She beat around the steel, rocking me like a baby in a cradle, and as soon as I shut my eyes I started drifting to sleep with the darkening sky. My nose pressed into her pile of wood chips as I buried myself to a state of desirable comfort and the thrumming of her wheels lulled me to sleep.
It felt like only moments passed and I awoke to the creaking sound of her wheels halting, slicing the rich dark roasted coffee of sky, free of stars. I rubbed my dreary eyes, peeling back my lethargy, and stood tall, stretching my arms, my legs, and cracking my neck. The sound of gravel pittered and I focused on the mirage of a vehicle snooping by the main line. I ducked. I grabbed my pack. I shimmied down the ladder, fleeing between freight cars and hopped over an empty lumber rack sitting on the first track. Leaves rustled. Twigs cracked. They snapped. They crunched underfoot as I hustled up a small slant of sparsely covered boscage before reaching the pavement.
I wandered along the windy road, dimly lit and oddly still, trying to find my whereabouts. The first sign I cast my eyes on read in English and French, verifying my suspicions. I just illegally crossed the border into Canada, unintentionally of course, but feeling too peckish and lethargic I did not quite fully comprehend my situation. Instead, I walked. I drug my feet, scuffing them along the pavement as I stepped up onto the sidewalk, wandering past the shadows of colonial style homes, small and quaint like Northern Maine.
The bull idled in the parking lot with his headlights off, outside of McAdam Station, a Chateauesque style building by the train yard acting as a museum. I wandered by in a dreary stupor plugging into the outlet outside of the McAdam Public Library. Sprawling out among the gravel, with my back scrunched against the brick facade, I shut my eyes waiting for my phone to charge. I needed to call my wife. She might kill me, but I needed to inform her I caught the wrong train, ending up in Canada.
My phone reached a full charge, and in my delirious state, I tried phoning her without much luck. I didn’t have service in Canada. With that notion, I capitulated to night, scuttling behind the railroad tracks, between two bushes and wiggled into my sleeping bag, tucking my head on my pack, drifting away in exhaustion.
I woke to the sound of an ATV rumbling, spitting up dust and gravel, by the train tracks. The chatter squelched my ears to a ringing dissonance and then the fear set in as I walked the ground to a small French-Canadian town, illegally!
I never intended to end up in Canada. I hoped to reach Bangor and continue south to Portland and west to East Deerfield, but such is the toil of her tracks and the art of her misdirection.
Shortly, I became too familiar with McAdam and the locals noticed, but that first day by the tracks gave me zero opportunity of getting back into my own country. I did not have much choice. I hid across the street in the Rockland cemetery waiting for the loud bellow of her horn as blades of grass tickled my skin, lying sprawled out between European style headstones.
Just three miles separated me from the border. I thought about walking back over, but the idea of swimming across the Saint Croix River near Border Patrol frightened me. Despite my fascination with bodies of water, the turbid crushing force of unpredictability did not bode well with my skill set. I could swim, but not well by any means. Riptides, white water, and anything beyond the still calmness of a quarry, scared me deeply, for my fear of water is something I never quite conquered in my years.
I lay there on the ground listening to the seldom vehicular traffic muffled by the sound of rampant ATVs sputtering up-and-down the dirt roads by the train tracks. The McAdam Yard offered little cover by the main line, nestled next to a thin hilly boscage cresting to Highway 4, across from the Rockland Cemetery. Trains only ran once-a-day, Monday through Friday, and today was mid-afternoon on Friday, so I needed to catch this train.
2 PM rolled around and her horn stifled the still, bright, cloudless air. I sat up vigilantly. Her thunderous roars creaked to subtle chugs as her New Brunswick Southern front engines muscled by me, stopping before the curve of track. I bid the dead farewell, scampering off through the field of graves, down across the road, skidding and sliding down the hill, tripping over dead tree limbs and logs until touching down on ballast. I scrambled over the 1st track, hopping over an empty lumber rack, and squeezed through empty gondolas on the 2nd track, where she sat. I hung off her ladder peering back at a line of boxcars and beneath the idling of her engine I heard the soft pitter of gravel ruffle my ears as the bull scanned the train from the dirt access road.
