I will put you on my list of places. He says this out loud, but I don’t ask what he means by such words. The two of us are watching horses on a ridge of sandstone and stunted sagebrush. The horses flick their tails and stand still to study us, these horses once bred for the calvary. But then the calvary years never reached as far as this mountain valley. And how would the horses know? From mare to colt to stallion, all these horses wait.
It’s a sunset without color, this visit on the ridge. Nothing to notice. No photo kept, not knowing there’d not be another time nor a real good-bye.
John Muir, for some years, slept in a hammock suspended from the ceiling over a little stream that ran through the floor of his small cabin. Somewhere in my notes I find the date: 1868. The closest I get to this experience is by making note of it in my journal on a sheet of lined paper.
Is this what it is to become an item on a list?
In the movie, War Horse, a grandfather raises his young granddaughter and on her birthday she asks what became of her parents. Remember? You promised to tell me when I got old enough, she tells him. She’s sure her parents were brave because they died, and she’s sure her grandfather, having outlived them, is not brave.
He tells her about raising messenger pigeons for the war and how the pigeons had to learn to fly across the front line and never look down at the bloody war. If they looked down, they’d never make it to where they were headed with their message. As such: this was bravery, the grandfather told her. To only move forward and never allow yourself to look down.
My nephew sends me an early morning photo of the south side of the Front Street Station in Butte, Montana. It’s easy to see it’s subzero, and having stood near frozen railroad tracks with a train pulling through, I know the continual ringing sound of cold wheel on cold track. Like a bell that rings on and on, but with the clapper never quite striking the bell.
You can stand along the tracks waiting to cross over, wrapped in a long, wool coat, mittens on your hands. Thinking when will this train end, thinking when was the last time for anything. And you find yourself—waiting. For what? For when the clapper finally strikes the bell.
First photo by William O’Keefe. Second photo by Justin O’Keefe.