsium discolor),

metallicaeven as another stand of thistles proved that age can be attractive.

drythistle Next to a rail siding, an old brick and stone building eased into the earth, its windows and doors framing even more goldenrod.oldhouseAround its walls and within its emptied rooms, white heath aster (Symphyotrichum spp.) clambered and climbed,

astersproviding a meal for this handsome hoverfly (Helophilus fasciatus),

helophilus_trivittatus2and for this bumbling worker (Bombus pennsylvanicus).

bumbleSupervising all the activity was an unusual character who might have worked or worried himself into a prematurely white tail: although the presence of white squirrels in Arkansas suggests genetics is the more likely answer.

whitesquirrelLooking again at these photos, it occurs to me that finding so much abundance in such a small area, and over a relatively short time, might seem remarkable.

But as children and hobos well know, the world can be generous: revealing herself to those willing to lay an ear to the rails, dare the trestles of life, or cross to the other side of the tracks. I’ll always be happy to oblige.

Comments always are welcome. Unless otherwise noted, photos are mine. (Click to enlarge)

128 thoughts on “The Other Side of the Tracks

  1. I had so much trouble finding the ‘comment link’ I was about to give up! Beautiful photography as usual. I’ve never seen a white squirrel. Fascinating!

    I wish I could remember my childhood as well as you seem to do. I do know I wasn’t around trains much and didn’t seem to care about them back then. Though I do remember my aunt’s house was right next door to the tracks and hobos would come to her back door for handouts and she’s give them sandwiches to eat at her back picnic table. As an adult, though, I was intrigued by all the trains and tracks across the plains states that we’d see on our way out west. And I’ve ridden on narrow gauge trains in the mountains. Never want to do that again. LOL

    1. If you “lose” the comment box again, be sure that you’ve clicked the post title rather than the blog title. If you just click “The Task at Hand,” and see only Shoreacres and WordPress dot com, there won’t be a comment box. But if you click on the title of the piece, like “The Other Side of the Tracks,” that’s when the box pops up.

      Isn’t the little squirrel cute? They told me in Eureka Springs that a fancy hotel — the sort that provided entertainment for its guests, around 1900 — had a “circus” that brought pure white squirrels with them. Some escaped, and now they’re quite common around Eureka Springs, but they can be found in other parts of the state, too.

      I do remember my childhood quite well. Many of my memories are like mental snapshots — or perhaps dioramas. When I visualize certain things, it’s almost as though I walk into the memory, and look around. It’s really hard even to describe.

      I’ve never ridden a narrow gauge railroad, but I’ll bet it’s much like the logging roads I’ve been on. When we went to Colorado when I was a kid, there weren’t even guard rails on some of those main roads. My mother turned her back to the car window, put her head in a book, and said, “Tell me when we’re there.”

      1. I know exactly what you mean Linda; I have had that same experience while looking at a photo. Transporting me back in time; a memory so sharp and clear that suddenly I’m there, living it all over again; the sun on my face, the scent in the air, the buzzing of honey bees gathering pollen and nectar from smiling golden rod and aster blossom…

        1. Sometimes it seems to me that “thinking about” the past and “remembering” the past are quite different things. Remembrance, as Proust made clear, often involves all the senses, and is much more than the purely mental exercise that “thinking about” implies. In the same way, “pondering,” “musing over,” and “meditating on” are different than “thinking about.” That’s why, in my experience at least, thinking harder when I’m trying to remember something isn’t always the most effective way to go.

  2. I agree. I’m happy to explore those places without sidewalks or paths. Places that have been alone. If you go back often, you see how they change over time, but not too much.

    The white squirrel is quite the dandy. We have black squirrels visit in back now and then. Most of them are greys. This year we have two reds grazing below the feeders. Today, Melanie spotted a grey with no hair on its tail. Later, I saw one with a bushy tail only 2 inches long. Balance was a problem for both as they scurried up in the branches.

    1. In the northwestern, mountainous part of Arkansas, where I spent most of my time, it felt so different from Texas. Here, most of the trains run along constructed embankments, and there’s not much around the tracks. In Arkansas, even though the tracks were well-tended, I had a sense that the forest and the brush constantly were encroaching, ready to take over.

      I spent a good bit of one evening in Eureka Springs stalking a pure white squirrel that had been sighted. I got a glimpse, but that was all, so I was happy to find this one. The one that made us laugh the most was this little guy. He’s carrying a double black walnut whose size seemed to have baffled him. He couldn’t eat it, and he didn’t seem to be able to figure out how to bury it, so he just ran around the yard with it. I think Aesop could have made a fable out of him.

  3. Linda I absolutely love the photos. All of them are extremely good. I am impressed with the flower and butterfly pics. Very sharp. You have a great lens. So if I may be so bold, what camera brand are you using and what mm lens for the close ups? Is the lens a high dollar one? I must sooner than later get another camera with a higher quality lens. You need not reveal your camera info if you’d rather not. I will understand. My pics are not sharp and it has bothered me immensely.

    I really enjoyed the rail, hobo and, tramp stories and the definition.

    1. Believe me, Yvonne, I was thinking of you when I was choosing which photos to use. I knew you’d like the butterflies. I had several photos of that same liatrus that just weren’t quite good enough, but part of the reason was that there were so many butterflies on it, fluttering their little wings off. It was the only liatrus I saw — many of the plants clearly were past their prime — and the butterflies and bees were making good use of what was left.

      There’s no secret about the camera. I’ve got a Canon Rebel T6s. The train, the tracks, the old building, and the squirrel were taken with an 18-135mm lens, also Canon, and the macro lens I use is a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS. I’m really happy with it. Clearly, the lens is capable of more than I am at this point, but I’m planning to remedy that.

      It always surprises me when I realize I have words in my vocabulary that nearly have disappeared. “Hobo” is one, but I grew up hearing “bindlestiff,” too — and “bindle.” Look at this classic illustration from the “Saturday Evening Post.” It’s full of wonderful details.

      1. Linda, thanks for the camera info. I might get a Rebel. My canon is a 60 and I bought it in November of 2010 but it came with a kit lens of 18-200mm. I don’t have a macro. My auto focus seems to be having problems focusing on close ups such as the butterflies or flowers up close, Love those Saturday Evening posts covers. Wish that the artist were still alive.

  4. It’s those little details that inform our world, aren’t they? Alongside those industrial railroad tracks, nature blooms, and past traces of humankind molder. An old railroad grade connects our two communities and has become a walking/biking/horseback corridor. It’s only two miles but it’s another natural place. Loved your photos, and the details you provide of the life of hobos, tramps and bums, particularly the one who found work among nudists.

