It’s 6:05 a.m. There is enough dawn to see the world in black and white as I listen to the wheels on the rails a mile away hauling freight across half a continent. The colors that accompany dawn are still a half hour from becoming reality. As the little dog and I step outside, we encounter the doe and her twin fawns – her choice is to stay close to the house and more distant from predators. Coffee perks, and there is a bowl of red tomatoes from the garden.
I’ve spent most of my life in rural areas where this sort of morning has been, in various incarnations, normal. It has required longer commutes to work, and created limits – yet trading these mornings for short commutes and a higher ceiling in the world of work never fit. A few urban years as an undergrad, small town years as my first careers started, but the rural mornings always pulled.
I enjoy the mountains . . . but the prairie dawns were more spectacular. The southwest deserts offered their own beauty – there, I lived on the edge of the mountains, on the eastern slope. I recall the horned toad in the garden . . . and those town sounds included the railroad, but also the interstate.
At 4:00 am, taking the dog out to do her business turns me into a temporary astronomer. The light pollution in urban areas prevents a lot of observing stars – but when you’re sufficiently rural, the stars shine through. I recall stories of Europeans landing in Sioux Falls intimidated by the darkness during the hour drive north to the University . . . maps show how it is possible to live with lots of light pollution.
Mornings are a time unaffected by politics and government unless I choose to let them into my rural world. Yet the steel wheels on the iron rails, the engineer sounding the horn, these remind me that my isolation is, at least in part, the self-deception of looking only at my favorite parts of morning, in the early black and white twilight. The full colors of the morning accompany my world’s expansion into full society.
The sound of the rails reminds me of how the local school taxes (Trego) are spread out. As the county was established in 1909, school district boundaries were mapped that gave each school a portion of the railroad revenues – I recall a map across National Forest that gave Yaak its own share of the rails in the Kootenai valley. With the railroad relocation that accompanied Libby Dam, the Trego school district’s taxable railroad increased dramatically. Possibly that’s fair – most of us do hear the railroad, and a lot of folks are closer than I. The Kootenai river communities are gone – Dave and Marylou Peterson were the last faculty from Warland school that I knew. In my rural world, history is recent.
The county that was laid out to be connected by the river and railroad lasted from 1909 until the mid-sixties, when the Corps of Engineers acquired the private lands that would be covered by the reservoir. A county that has developed over the past half century into (in Hunger Games terms) the Capital and the districts. It is morning. The world is beautiful. I’ll ignore the politics and enjoy the world.