Saturday, September 24, 2005

Whistle blower.

The view from our deck is mesmerizing. Not only to the visitor, but even to the permanent residents of this modest townhouse, often described as a $10 home with a million dollar view. Immediately below the deck is a small stretch of lawn surrounded by patches of flower beds. After more than 10 years I'm still not sure of the names of the flowers. A tired and unstable weathered cedar fence attempts to protect the lawn and the flower beds from a horde of insurgent blackberries and assorted weeds who malinger on the narrow strip of municipal land at the foot which runs River Road.

The West Coast Express railway station lies directly across from our home on River Road. A narrow line of tall trees, leaning this way and that stand on the banks of the Fraser River alongside the railway track. And then of course there is the mighty Fraser. Less than a hundred paces from the railings of our deck. Seemingly about half a mile wide in the middle of this wide bend. We learned one day from the tour guide at Hell's Gate, a tourist attraction way higher up the the river, that the spot in front of our house (known famously for the Haney Slide - which will no doubt show up here later) is the second deepest spot in the river. So deep, that one could erect a ten story building with its foundations in the river bed and not see the roof above the waterline. I forgot to ask him whether this would be true of both high and low tide?

The river bank on other side is designated regional park. Known as Derby Reach, it is occupied by campers in the spring and summer months with a few stragglers who hang on into the fall. Knowing that the view in front of this place will remain unchanged is what keeps us here in our $10 home.

The most common question we hear? "Don't you mind the train whistles?" If we did, I answer defensively, we would move. To some the train whistle, the rumbling trains, the not infrequent loud rattling of the midnight shunting, is a comfort and a blessing. To some the cacophony of metal on metal all night, accompanied by loud whistles may be intrusive during sleep. To the Andrups it presents not a problem at all. If anything the whistling, the banging and metallic drone connects to worlds far away. To China, to Calgary, to Toronto, Galveston and Turin. The trains remind us of the world beyond the the Corporation of the District of Maple Ridge.

Over the years the mind records the thousands of trains and train whistles subconciously and it is possible to detect the weight, type, speed, load and direction of a train from the feintest sound when it first comes into earview. The extent to which our house shudders at 4am while we sleep sends a a very distinct message; the train is returning with an empty string of grain cars to be refilled in the prairies. Or the train is loaded with containers of auto-parts from Europe. Another load of potash perhaps? Or sulphur to brighten the pile at Port Moody?

From time to time we read in the local press that one group or the other is getting ready a petition to ban the train whistles. Strangely, those people tend to live further away from the train than those who live well, almost on top of the tracks, as we do. Then we read from time to time that a car, truck or pedestrian has met with the train where one would least expect it, right on the tracks. The outcry for the banning of train whistles, dimmed by death, recedes for short while.

Some time ago the Corporation of the District of Maple Ridge assigned $30,000 towards a study on train whistles. What may be learned from such a study? From my own brief research I concluded that standing next to a train as it blows its whistle can hurt your eardrums. A direct hit from a train while you are strolling the track will make your eyes water. Turning down the volume on your iPod is one way of avoiding being hit by a train. And do not assume the rumbling below your feet is the next "big one" as trains are more frequent than earthquakes.

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