    1. In the midst of writing this, I couldn’t help thinking of Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.” It’s a different sort of triad, but it was fun listening to the song again.

      I was so intrigued by Charlie that I followed some links and discovered that Howard Jacobs, a columnist for the “Times-Picayune,” published a book about him (and other miscreants) titled “Charlie the Moll and Other Droll Souls.” Apparently, all of the droll souls lived in NOLA, which almost guarantees it would be a good read.

      When I think of the short-sightedness of tearing up as much track as we have over the years, I get various degrees of frustrated. Still, it’s good to see that so many rail trails are being created, and that people are making use of them. There’s a lot to see along them.

  5. I faintly remember about hobos in my past. Perhaps I heard my parents talk about them. We lived in an area where houses were mostly one to three miles apart so hobos would have starved from the walks between hand-outs. There was a railroad track through our nearest town so they might have jumped on or off train there.

    I always like your writing about children. Such little dare devils. Sad that they have been “hobbled” by adults, until the time they can no longer be hobbled, then their exuberance often has turned to resentment or laziness both of which are negative results of hobbling. Great reading. Pictures are delightful.

    1. My grandparents lived in south-central Iowa, right in the heart of the coal country, where mines still were being opened and operated into the late 1940s. Of course there were closings in the 20s and 30s, as coal seams were exhausted, but miners who were laid off could find employment in other, operating mines.

      I’ve been told that many men rode the rails into town during the Depression, lured by the possibility of work in those mines. By the end of the 1940s (my childhood), more closures left those men, as well as locals, without any work, and it was hard. My grandfather had worked the mines, but he was injured in a slate fall and had to quit working. That no doubt contributed to Grandma’s willingness to help the fellows who showed up. Besides, she always was good at finding work for people to do.

      I think your insight about resentment and laziness is spot on.There have been many recent (and quite well thought-out) articles about the millennial generation, and the effects on them of both over-protectiveness and demands for equality of outcome. The next decade ought to be an interesting one: presuming they can’t stay in grad school forever.

  6. Your mention of the hobos and their code of ethics sparked some memories from my very early years when I spent many fascinating hours with hobos in a hobo jungle near a lumber yard where my father worked. He knew them and they knew him well and I was as safe with them as I would have been at home. It was there that I first began to understand what went into the true value of a man.

    1. Until I wrote this post, I hadn’t come across the Hobo Code of Ethics that I linked, and when I found it, I was quite impressed: not only with the values, but also with the fact that those itinerant workers had found ways to organize themselves: making clear the kinds of behavior that would make life better for everyone.

      Like you, we never felt threatened by the hobos. Some just passed through; some stayed for a time and then moved on. But they were interesting, and from what I could see, they were hard workers. But Grandma didn’t only give sandwiches to the ones who worked for her. Anyone who came to the door hungry got one. As she’d say, “We help people because they need help.” And that was the beginning and end of it, for her.

        1. I’m not sure it’s the only one, but it’s a good one. We certainly could profit from its broader application these days. Of course, now I’m remembering that other, meant-to-be-funny version that was popular when I was in grade school, and which some still seem to follow: Do unto others before they do unto you.

          1. Let me rephrase… It most certainly SHOULD be the first, and quite possibly only, rule.
            I would also say that the “meant to be funny” version is more en vogue these days in particular, if you get my drift? ):):

  7. Pure delight! Your new year’s first post is a visual treat with those stunning photographs! I loved that ride through your world of railway tracks, hobos, tramps, bums and childhood memories. Thanks for introducing Mr White Squirrel! When you mentioned in your last post that we can expect a make over on your blog theme, I knew it’s going to be something gorgeous. Admire the way you write on various topics with such ease! Waiting for the next post, Linda! Best wishes

    1. It’s such fun to hear you bubbling over, Rethy! I’m glad you enjoyed the post — especially the photos, and of course our little squirrel friend. It was great fun for me to write this: a nice way to remember my trip, and continue sorting out the experiences I had. I must say, this experience was rather different than my trip into the Pond Creek Wildlife Management Area, but it was equally delightful.

      Did you know that Emily Dickinson’s father was involved in bringing the railroad to Amherst? The station was near their home, and I read that when it opened Emily watched the activities — from the woods! She wrote a train poem, too:

      “I like to see it lap the miles,
      And lick the valleys up,
      And stop to feed itself at tanks;
      And then, prodigious, step

      Around a pile of Mountains,
      And, supercilious, peer
      In shanties by the sides of roads;
      And then a quarry pare

      To fit its sides, and crawl between,
      Complaining all the while
      In horrid, hooting stanza;
      Then chase itself down hill

      And neigh like Boanerges;
      Then, punctual as a star,
      Stop — docile and omnipotent —
      At its own stable door.”

      1. Emily has not missed a single thing under the sun! Loved the horse metaphor! I didn’t know about her father’s role in bringing the railway to Amherst. Thanks Linda, for sharing the poem.

  8. Another great post, Linda. How do you do it? We are fortunate in living close by a railway track connecting Sydney and Melbourne. I think it runs 4 times each 24hrs but many more trains connect our Town of Bowral to Sydney. In between giant goods train run as well. At night I love hearing those long good trains rumble past, and it also gives me the time.

    One enterprising home owner/ business, along the railway line on the way to Sydney has bolted a large sign on his roof attracting train travellers to his Funeral business. In the backyard he has a number of coffins in the making, some varnished others still raw wood. I wonder if people sometimes write down his phone number.

    ‘Dare the trestles of life.’ That is so true.

    1. Now you’ve given me an idea, Gerard. When I can’t climb around the boats any more, maybe I can varnish coffins for a living.

      All this train talk made me think of you and Helvi, and your trip to Sydney. I finally got out the map, and found Bowral. I found Wollongong, too! And figured out that some friends (who’ve circumnavigated two and perhaps two and a half times, now) were in your neighborhood at one point: they crossed the Tasman Sea on their way to Indonesia and Thailand. They were in Phuket on the day of the Christmas tsunami. Luckily, they were on the boat; they pulled anchor and headed to open water, and were fine.

      But back to trains: I love hearing them, too. That’s one reason I like staying at Matfield Station in Kansas. The tracks are literally out the back door, and the fast freights are common. I’ve always wished I could hear them in the middle of the night, but unfortunately I just go to sleep, and they never wake me.

