Three years ago,
Gardens was my first view of Seattle as I rode in just after sunrise
on Amtrak's Empire Builder, sitting with new-met James, who told me that
Seattleites have 26 different words for clouds, and the clouds over the Sound
that morning were spectacular.
A few weeks ago, I discovered a perfect place to watch trains at the end
of the beach, a nest of boulders just below the railbed where I watched a
mile-long freight slowly round the curve, wheels shrieking. I had to cover
my ears, and I felt 150 years of history roll over me, like ocean waves or
Today was solstice, and the beach was packed, except for at the end, which
is a longish walk and thus never very crowded, and near my train-watching
nest was a memorial to Mary Katherine Nelson, a 20-year-old who died walking
along the tracks. I thought of my sister's 8th grade friend, daughter of
my elementary school's principal, Mr. Luff, who got hit by the LIRR, 20 some
odd years ago and I still remember her name: Stacey.
I settled into my nest with bamboo flute to await the next freight train,
surprised to see teenagers and older with drinks in hand still walking the
tracks along the blind curve. "Be careful," I say,
"Someone got hit the other day." "This has been my modus
operandi for eight years," one guy says, "I think I'll be OK." "Stay
lucky," I say.
Not long after, the whistle blows, and I'm surprised when just 5 seconds
later the silent Amtrak hurtles around the corner, headlights flashing, whistle
blowing, and I see how someone could be caught off guard, the way the whistle
echoed, perhaps not even knowing from which direction the train was coming.
The memorial is there as
a warning, with a number to call in case it's ever removed.
I stored it in my phone under the dead girl's name, but it doesn't matter--people
choose not to see it, anyway.