Trains in the Distance

Every once in awhile, something happens that triggers incredible nostalgia for me. A brief whiff of a scent, a piece of music, a few words spoken and I’m transported into the past. It’s not always a particular memory, but an association with a certain place. For example, there’s a bird (a dove, I think?) that occasionally will sing in our backyard in the mornings. Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Kenya, sitting on the porch of our safari “tent” after a morning safari adventure. I’m not sure if I ever heard a dove song (or whatever it was) in the Maasai Mara, but the sound of that bird puts me back in Africa. I love that feeling. Another happened to me this morning.

This morning while ambling about the kitchen in a trance-like state, I hear a train blowing its whistle in the distance. That’s not a particularly uncommon sound in our house, train tracks run nearby. In the still of the morning, the train was a little louder than normal. But it wasn’t the train’s whistle that transported me. No, it was what my wife did. She sang just one line, and poof, I was transported. She sang:

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance; Everybody thinks its true

The line is from Train In The Distance, a song by Paul Simon. I just read that it’s on the Hearts and Bones album, but I know it from Negotiations and Love Songs, one of Simon’s greatest hits albums. It’s music I grew up listening to in my parents’ cars. It became a tradition to listen to that album on trips to Colorado. We might not have listened to it for an entire year, but we made sure to have it on our drive to Colorado. The early-morning wake up call in Dalhart, Texas; stumbling to the suburban so that I can steal an hour or so more of sleep; waking up and hearing Paul Simon as we approach Sierra Grande in New Mexico. To me, hearing Paul Simon means the anticipation of seeing mountains in the distance, and the excitement when they finally appear. As I’ve grown, the tradition has stayed alive. Whenever my wife and I drive to Colorado, we make sure to have that CD on hand. As we cross over into New Mexico, we pop it in. It stays in the CD player usually all the way to Colorado Springs, if we take that route. Last time we went a little different way, taking 160 from Walsenburg to Alamosa, up 17 and 285 to Buena Vista and 24 all the way to I-70 near Vail.

So when my wife sang that one line from Train in the Distance, I was immediately back on the road to Colorado. It’s always a different road, though. This time I was transported to Highway 160, about halfway between Walsenburg and Alamosa, near Mount Mestas (oddly enough, part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, featured in Simon’s Hearts and Bones, another song on the album) and Iron Mountain. It’s early fall and the aspens are turning. A backdrop of deep-green pine provides sharp contrast to the bright gold of the aspens and browns of the grass in the valley. The air is clear without a cloud in the sky and the temperature is mild; the day is perfection. I’m captured by the natural beauty of the mountains. We turn north in the San Luis Valley, with the Sangre de Cristo Range to our East. The road is flat and straight, but the views continue to captivate me. Eventually the Sawatch Range will come into view, but for today I’m content with views of Blanca Peak, Mount Lindsey, and the golden beauty of changing aspens. And Paul Simon warns us that negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same.


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