      I know I agree with you on one point: those posts and those cards never will substitute for the routines of “real” rail travel. As for daring the trestles of life — that’s a bit like hauling five copies each behind, isn’t it?

  9. When we were kids our parents forbid us to go near the Milwaukee Road tracks – but being kids that’s where we went and our favorite past time was hopping trains. We rode them down the hill to the Mississippi then hopped a train back.

    We met a lot of hobos, tramps and bums. Some of them nice, some of them not so nice – but that was another era and they are all but gone now. The people who ride the rails now days, I would stay away from…. too much huffing and meth.

    In my youth, we hitch-hiked….everywhere. We would be on the road for months – but that was another era and and these days, I avoid picking up hitch-hikers – it’s a different crowd than it was.

    1. When my parents were courting (there’s another of those old-fashioned words) Dad would hitchhike every weekend from Moline, where he was working at Deere, back to Melcher: the little town where Mom lived. That went on for about six months or so, until he could afford a car. I’m almost certain he was the first one in the family to have a car, since he was the oldest, and my grandparents never drove. In those days, even if you were going only twenty miles to a next town, you took the train.

      I’ve met a couple of people who still hop trains, but it wouldn’t be for me, either. On the other hand, I do know one woman who still rides the rails from time to time. Have you heard of Abby, the Spoon Lady? She’s a busker who got discovered, sort of. Here’s an example of her amazing work. And here’s a video of a train hop, with Abby playing three sets of spoons and (presumably) someone else playing the Samsonite suitcase.

    2. Wow. Almost Iowa. Another story from you that I’ve never heard/read. A good one. Sad that those times are gone, disobeying parents and all, and doing dangerous things. Each generation has those fun tales. I love when my 88 year old mom tells me how she was Naughty. Good stuff.

      1. I think all kids like to hear those tales from their parents. I know I did. One of my favorites came from my parents’ first date. Dad was bragging about he and his friends stealing a watermelon, and it turned out they had stolen it from my mother’s grandfather. Whoops!

  10. The nearest railroad line to the home I grew up in was about two miles north. You’ve reminded me that on summer nights, with the windows of my upstairs bedroom open in that direction, I could hear trains go by. I also heard the endings of Latin nouns and verbs go by so I could reinforce them over the months between the ending of one school year and the beginning of the next. That, too, was a kind of training.

    As familiar a word as hobo is, its origin remains a mystery.

    1. I always enjoy looking for words like “hobo” at World Wide Words, and they didn’t disappoint with this entry. I especially like the way they describe the differences among the three groups: “…though many writers equate hobo and tramp, they themselves made a careful distinction, in that a hobo travelled to find work while a tramp travelled to avoid it. (A bum was worse than either.)”

      When the wind’s from the north and I have the windows open, I can hear an occasional train whistle from the port, or the petro-chemical plants. Of course, if the weather turns, and we get “training” thunderstorms, the windows have to close.

    1. Now that I’ve looked, I’m sure you’re right — many thanks. In the process of learning about the whirlabout (what a great name) I re-discovered BAMONA, which I’d meant to bookmark, but somehow hadn’t. And, I remembered that I have the Tveten book, which ought to be helpful with some others I have to identify.

      Someone told me recently that birders talk about little brown birds the same way flower enthusiasts talk about DYCs. It seems the same can apply to butterflies.

  11. There was a time when travel by rail was a very pleasant way to get from one place to another… even if you paid for your ticket as I did. But then we got swept away by the romance of the private automobile. Trains became fewer, and were less convenient… used primarily for cargo. Now we seem to be close to full circle again. The cities are packed tight, overcrowded; and most of the intercity highways are slow moving too. The maximum speed posted reads like a daydream. And the trains have come back… surprisingly…

    1. For freight, the trains here seem to be staging a comback as a necessary part of what’s called intermodal shipping. Shipping containers are stacked on the trains, and specialized equipment at ports (or other drop points) takes them off and places them on ships or trucks. It’s a remarkable process, really — although more than a few communities around the ports have been testy about the amount of truck traffic that results.

      While planners here have great dreams for fast trains between large metropolitan areas, what’s missing is the useful interlacing of tracks that used to allow for local train service among smaller towns. Even from a city like Houston, to go anywhere on Amtrak, you have to go first to New Orleans or San Antonio.

      On the other hand, we are a world class city. I just looked at the amenities at the Houston Amtrak station, and discovered that, while the station doesn’t have wifi, it does have restrooms and — a pay phone! You can’t say we’re not sophisticated.

  12. The times have certainly changed from those days when as a kid I lived about a half mile from a rail line with a switching track beside it. We often had hobos come to our house looking for a task in return for a meal or cool drink of sweet tea. They were always interesting. To this day when I hear those lonesome whistles blow I think of those men, now long gone.

    1. Did you grow up in California? I’m thinking so. When I think of California, and hobos, I think about the families, too, and one of my favorite Woody Guthrie songs. The Dust Bowl, the Depression: those were hard times, times that marked the people who lived through them. Even those who had enough to get by were marked, and those who had more than enough seem to have been, at least in retrospect, more willing to share.

      There is something lonesome about a train whistle — but it’s lonesome in a good way, like a coyote howling or a midnight owl. Thank goodness for such things.

  13. I recall my mother speaking of depression days when men sometimes came to the back door seeking work, food, a drink of water. She observed they seemed mostly to be of the honest trustworthy type, simply trying to survive when so many had so little.

    Your photos are spectacular reminding me of some of Arkansas’ nature offerings when I had occasion to be there. I’m also reminded of Maya Angelou’s description of the barrier the railroad tracks in her community presented when she was a young black girl living on the “wrong side of the tracks”. Many years later as an adult woman returning to Stamps, Arkansas she still could not bring herself to cross those tracks.

    1. The “wrong side of the tracks” is a discussion all its own: how the expression came to be, and all of the meanings it carried. Perhaps the most amusing use of the phrase I’ve found is on Weather Underground, where someone has named their personal weather station “The wrong side of the tracks”. I don’t remember hearing the phrase as a kid, although there were other phrases that got bandied about: “lace curtain Irish” and “shanty Irish” are two I remember.

      Even though I’d been in Arkansas before, I’d mostly been passing through, and was surprised by how much beauty I found this time. I think the most spectacular sight was the goldenrod. We had an exceptional spring for wildflowers here in Texas, and it seemed that Arkansas had an exceptional year for goldenrod. No matter where I went, there it was. It was especially nice to see since there was so much fog and rain while I was there. Even in those conditions, it seemed to shine.

