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three poems by 13 Grand Central bustled at one end of it and Chicago’s Union Station roared at the other, all its miles the result of chairmen of boards and barons and superintendents and stockholders determined to keep the original Colonies connected to the Heartland and down the graded slope to division managers, to subordinate section managers and section bosses and their section gangs responsible for the tracks, for keeping them straight and steady and well tamped with gravel around and under the crossties weatherproofed with creosote. There the tie plates, held in place by spikes, gripped at the rails and held them down for miles and miles and miles while freight and passengers rumbled over them. A fifteen-year-old boy, with an imaginary Social Security card and loud instructions and daily demonstrations, for two long weeks for a few long yards in a switchyard west of Gary, with a spike maul whose head was exactly the same size as the head of a spike, kept trying to hit one square on the head and didn’t and couldn’t and quit. A Footnote to the History of the New York Central Railroad david wagoner 14 ecotone He watched her break a fence and leave her pasture. He watched her cross a bridge and a muddy meadow ahead of a farmer yelling and switching at her. He heard himself urging her to go on escaping, to vanish and stay escaped somewhere and not come back to her farm and the cow path and the cow shed and the rusty, empty milk pail, to lead a larger life. He admired all cows. They’d been like calm companions when he’d trespassed the fields they browsed. They were as interested in grass and weeds as he was. They didn’t need to be entertained, paid little attention to him and demanded none. But this loose cow had something more important in mind. She ignored switches and barking dogs. And she was swimming now— he couldn’t believe it—two hundred yards of river, holding her nose and horns above the water, then wading, waddling, stumbling ashore, and breaking another fence. He hoped she might be going back to the woods like one of her ancestors. But he turned away, disappointed, when she stopped among other cows and lowered her head in clover. Thoreau and the Loose Cow 15 author The white ash tree, the one he’d visited time after time and season after season and had studied and admired like a proud father, had been struck by lightning. Lightning had gouged downward, tossing broken limbs every which way, had split the trunk into six twenty-foot splayed, upstanding fence rails still held up by the roots, had plowed a furrow into a cellar (where it scorched the milk pans), had bolted out in a shower of soil, had shattered weatherboards and beams and the foundation, had smashed a shed, unstacked and scattered a woodpile, had flung pieces of bark two hundred feet in all directions. It had thrown into disorder or destroyed in a moment what an honest farmer had struggled for years to gather, and had killed a great tree. Was he supposed to be humbled by the benign, malign, inscrutable purposes of the Source, the blundering Maker of Thunderheads, and be glad he hadn’t been standing under it? david wagoner Thoreau and the Lightning ...


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