Once he drove by, I legged it along the boxcars searching for an open empty car. Seal, seal, seal…seal…seal…they all had fuckin’ seals, every last one of them. The only ride on the train was the fourth car, a grainer, but I may as well have turned myself in right then as the engineer would have seen me clear as the cloudless sky that day. I stammered, hopeless and infuriated, squeaking my head through a line of oil tankers, but the bull sat parked in front of McAdam Lake in plain view. I nudged my head out of view and paused while she aired, waiting for her to roll on through to my homeland, WITHOUT ME!
I stood mid yard on the ladder of a tanker, watching rattling citadels of steel wrangle in a blaze of red as she hummed off around the sinuous curve of track. I needed to flee, ramble on out of the yard, and disappear. And at the beeping of a distant FRED, I skedaddled off to the adjacent woods to distance myself from the bull.
My heartbeat calmed with time until a choir of canines joined in loud cacophony as I sat silently on scrunching leaves. I hid camouflaged behind a teem of trees behind a bend of roadway listening to the dog owners bicker and yell.
“Shut up eh…nothin’ is there boy…stop the barkin’ and pacin’ aboot…all of ya.”
Once the silence of air broke with the burgeoning whirs of traffic, I bolted for the shoulder of road. As I wandered the quaint streets of McAdam I glanced up at each street sign. My eyes focused on the silhouettes of locomotives with big bold white letters plastered in the center, marking the street name, and beneath each name, the sign was dedicated “in memory of” a soldier who died in the war. It did not seem like much, but at least their town honored their veterans whom lost their lives fighting in both World War I & II rather than leaving them to fester and bleed out in the ripe city streets.
Suddenly, my anxiety dissipated and I forgot about my predicament. The heavy burden of stress I carried from crossing the border alleviated to a gratefulness of life and being. Although my precarious situation deemed more than just an annoyance for the next few days, at least I walked tall to live another day. With that new boost of confidence I scuttled back to the quiet walls of the public library to fiddle around on the WiFi and touch base with my wife.
Every person I spoke to wondered why I came to McAdam, New Brunswick of all places with only a backpack and my two feet. Obviously, I fibbed, exaggerating my story to fit a palpable variation of my current situation. It’s not like I could just say,
“Well…my phone died outside Brownville Junction and I thought she was headin’ to Bangor, Maine…I ended up fallin’ asleep on loaded wood chips…when I woke up in the freight yard and hopped off…I realized I was in fuckin’ Canada once I looked at the French/English highway signs…so yeah…here I am.”
Instead, I omitted the idea of freight hopping from my vernacular for those persistent conversations that kept happening with every single human encounter, and stuck to my story of hitchhiking over the border near Highway 4…and whether the librarian or pedestrians whom I exchanged pleasantries with believed my story…well, I could only hope.
I tried to foster my upbeat charisma and maintain a healthy conscious by exploring the woodlands and overgrown cattails surrounding McAdam Lake to keep me out of the public eye.
But, once the needle-piercing blood suckers became too much of a nuisance with my arms covered in spattered polkadot bloodstains I shifted my afternoon elsewhere. Instead, I wandered south along the tracks and shot up across the hill, basking by the road in the sweltering sunlight shaded by tombstones and neatly shaped bushes scattered amongst Rockland Cemetery. I lay amongst a water spigot and low-cut blades of grass grazing my back as I looked up at the endless blue abyss beyond the tendrils of creamy clouds. Somewhere between all my bottled anxiety of keeping in touch with my wife while trying to ghost my way through the close-knit town, I found tranquility in just looking up at the universe, appreciating the toasty rays of sunshine and dry nights of laying out under the stars.