  14. I didn’t spend much time around trains when I was a kid. You’d be more likely to find me at the boat harbor. Kids are attracted to adventure and mystery. Trains offer both. It’s easy to understand why they fascinate children. I can see you grabbing your bike and taking off for the tracks, the whole day ahead of you. We were so lucky to experience such freedom. No supervision. Can you imagine?

    Charlie was quite a character.

    1. Trains were pretty much our only option for big thrills: Iowa being a little short on harbors. Of course, we had some good climbing trees and plenty of injury-causing playground equipment, so we didn’t feel the lack of boats too badly.

      Your comment about kids and trains reminded me of a gravestone I found in the Rapp Cemetery, in Kansas. It seems to me that this fellow has kept his child-like delight in trains.

      We were lucky to experience that freedom, and more and more people are sounding warnings about the way children are being raised — have been raised — over the past years. Always having an adult step in to resolve quarrels, prevent a fall, finish a project makes it almost certain that kids will learn to look to others for every answer, every situation in life.

      Even being allowed to play in the dirt had value. Developing a strong immune system depends on exposure, and heaven knows we were exposed: to animals, to mud, to pollens. We were exposed to other, dreadful things too, like polio. The anti-vaccine folks today don’t have a clue what it was like to live in a world of iron lungs and crippled kids — let alone what it’s like to live where preventable diseases, like measles, run rampant. But that’s a far distance from choo-choo trains, so I’ll just stop. At least you’ll have something to ponder in the middle of the night!

  15. Have always loved the old locomotive steam engines and when my husband lived in Kansas City about 15 years ago, his loft was right above the spot where the trains would come for repair. It made for quite a beautiful and unusual kind of landscape, and was also quite noisy when they started to move the coaches and they would bump into one another make loud noises often in the wee hours of the morning.

    Such an evocative post of childhood memories.. I too can remember putting pennies on the tracks and then seeing what shape the copper got stretched out into.


    1. One of my most vivid memories from childhood was crossing the bridge as we headed north out of Kansas City during the 1951 floods. The water was nearly at the level of the bridge deck — they closed it soon after we got out — and there were boxcars galore floating along, together with cattle from the stockyards, and other terrible debris. This photo gallery has some inages from the Argentine district, which your husband no doubt knows.

      Isn’t it interesting how common some experiences are? So often, commenters will say, “Yes, I remember that,” or “I did that, too.” There’s something delightful about that, and strangely comforting. Shared memories are the best — thanks for sharing yours.

    1. It occurs to me it may be the space that’s important. Flowers and people both need space — which is one of the reasons I find mindless development so problematic and irritating. Once space is filled up, it doesn’t return: at least, never in the same way. But flowers are persistent, aren’t they?

      1. I agree. Up here in the northeast part of town, the building is exploding. All the trees are being clear cut. And yes, I am guilty of living here, but our community started as a wooded area saving as many trees as possible. Plants are incredible and I have been taking photos of them growing in impossible places…maybe a future post.

        1. I don’t think “guilty” is the right word. Everyone needs to live somewhere. But how the land is prepared, how limits are set, how landscaping is decided upon? We could do better. Down here in League City and the surround areas, it’s the strip malls that are exploding. Even while thousands of square feet of retail and office space stand empty, the developers roll on.

  16. Interesting post, especially in light of our current homeless populations. Your photos are just stunning–the macro and the micro. The train, and its tracks, certainly elicits a slice of America.

    1. I thought about the homeless while I was writing this. There are distinctions there, too. One man who lived around here for years — I can remember him as far back as 1990 — certainly seemed to fit the definition of a bum, as he never worked, and never moved on. But he survived, until a couple of years ago, thanks in part to the police, who always gave him shelter in the jail during storms and hurricanes.

      Thanks for the kind words about the photos. I may not have my own yard, but there’s something nice about being able to wander the world’s yard.

  17. We always lived near train tracks growing up. The house I was born into, our block ended at the tracks but I was too young to explore it. The house I grew up in was also close to a track with a trestle over the bayou. Yes, we nervously crossed the trestle, we put pennies on the track and retrieved the flattened oval later.

    I even climbed the trestle once though I couldn’t make it all the way to the top, which I wrote about being a lesson in courage. here’s a link if you want to read it Raising my family there were train tracks near enough we could hear the trains at night and now out here in the country there is once again a train track at the end of my street.

    1. That was a great read, Ellen. I’m glad you left the link. I think the line I liked best was, “Young enough to confuse stupid with invincible but old enough to be out there by myself without worrying anybody about being gone all day.” And it did tickle me to think about your conundrum. “Rock and a hard place” sounds so horizontal, but your situation was all about the vertical.

      You mentioned the piney woods, so you must have grown up in Texas. It’s interesting how certain activities, like pennies on the tracks, seem to have indulged in everywhere. Every area of the country has its own music, food, and customs, but it seems the country of childhood cuts across them all.

  18. I’ve always been fascinated by trains, and growing up in a “rail town” only fueled my interest. Domer, too, has been a train afficianado since his boyhood. The two of us have traveled on trains for years and always found it most delightful.

    That said, I certainly appreciate the adults in your world cautioning you to stay off the tracks. When I was in elementary school, we had an all-school mandated movie showing us the dangers of playing on or near railroad tracks. Scared the dickens out of me, I tell ya! I remember one scene where kids were merrily skipping along the tops of box cars and the train started moving. Needless to say, one kid toppled between the cars and was crushed. That was enough to encourage this impressionable child to choose another playground!!

    Beautiful photos, Linda. I love the clarity and the colors you’ve captured!

    1. We never got such an impressive, cautionary film to watch. I suspect your location in a rail town made more serious warnings important. Parents often are ignored, but a visual like that would have impressed me, too.

      One problem we do have here in Texas is the blocking of roads by stopped trains. Often, kids on their way to school will climb over, under, or through the train cars, since finding an alternate route is either confusing or too time-consuming. I was trying to find the name of the town where it was such a problem for a while. I failed at that, but I did discover this interesting article from Wisconsin. I can only imagine how frustrated those people must have been — or are, depending on whether their problem’s been resolved.

      Aren’t the colors of the flowers — and insects — beautiful? Learning to identify all that life is quite a challenge, but it’s fun, too. The internet is such a help, but our advantages make me admire the early naturalists even more.

      1. I found the Wisconsin article interesting, especially since my town is coping with a similar problem. Kids try to “beat the train” getting back to school from lunch, and I’ve often wondered how rescue agencies do their job when people in need live on the other side of the tracks from the hospital. Our city officials, I understand, have worked with the railroad officials to ease the problem, but I’m not sure it will ever be rectified.

