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Memory train

12/31/05 12:00AM By Alan Boye
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(HOST) The New Year's holiday is a time for reflection on the past as well as an opportunity to make plans for the future. Commentator Alan Boye spent a recent evening walking whild contemplating this passing of time.

(BOYE) I'm telling myself stories as I walk along an abandoned railroad bed not far from my northern Vermont home. It's a dark and moonless winter's evening. Even though its been twenty years since the last train passed through these hills, I can easily see the tracks in the snow.

An elderly resident of my town told me the story of how he used to ride a train to school each day along these tracks from his farm east of town. Each morning he'd wait near a siding for the train. Then, he'd hear it coming from somewhere up in the high hills. Finally the locomotive would roar past screeching and steaming, then a half-dozen flatbed cars rumbled past, all loaded with lumber. At the end of the train was an old mail-car that also served as school bus and caboose. Day after day he'd climb aboard that train and ride these rails into town, and every night after school, he'd ride them home again.

In the now-abandoned tracks where I walk, the frozen, bare remains of blackberry brambles whip against my jeans.

Soon I'm telling myself stories about my own life. I remember standing at the train station when I was a kid, waving goodbye
to my father as he left for a business trip. That story weaves seamlessly into dreams of travel I want to do in the coming year. That, in turn, causes me to worry about friends and family who are spread all over the world.

I come to a long, gentle curve. The bend in the rails traces an arch of white on the black, winter's night.

Although I keep moving ahead, I'm thinking about turning back toward home. I imagine myself curled up in the big chair with that new biography of Mark Twain I've been reading. I'll have a cup of hot tea, or maybe a glass of wine. It'll be good to take off my boots and put on my slippers.

But almost without effort, my feet keep moving toward that evaporating point where the snow-covered tracks simply vanish into the blackness of the surrounding forest. With one step I go from dreams of tomorrow's promise, to fanciful stories from my imagined past. With the next step I'm far away in some improbable fairyland of my restless mind.

I stop.

My mind seems always busy with fragments of stories like this. Stories we tell ourselves in order to believe we hold some real place in the vast expanse of time.

I look around. Behind me are my bootprints, already filling with snow; ahead of me there is nothing but the unbroken whiteness
of the unknown path.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke from our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury.
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