But, somehow that all changed when Sunday dawned to a canvass of dismal grays ruminating tears in the heart of the clouds. I woke somewhere near the train tracks, behind a mountain of railroad ties in a field of straight lavender with the rustling of leaves underneath me. Cooks General Store closed on Sundays and with nowhere left to buy supplies, I set roots at Park’Em Roadside Diner just a mile down the road, picking the cheapest option, the two egg breakfast. The warm crispy bacon, salted home fries, buttered toast and whipped scrambled eggs sat well in my empty stomach. After living off canned food for days I definitely appreciated the hot appetizing meal, not to mention the caffeinated Mountain Dew and free WiFi, but that loneliness trickled back to me as I stepped outside. Maybe the sprinkling of rain and the absence of trains made me stoop low into puddles of sorrow, making me feel stuck, and a prisoner of this overly quiet and desolate town with nosey people?
I did not know. I just wanted the weekend to end and her purring sound of steel to strike my ears through the stale lonely air again. I wanted her horns to bellow, wheels to softly screech, and most of all, I wanted to catch the next ride home, to get back to the USA. It felt like a distant future at this rate as time slowly ticked by and I craved food with each passing hour.
The light sprinkle of rain now wept and I only made it as far as the public library, which like the general store, closed for Sunday. I looked around to bield myself from the wet chills of a summer storm, and in between the railroad tracks, by the north mouth I spotted three concrete box culverts butting up against one another. I jolted. Wet gravel skittered underfoot and the slick path shortly switched to a field of guttation toning my pant bottoms and boots to a dark shade of saturation. Once I reached the empty box culvert, I merely listened to the harmonic sound of nature stifle the landscape with its pitter-pattering hymns and I sat there. I sat there for a while, just listening, just waiting to head back to the yard to check on my pack.
The hammering of droplets switched to a light whistle of wind and as I stood up, headlights blinded my eyes, and I panicked. I tried to make a run for it, but realizing this looked suspicious, I stopped and turned around. The maroon pickup roared through the wet field, parking just feet from me and the line of concrete box culverts. A middle-aged Canadian man with a light gray beard and round face cast his evil eyes out at me. With a slight scowl and beady eyes between his bushy brows he began to yell.
“EH…EH You!!! What’re ya doin’ here boy?”
“Huh? I was just waitin’ out the rain.”
“I seen that. That’s not what I’m askin’. WHAT’RE YA DOIN’ HERE…HERE IN MCADAM?”
“I’m just passin’ through. I don’t mean any trouble sir…I’ll be outta here shortly.”
“What ya mean? How’d ya get here son…you ain’t got any warrants…do ya?”
“No sir…how would I get here if I had warrants? I came in over the border like everyone else.”
“Highway 4 up there…they gave me a lotta shit cuz I’m hitchhikin’, but they finally let me in.”
The man scratched his chin with his stubby, little, finger and eased off with his intensity.
“Just makin’ sure ya didn’t cross illegally…where ya stayin’…ya got no stuff.”
“Oh…I’m just campin’ in the woods up there…I left my bag because I didn’t feel like carryin’ it around…like I said…I’ll be outta here in a few days.”
“Why ya in a rush?”
“I’m not…I just wanna head to Saint John’s and then I gotta head back to the US to get a job.”
He continued to stare me down like a Velociraptor until he eased off the brake, leaving without muttering another word. I freaked. I literally needed to check my pants after that encounter.
I promised myself once dawn struck light upon the fading of night I would stockpile days of food at Cooks General Store, falling far back into the woods to disappear and I did exactly that.
That morning at the crack I woke and wandered my way to the only general store in town waiting across the street in a patch of pines. At 7 AM I hurried in and scurried the isles with a cart, throwing in cans of sardines, soup, tuna, a gallon jug of water, trash bags and canned fruit, any non-perishable food. With two full grocery bags dangling from my wrists, I tramped back to my camp, trackside, by a waste pile of old, beaten-up, railroad ties near the southern mouth of the train yard.
Fields of lavender flailed with the wind and behind the buzzing of bumble bees, the caw of crows, the whizzing of mosquitoes, and rapid flutter of hummingbird wings, I lay behind the ties in overgrown weeds, waiting on my train. Oh Canada…what did I get myself into this time?