  19. This is a good one. Obvious why. Brings to mind why someone years ago gave me one of those wood Hobo Signs that were being sold as novelties. It was the sign designating Kind Hearted Woman. That was for my work as a humane investigator, but now the hobo connection is a little different!

    I’d prefer to think that I’m a hobo (and not a tramp!) of sorts, looking for year ’round work in more gentle climates. I’ve known men who followed the weather for work. I never thought of them as anything other than those alone by choice (or otherwise) moving with the tides, accepting whatever happens along the way. Brave souls, but also tragic in many ways. I don’t know that I would call them one name or another, as the term “hobo” is romanticized from a time so very long ago. It would be ridicule now. There are many good people in great need of help. As automation increases, look for more of this.

    1. I have a photo of my dad and grandfather standing outside the garage/workshop at my grandparents’ place. I have no idea who took the photo, but it’s a good one. The workshop backed up to the alley, and the tracks were right across the road. I remember seeing those hobo signs on a nearby pole. Don’t I wish I had some photos of those. It’s interesting to look at the websites that show many more than the most well-known, like the cat. Even without the internet, they were able to communicate.

      Just this morning I was reminded that Eric Hoffer would have fit the definition of a hobo for a decade or so. It’s worth remembering: you never known exactly who you’re meeting, out there on the road.

    1. Isn’t he, though? The Arkansas Fish and Game Commission had a note on their page that “White squirrels will usually be a variation of eastern gray squirrels. This is known as leucism, and is a reduced amount of pigmentation causing the white fur.” I found a page that shows where sightings have taken place. Keep your eyes open!

      1. A small town in Illinois- Olney- is known for their white squirrel population. I heard this growing up in IL, but not sure if it’s still true. Everything white is deficient or delicate in some way.

        1. I just looked up Olney, and it looks like white squirrels are big business there. They have a large population of the squirrels, not to mention a town website with a couple of legends about how they got there. They hold annual squirrel counts, have stores selling white squirrel memorabilia, and all the rest of it. They keep using “white squirrel” and “albino” interchangeably, though, so I’m not sure which they are. For marketing purposes, either would work.

          I laughed at your comment about everything white being deficient or delicate. Tell that to my favorite white prickly poppy — or me, for that matter! (I’m teasing, of course — but maybe not about the poppy),

  20. Lots to chew on in this post– diction, connotation, locomotion. Which track to take?
    The train, particularly the one traveling west, retains an important romantic and historical place in American lore. Film and music, art and fiction–all rumble down the tracks of time.
    My favorite childhood book was The Boxcar Children. Even though those orphaned kids resided in a train car that had come to rest, such a house stimulated my imagination.

    Thank you for the fine writing and photography.

    1. Thanks for those kind words, Cheri.

      Speaking of art and fiction rumbling down the tracks of time, I’ve always loved Flannery O’Connor’s comment about Mr. Faulkner in her book “Mystery and Manners”: “The presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.”

      The Boxcar children series was wonderful. I wondered if it still was being read, and discovered that “Surprise Island” is being made into a film this year.

      This, in the Amazon description, tickled me: “They display a wealth of confidence in their ability to face life’s everyday challenges armed only with their clever inventiveness and the support of each other. Few subjects are as sure to capture the imaginations of children as the idea of living on their own.” Perhaps the book should be made required reading in our colleges and universities.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Richard. I love getting out and about, and it’s fun to share what I find with others.

      One thing that appeals to me about macro photography is the opportunity to present quite common plants in unusual and unexpected ways. Rather than posting a photo of a complete Queen Anne’s lace umbel, I decided to show one of my favorite detail photos: a single cluster of unfolding blooms. Here’s the characteristic wine-colored floret in the same flower; one of the nearby umbels; and the beginning of a seedhead formation.

      In some places, there were great colonies of Queen Anne’s lace: as pretty in their own way as the goldenrod.

  21. A walk on the edge, no matter what the edge may be, opens one’s eyes to the possibilities… Be it visual or introspective. The edge of danger, as a youngster, opens your eyes and your imagination. As you mature, the same edges become a world of surprises and beauty. And, when approached with camera in hand, your eyes focus on details most often overlooked. Beautiful post Linda.

    1. It’s true, isn’t it? The unexpected sound in the middle of the night, the stream with a rock bridge barely out of the water, that strange, rattling sound in isolated ranchland — our senses quicken, and we become suddenly alert: imagining all the possibilities.

      But sometimes, all the surprises are good ones, and we remind ourselves that we really, truly, do need to get out more. Being able to record some of the beauty is, as we say, gravy.

      Thanks for the kind words, Gary.

    1. The bridges can be wonderful, too. Finding the old stone ones is a special treat. We don’t have many in Texas, but they’re here. I suspect you come across stone arch bridges often — not necessarily for railroads, but just as attractive.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s great fun, this exploring-and-sharing.

      1. We have lots of brick arch bridges on our canal networks, which are beautiful. But the stone bridges are indeed most beautiful, but they are normally further out in the country. Thank you for sharing :)

  22. Another terrific post painting pictures in my head. As a child staying often with an aunt and uncle, I listened to far away trains in the night, joining the comforting sound of a nearby clock chiming the lonely hours. Today, the sound of trains is much closer, waking me regularly at 3 a.m. as it passes through town. A friend lives with the track in her back yard, and barely raises an eyebrow as it roars past her house.

    1. I have a friend who lives in Bellaire, an old, gentrifying neighborhood in Houston. The tracks run right past her house, too. She doesn’t hear the trains, and she’s glad for the tracks, since they’ve prevented McMansions on both sides of her.

      Isn’t it something, how there are good night noises that bring comfort, and those “other” noises that bring us straight up out of bed? And then there are noises only our pets can hear. I’m sure you’ve spent some time wondering what in the world set off your Charlie.

      Speaking of Charlie, if you have moles, he could be Charlie the Mole-hunter.

        1. Isn’t it funny how those little creatures can burrow into our hearts? I still miss my squirrel. I suppose that’s why I’m so attentive to the ones I find out and about.

  23. My father was a railroading man for the Santa Fe Railroad. My husband retired from the Union Pacific Railroad. I had to cross the railroad tracks as a child to get to school. On the way home one day a train was stopped. A lot of people were walking around it. It was blocking the place school kids crossed the tracks. We learned an older man that lived near the tracks decided to take a shortcut by crawling under the train. He was killed when the train began to move. No one had to tell us to be careful after that experience.

