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I, too, always dreamed of faraway places whenever I heard that long and lonely train whistle in the night
The loneliest sound on earth is a train whistle in the night.
From an online journal
It’s not the who, what and where memories I savor from my childhood. My small village of Bellmore, N.Y., had its own unique sounds and smells. At night when the train whistle blew…I dreamed of faraway places that perhaps I might someday visit. The whistle stirred something inside me, a yearning that I did not understand.
Valerie Priger Skelly
…Every time I hear that whistle blowing,
Every time I hear that old black crow,
Every time I hear that whistle blowing,
I find myself a-shivering in my soul.
…you wake up in the middle of the night
and a train whistle blows, and a dog barks
and something’s not quite right,
and the cry is sent up from this earth
into the silent sky.
Heard the whistle blowin,’
couldn’t see the train.
Way down in my heart, I
I had an achin’ pain.
How long? How long? How long?
Look at the words of countless blues, country and folk songs going back to the 20’s and 30’s and you will find the anguished and lonely laments of wanderers on this earth — troubadors, poets, songwriters, philosophers, dreamers and transients — searching for something deep and unreachable, something hitherto unknowable. Then the words and music pour out, and they find themselves heartbreakingly close to the visions they see, the feelings and emotions that cry out for expression.
It is not so much that the sound of that train whistle is sad and lonely, which it is for those of us awake in the middle of the night to hear it. But that timeless sound reaches deep into the primeval memories of childhood, long and clear as it fades into the night, and it becomes a sound that is ultimately reassuring and comforting. With it may come dreams of traveling across the country by rail, or on back roads away from what hurts or worries us most in our day-to-day lives. The train, with its massive bulk flying over those tracks as if there was no bed of cross ties to anchor it to earth, is the very symbol of escape to new worlds, of adventuring beyond the heavy confines of the present with the sameness of routines pressing in like a vise.
Listen hard, think about that sound I am talking about. Remember the nights when you heard that cry, not mournful or lonely now, but setting the mind free to think of adventure and renewal, salve for the restless spirit longing for straight tracks to the horizon, to new places, across the Great Plains and through mountain valleys.
And where is that fast train speeding through the night heading? No one knows. Only the long, slow, fading whistles gives any indication that it is there at all, and then the night is still again.