Father's Day 1999

Today, on a father-son-bicycle-rails-to-trails excursion, we pass through a quarter mile rail tunnel (construction finished in 1868, according to the capstone). Stalactites reach down from the arches like teeny grey whale teeth around uneven stone lips. Drop, drop, water falls on my helmet from the craggy hewn rock supports overhead. Spaced in run-for-your-life-Joe Hobo intervals along the wall are human sized cubbyholes for calm observation of hurried steam engines—four or five feet away. No such locomotion today; only black rivulets of water sweating coolly down the bricks—either eroding away the mountain inside, or slowly covering the evidence of man’s intrusion with musty mineral plaster. The damp walls will suffer no mark of graffiti; some fading painted promises attest to loves or declare someone’s existence on a certain date. In the center is almost darkness—silverglowing cave rain excluded. Every whisper returns in chorus—voices of men who hurled the first picks into the still solid stone, but never saw an exit for the entrance made. Drop, drop. Dad says that, during WWII, the tunnel was guarded by a military unit. Without rail transport, no troops or tanks could traverse to the sea—to ships, then to planes, to Germany or to Japan, we’ll go out and bomb ancient tunnels in other lands so, someday, this one will still stand open. Today it stands free, no guards or even rails, only the occasional horse or hiker passing unimpeded. Another memorial for dying recreational men remembering the dead. A passage made during war in this place to move men quickly to war in another—today, quiet and forgotten, it stands unused for such a scale of conflict—only for father and son to dismount and walk carefully through. Drop, drop and memory—for those who care to remember—and use an open space for dreaming.

On the trail—outside caves and such—passing houses, underpasses, churches, and other signs of occupation, I gave a thought to my prejudices and misgivings. We all have some picture of the nation around us; we have some notion of history related to us and hope of relating some part of the future on to others. What do I really know about the people here and down the trail? For part of the trip we ran parallel to the freeway—quickly, quickly, sealed inside and five miles over the speed limit. Is the purpose of travel only reaching a destination—if so, I should wish to pass on soon from living, there is a destination waiting for me. How much of travel is relating to the other travelers, a history of the trek behind and listening to a word from those more traveled? I would like to bike or hike across some goodly sample of America someday (soon?). There is more to see that what is shown—so much communication, however, who knows someone else down the trail? Christians are good with introductions—or should be. (I speak condemning myself more than others).

Tonight, at dinner on the deck, a not-too-distant neighbor expended several dozen rounds of semi-automatic ammunition. Do I know him? Do I really wish to? Perhaps the militia is rounding up again (most of the local militiamen are fairly round at the outset). Will they guard the tunnels? I think the next effective army must be armed with language—a war fought with words. Am I training well? Drop, drop—aging memorials call for their historians. Someone needs to record the memory of today or tomorrow will forget all the voices in the tunnel, the wars, the father and son, the open passages for dreaming will close upon themselves.