    1. There are many reasons trains block crossings, and most of them are quite legitimate. But school kids can be just as impatient as adults, and the temptation to go under a car or through a connection can be nearly irresistible.

      UP844 is my favorite steam engine in the world. I just checked, and it’s stopped right now in Cheyenne. A few years ago, it made a run down to the Valley. I got to walk through it in Houston, and see it rolling through Texas. It was so exciting — the diesel engines are great, but there’s just nothing like steam. If it ever comes this way again, you can be sure I’ll be chasing it.

    1. So you’re a train lover, too? They’re quite wonderful, really. Since you enjoy traveling, too, you might put a trip on today’s version of the Orient Express on your list of acceptable birthday or Christmas gifts. It’s in your neighborhood, after all, and would be a fabulous experience.

  24. Exquisite photos Linda. I keep intending to get a macro lens … your photos remind me.

    My brother grew up with a fascination of railroads. I’m not sure it was because our dad ran the train under the Christmas and then died when my brother was six and I was 1, or if it was the fact that our grandmother worked for Union Pacific for a time. Whatever it was translated into my brother’s work as an artist and creating beautiful railroad paintings. I have one of his railroad themed paintings hanging in our trailer.
    The story is also interesting because I have been reading about the 30s and the depression and how so many men ended up as tramps and hobos during that time.

  25. I resisted the macro lens for a while, but you can only look at others’ macro photographs for so long before the urge to “do that, too” becomes overwhelming. I figured it was less a purchase than an investment, and it certainly has paid dividends.

    I didn’t realize your brother’s a painter. I like the thought of you taking him along with you, in the form of his art. I think trains are inherently beautiful, especially some of the older ones, and there are photographers, too, who capture them wonderfully well.

    It seems to me that one of the problems facing us today is that the gap between the truly well off and the paycheck-to-paycheck people is getting larger.I have no answer to this question, but it’s nagging at me: is it possible that things held together during the Depression better than they are today because so many more people were affected? I don’t know, but it’s an intriguing question. If you find an answer in your reading, let me know

  26. So many thoughts popped into my mind as I read today, Linda. Much of it was about trains when I was a child… the most hair-raising of them from Barstow, CA where my cousin Bruce and I liked to lay in the water drainage tunnel under the tracks. When the freight trains went overhead we screamed like the devil as they passed and shook us to our innards.

    There was the one that passed by grandma Strong’s front porch, right down the middle of the street, and we waved and made pulling motions until the engineer would blast his horn for us. I once got to see a steam engine trailing a head of cloud-like white steam as it pulled it’s load through a green valley in summer. It was my first and my last. It seemed our lives were surrounded by trains and tracks and we observed them with glee. I recall no hobos, tramps or bums in these encounters.

    As an adult the last time I rode a train the children along the tracks were throwing rocks and showing me their bare backsides. Ah, the times they are a changin’.

    1. Now, that’s a memory — you and your cousin in the drainage culvert. I can only imagine how that shook. I suppose the good news is no one could hear you screaming over the noise of the train.

      It’s a fact that some things never change. When I was staying at Matfield Station in Kansas, whenever I heard the BNSF (Burlington Northern & Santa Fe) freight coming, I’d head out to the back patio, only feet from the tracks, and wave. The ones that came through later in the day were more likely to sound their horns — such fun.

      But the steam engines still are my favorites. Someday, one of the Union Pacific steamers will go on another trip, and I hope it’s somewhere accessible. There’s nothing like seeing one of those — as you so well know.

      I could do without the rock-throwing, but it made me smile to know kids still are “mooning” trains. Not that I ever did that, you understand, but there were some boys I knew…

  27. What a terrific post, I really enjoyed the narrative and the excellent photos.
    Particularly liked the phrase “eased into the earth” for an old building.
    My grandmother used to talk about her mother feeding the hobos (during the Depression), and them leaving marks in code on the back fence, to let their colleagues know, here was a lady who’d give you a meal or slice of pie at least.
    I love trains – there’s a track at the bottom of my street, mostly just hopper cars of silica and potash for a local glass factory, etc. not too exciting, but most days, the boxcars are a pretty amazing graffiti show going by at 10 mph.
    One time I waved my authentic Finger Lakes RR cap at the locomotive, and the engineer waved back and popped a jester’s hat on his head. I’ve always wondered why he’d have such a thing.

  28. Just think how many people that engineer has left scratching their heads over the years. I’ll bet he has a clipboard in the cab where he keeps a record of the number of people he puzzles by playing the jester. Every time he pops on the hat, he tells the conductor, “Chalk up another one, Charlie. That’s six, and it’s not even noon.”

    I looked up the Finger Lakes RR, and my goodness — what nice looking engines and cars. I saw it’s a shortline, and I recognized a couple of the counties served from your blog: especially Seneca. What a fun way to tour the lake country. I couldn’t quite figure out if they’re still running the passenger excursions, but they should.

    It’s interesting to hear from so many people who have hobos and hobo signs as part of their families’ past. It wasn’t just the “Okies” who experienced the Depression, or felt the effects of the dustbowl. There were a lot of sandwiches and pieces of pie going out of back doors for a while.

    Isn’t it something, to watch buildings slowly melt away? We see it here with barns and sheds, mostly. In Louisiana, it’s the brick chimneys at the old sugar mills that slowly are crumbling, or being overgrown with vines. I suppose every place has its examples. In Arkansas, there are a lot of old brick buildings like the one I show here: perhaps homes, or perhaps not. I asked some local railroad workers about this one, and they didn’t know. It just always had been there, as part of the scenery.

  29. The hobos are the embodiment of that very human need to see what’s over that next hill. The restless, the ones with sand in their shoes. They were as much a part of the railroads as the engineers, conductors and crew. They were the men disenfranchised by the Great Depression, the ones cut loose and set adrift. There are those in every era.

  30. Did you sing that song about the bear who went over the mountain when you were a kid? He went “to see what he could see.” It’s a lovely, open-ended way to travel, and akin to hoboing, I think.

    I can’t remember hearing the expression “sand in their shoes,” but it’s a good one. It brought to mind an old, old song that you probably remember, too. It’s been covered a good bit, but the original still is the best, as far as I’m concerned. Frankie Laine’s “Wild Goose” is another good one. I used to sing it as a grade-schooler, and still can: at least, the first verse and chorus.

