Kicking Horse Pass, British Columbia, Canada (photo: Flatiron Corp)
There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
My travelling companion and I are headed home from a west coast holiday. We’re on Highway 1, between Revelstoke and Golden, BC, in the Kicking Horse Pass. Where, unlike in the song, the highway, the super-bridge, the river and the railway all run in the same place. And we’re singing.
But time has no beginnings and the history has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall
Built the mines, mills and the factories for the good of us all
Well, not really singing. Separately but companionably, we’re calling out stray phrases of Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy as we manage to remember them. It seems to be that sort of setting.
For they looked in the future and what did they see
They saw an iron road running from the sea to the sea
Bringing the goods to a young growing land
All up from the seaports and into their hands
Basically, we’re keeping each other awake. My travelling companion has a hard stop to this vacation in the form of a meeting on Friday back on the prairies. This is Wednesday. We decided we needed one more vacation day more than we needed one more day on the road, so we’re motoring over 1640 km/1000 miles home in just two days. Now we’re near the end of the long first day’s drive.
Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way ’cause we’re moving too slow
And despite our early start, the traffic, all those miles, and leaving places we both love, this is singing weather. A late day sun shines in over our left shoulders, casting its glow on everything.
Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declining
The stars they come stealing at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark ocean in a place far away
We travelled this road at the beginning of our vacation just 10 days ago, but I feel like I’ve never seen it before. It’s so beautiful. Is it the change of light? The change of direction? Or is it me?
We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey
Bending our backs til the long days are done
There aren’t navvies here anymore, but sometimes in the past weeks I felt I was labouring like one. All the work I do is worthwhile, but lately the reward has mostly been in the accomplishment of completion rather than the process of getting there. When I’m being mostly an artist, much of the reward is that miraculously I’m allowed to do it, hour after hour, day after day. This other work is valuable, but goal-oriented, not process. I’ve missed my process.
So over the mountains and over the plains
Into the muskeg and into the rain
Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe
Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay
Layin’ ’em in and tying them down
Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
A dollar a day and a place for my head
A drink to the living, a toast to the dead
And I start to wonder? At what point in the last 10 days did this singing weather begin to replace A dollar a day and a place for my head? Was it the lovely scenery, the good food, the time spent going slow, the dear friends and relatives we saw? Being on vacation instead of drawing my pay? Or was it a newly-made discovery that I should honour my love of process rather than focusing on getting things done? Even though this will inevitably mean finishing less? Or doing some things not at all?
Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil
This long travel day is almost at an end, and another one will follow. I look forward to being home. To finding out what following the process means. And to taking the singing weather with me.
The lyrics shown here are a selection from the whole and do not fully represent the richness of Gordon Lightfoot’s song. For that, try this 2000 live version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiSFZBDAH9Y. It has lost nothing in over 30 years.
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