Riding home again

Posted 09.12.06

As I looked up both sides of the steep valley, the matchstick men carried on their slow but definite climb toward the top of the horizon-defined ridge, greenly fuzzy against the washed out blue sky, laced with angel hair. What fooled me was the trick of perspective.

The men at the bottom of the valley had obvious long legs and you could see where their arms, fully extended, reached up above their heads to hold up the beams. The men further up the slope had shorter legs and arms as they also reached up to hold up their beams.

From somewhere in the forest came a shrieking whistle as compressed steam was forced through a small slot by the opening of a hand-controlled valve. The hand controlling the valve pulled, paused briefly, then pulled again as the steam screamed its white warning to the world: "Clear the tracks! Get off the trestle! Here I come, pulling a train along behind me!"

Suddenly, a black shadow burst forth from the forest high above and, with the force of the steam belching from the boiler, propelled itself slowly across the wooden sidewalk high over my head - an armored giant out for a stroll with great clinking, clanking and demanding attention. The thin ribbons of steel that directed the passage of the leviathan were invisible from where I stood, making the passage of the chugging, lugging contingent of head-to-tail elephantine mechanical beadwork seem like magic.

The wooden sidewalk down our side of the street on Dome Avenue conjured up such imagery in my mind when I lay in the ditch beside the storm drain. The wooden trestle, defined against the sky, thumped and rattled as bicycles passed overhead, pressed forward by those fortunate enough to own one.

The thumping pattern varied. If the bike had ordinary tires, the sound was a sharper "thunk-thunk-thunk' than if the tires were of the balloon variety. Those were more like "thumppp-thumppp-thumppp" as the wider tread cushioned the sound.

Most of the time, a ride home was on the tarred gravel road or the even-more gravelly shoulder. Only as you approached home did you veer from the roadway onto the sidewalk to announce your arrival. The unevenly spaced boards, some more tightly nailed down than others, some warped by the ravages of time and weather, conspired to provided unanticipated chiropractic treatment over the last twenty-five bone-jarring, teeth-rattling yards.

As I veered to make the dangerous passage across the trestle, I was like the giant bursting forth from the forest, high above the valley floor - dashing, damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead breaking from cover to surprise and confound any enemies or traitorous villains who might be lying in wait.

Then, banked into the yard at # 146, in the cool shade of the l-shaped bank of willows that skirted the house. Brakes applied, scrunch of gravel beneath the wheels - and safety.

After they tore up the wooden sidewalk and replaced it with an asphalt-covered path, the adventure of riding home dwindled in my mind like the matchstick men climbing the valley walls. But, if I close my eyes, I can still travel the giant trestle of my youth.

Copyright © 2006 Robert Gervais/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.06