  31. How interesting that we both landed on a train theme this week. Perhaps there is something in the air! I really enjoyed reading the “Hobo ethics” piece. My parents spoke of this phenomenon, but it is largely a forgotten piece of history, I think. There is much wisdom in these that speak to a way of being in the world that is too easily forgotten, along with the values of slowing down a bit. The photos, too, display the wisdom in this.

    1. A friend who likes to interpret dreams once told me that dreaming about trains means life is moving in the right direction, and goals will be achieved. If writing about trains means the same, I’m all for it.

      That Hobo Ethics piece is somehow comforting: a reminder of goodness in the world, even in the midst of difficult situtations. Of course there were evil people in the past: difficult situations, and irritations galore. But there was a consensus about the nature of a good person — even if it wasn’t always lived up to. I thought it was interesting that they included an admonition not to molest children, and to try and persuade youngsters to return home. I suspect we always felt safe around the itinerants because we were.

      The more I’m out and about with the camera, the more I appreciate what you’ve had to say about walking. It does provide a different perspective, and heightens awareness. The slowing down that it entails is a good part of the reason — no question about that.

  32. This is fascinating, Linda. We never really had hobos around where we were but of course we all knew about them. Very interesting. And of course, you used your great camera and beautiful new format to the max with such wonderful photos. What beautiful things you found in this short space, a gentle reminder that there is beauty everywhere of one kind of another. We merely need to look and appreciate.

  33. Even though I’ve seen so many of your photos, Jeanie, I’m not certain — did you grow up in Lansing? If you were in a more urban area, you probably wouldn’t have had the same chance I did to bump up against the hobo culture. In my home town, we were around the trains, but it was in my grandparents’ very small town, with everyone pretty close to the tracks, that the hobos were more accessible.

    Last night I was doing more browsing, and found this article that made me think of a Ken Burns documentary. The closest I could find in his archive is the one he did on the Dustbowl, but it seems as though hobos would be a perfect subject for him. You should drop him a note!

    On this afternoon, the rails for me a lovely substitute for your ditch. It’s these simple, hidden places, that often reveal the greatest beauty, simply because humans have, for the most part, left them alone.

  34. Ah, finally. I found the comments section! I was a bit flummoxed for a bit.

    As soon as I started reading, I flashed back to nights at my grandmother’s house in Greenville. There was a track behind the houses across the street. Lying snug in a feather bed under a silk coverlet, I’d hear the lonesome wail of a train whistle as it made its way through town.

    I imagine the days of hobos were about over, by the time I was old enough to know about them. I’ve met plenty of bums, though!

    You’ve posted some lovely photos. Just goes to show what you can see, if you stop long enough to look.

    We’ve had reports of white squirrels in SC. Some may be transplants/releases from the colony in Brevard, NC.

  35. Here’s the secret to why you couldn’t find the comment box. If you click on the blog title (“The Task at Hand”), or come in via, there’s nowhere to comment. You don’t get the comment box until you click on the title of a post, like “The Other Side of the Tracks.” I think I’ll add an explanatory note for a while.

    There’s nothing better than a train whistle at night — and aren’t those memories of our grandmothers comforting? I’m fond of hearing a train coming from miles away, but that’s a different sort of experience. When I was at Matfield Station in Kansas, I could hear them coming early enough to be able to go in, get the camera, and be back at the tracks by the time they arrived. Of course, it was pretty quiet out there.

    Until I read your comment, I’d forgotten about a song we used to sing when I was a kid, called “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum”. I still remember the tune, and some of the lyrics. There are several versions on YouTube, including one from 1928, and it’s funny to read some of the comments — especially from kids who think it’s a cool song. Here’s one version of the lyrics:

    Why don’t you work like other folks do?
    How the hell can I work when there’s no work to do?

    Hallelujah, I’m a bum,
    Hallelujah, bum again,
    Hallelujah, give us a handout
    To revive us again.

    Oh, why don’t you save all the money you earn?
    If I didn’t eat, I’d have money to burn.

    Whenever I get all the money I earn,
    The boss will be broke, and to work he must turn.

    Oh, I like my boss, he’s a good friend of mine,
    That’s why I am starving out on the bread line.

    When springtime it comes, oh, won’t we have fun;
    We’ll throw off our jobs, and go on the bum.

    it’s neat that you have some white squirrels, too. I think they’re just the cutest things ever. Of course, I’m more fond of white hair generally than I used to be!

  36. I loved this. We presently live next to a railroad track and I can honestly say I won’t miss it when we move. But I loved this story, the childhood fascination, the history of the hobo, and the photos were beautiful!

    1. Even though I love trains, and enjoyed being next to the tracks for a while when vacationing, I can understand how it might wear a bit if it were in my backyard. On the other hand, a friend who lives in the middle of Houston, and next to very active tracks, loves it. As she says, it’s her protection from someone building on the other side of her.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Following an assortment of tracks and the roads that run alongside them was a great way to see some beautiful parts of Arkansas — and of course I enjoyed the memories, myself.

  37. Very interesting article and lovely photos, what a handsome looking squirrel and great photo of the hoverfly (we call that and similar hoverflies ‘footballer hoverflies’!)

    1. Is “footballer” because the stripes look like a uniform? What a delightful, and amusing name. I’m not at all well-versed in hoverflies, believe me. I was pleased to be able to identify this one. I’m glad you like the squirrel, too. They’re such delightful creatures, and in this case, very fashionable!

    1. You know what my favorite railroad in Kansas was? The Cimarron Valley Railroad. I saw one of its trains running between Monticello and Sublette, and couldn’t believe what I was seeing — such a pretty blue!

      There are characters in every generation, but Charlie and his buddies were pretty remarkable. I’m glad you enjoyed his story.

  38. I enjoyed this post immensely. I also enjoyed the replies. I had to force myself to stop reading the replies and get to work. Love the stories and photos. It was a delightful trek back in time. When my pen pal and I squashed pennies or paper clips or whatever on our respective tracks and mailed them to each other. Such fond memories.

    1. Weren’t penpals the best? I wonder if kids do that any more? I suppose they just text. But it always was fun — waiting and waiting, wondering if “this’ would be the day that a reply arrived.

      I love the comments that people leave here. There’s always something new, like your paper clips on the tracks. I’d never heard of that. And everyone has a memory to share. It’s fun to see how much we have in common, even when we’ve been raised at different times, or in different parts of the country.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this. It certainly was fun to write.

      1. Regarding pen pals, I’ve encouraged my kids not to delete their texts that are good conversations. I’ve been saving mine for years and loaded them on the computer and have been printing them out and making notebooks for my kids. It’s like the journal they don’t know they’re keeping. Good juicy stuff in there.

  39. I really like your macros. I really like Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) and its growing pattern, and your insects are great too.

    The title of your post: “The Other Side of the Tracks” is so symbolic. It’s that skill to go beyond the trails of human civilization, to find the marvels of earth. It is what made me become a naturalist.

    1. It hadn’t occurred to me until I looked at the Queen Anne’s lace photos that each small portion of the umbel (what is the right name?) has the same growing pattern as the flower as a whole. Can you believe I had to go to Arkansas to finally see Queen Anne’s lace? I’ve been looking for it for a couple of years, but kept finding another plant that resembles it.

      I love that you picked up on that meaning of “the other side of the tracks.” It’s the reason I specifically avoided all mention of the “wrong side” of the tracks. From my perspective, the other side is pretty much always the right side.

      1. I agree. From what I can gather, if they are ‘umbels’, then they look like umbrellas, since in botany, ‘umbel’ is from Latin umbella “parasol, sunshade,” diminutive of umbra “shade, shadow.”

  40. When I was a child there was a Hobo Camp near the train trestle in the nearby town, just a mile or two from my house in California’s Central Valley if you cut through the orange groves. My friends and I would cross the trestle and see the camp. Usually the hobos were not there – when they were, we didn’t go close to their makeshift tents and smoldering fires. Actually I don’t know if they were hobos according to the definitions above, but they did at least leave their camp sometimes, and we never knew them by any other name.

    I used to love hearing the train when lying in bed at night. Now in my town a new commuter train passes through and I like having that sound back in my life again.

    Your photos of train track views are a joy.

    1. Sometimes, a phrase in a comment will stop me in my tracks (no pun intended, there) and you’ve done it with “if you cut through the orange groves.” For this midwestern-raised child, that sounds magical, romantic — almost other-worldly. To our cornfield besotted minds, orange groves were the height of exotic elegance, and having fresh oranges was quite a treat.

      I have a friend who lived in California many years ago. She’s often talked about how they would go out and glean the fields after harvest, and how they were allowed to collect fallen fruit in orchards. I wonder if the men camped in places like you describe were able to do the same. It certainly would have helped in their circumstance.

      We’ve been having unusual westerlies over the past few days, and the sound of trains on an active line about five miles away has been carrying. It’s such fun. Like you, I enjoy having the sound in my life.

    1. Thanks, Susan. It certainly was a feast for my soul, to see them growing so abundantly. The flip side of little autumn color was, of course, a continuation of some summer color — just as lovely and enjoyable.

  41. A wonderful post. You found real beauty along the tracks! Tracks are an important feature in my area as well but they are not lovely. When my family moved here in the mid 70’s I quickly took to roaming along them as there weren’t many roads then. Or trains, for that matter. Now freight has really picked up, along with Amtrak and commuter traffic, and people are killed regularly. The little brown jobs you saw are skippers, and you got wonderful shots of them :)

    1. It’s true that rail yards and urban tracks can be more interesting than beautiful, but they have their virtues. One of life’s little ironies in Houston is that the light rail, meant to be such a boon to us all, has caused innumerable injuries and even deaths because it’s too quiet. People can’t hear it coming. It’s not funny — and yet it is.

      I love those butterfly photos. One I didn’t post shows two of them sipping away on a single liatris: for all the world like a pair of teenagers sharing an ice cream soda. I’ve got myself a couple of butterfly books now, and am looking forward to their return. I saw a redbud blooming today, along with some oxalis, and crowpoison is everywhere. I do believe spring is sneaking in amongst us!

      1. You’ll have a wonderful time with the butterflies this summer. Let me know if you get stuck with one. Although our species will be different I might be able to point you to the right group.
        My spirits are rising with the temperatures. It has been a blessedly mild winter, and now I’m seeing signs of spring too. Hooray! Made it through another one :)

        1. I’ll take you up on that offer about the butterflies. If nothing else, you can correct me when I post something that’s wrong. Heaven knows that’s going to happen.

          I’m pleased that our temperatures are dropping again tonight. We’re going back to a 40/60F pattern, which is just as it should be. But everyone seems agreed that the last freeze has happened, so it won’t be long until things are perking up here, too — for real.

          1. It is reassuring when temps return to normal patterns, isn’t it?
            I’m looking forward to a butterfly undertaking this summer with you. Mistakes certainly do happen~I misidentified a common butterfly on my blog last summer and was mortified! :)

  42. These really are such lovely images. Those closeups have me mesmerized, esp that first bee shot. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get to this post and soak in all that wild loveliness.

    Just having listened to stories from our friends working in Kenya, your description of “intoxicating freedom from school” contrasts sharply with the Kenyan kids who never knew whether they’d be turned away when they got to school. What a world of difference.

  43. It sounds as though the situation in Kenya resembled that of Liberia. Quite apart from the difficulties involved with obtaining uniforms and books, there were challenges ranging from cultural conflicts (bush school vs. western schooling) and of course the disruptions involved because of armed conflict. Now, our system faces challenges of its own — certainly beyond the scope of a little comment section.

    I’m glad you enjoyed my bits of beauty. It was a wonderful October in Arkansas — clearly autumn, but blooming still. It’s been fun remembering as I write.

    1. One thing’s certain. An interesting or beautiful subject certainly makes photography more fun, and more appealing to others — or so we hope.

      Until the past couple of weeks, I hadn’t been out with the camera since this trip. That’s nearly three months; where the time went, I’m not sure. What I found when I got back out was quite interesting. The strength I’d developed for carrying the camera and holding it steady had eroded. I’d gotten to the point where I really didn’t feel the weight of the camera at all. I certainly do now — but it’s getting better.

      That’s a fine selection of tunes. They reminded me of a parody that was sung at a local variety show long, long ago. The first line of the chorus went, “Hop, little hobo, getting ready to ride,” and it was sung to the tune of The Rip Chords “Hey, Little Cobra.” We were so easily entertained fifty years ago.

      1. I rarely hand hold my camera, always on a tripod, so cannot share any little secrets of holding the camera steady. By chance did you purchase a camera that allows for lenses with built in stabilizers? I don’t think you use Photoshop, but it also has a filter to help clean up a bit of camera movement.

        1. As a matter of fact, I have good Canon lenses, and each of them has image stabilization. It does help — sometimes a good bit. I have both Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, so it’s just a matter of learning to use them. I’ve been saying that for a year. You would think… Ah, well. Maybe this year.

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