Horses and Trains and learning

Bird Droppings January 16, 2023

Horses and Trains and learning

It has been many years since I last rode on a train. I mean a serious train going more than the distance between concourses at an airport. Years ago, when I lived in the Philadelphia area, we all used mass transit to commute, go “downtown,” get around, and even travel a long distance, say to Florida. Trains are not quite what they used to be. Many authentic passenger trains are extinct; the only other trains seem to be freight and rapid transit within big cities.

It has been nearly eighty years since diesel and electric engines replaced the giant steam locomotives that plied the tracks from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the rich anthracite coal regions to New Jersey and New York, hauling the fuel of the times on the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad. I have long been fascinated with the past’s great trains, perhaps because Mr. Frank E. Bird Sr., my namesake, and grandfather, was an engineer on the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western coal trains from 1900-1946.

I do not remember much of my late grandfather, even though we traveled from our home to see my grandparents as children many years ago, but the images of his being an engineer have stayed with me.  His engineer’s watch is sitting by my desk at home, a rather large pocket watch known for its remarkable ability to keep nearly exact time. My grandfather was proud of his silver watch, and its weight in my hand makes me wonder how much our world has changed.

“One returns to the past, to capture it as it was and as it hovers over the present” William Pinar

But the past is part of who we are and within us in the present in our imaginations and memories. We must avoid making the past all we are for each minute we live, creating a new history.

“Our lives may be determined less by our childhood than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods” James Hillman

As children, we are fascinated with trains, and even now, in this day and age of digital everything and computers, we still have trains at Christmas time. There are still electric train sets for sale. It amazes me. I always wonder at the fascination, so many people have with trains. What is it that intrigues us so about trains? When the giant steam locomotives pulled massive freight trains cross-country, the enormity of the engines and power were drawing cards. In literature, trains always are featured. In one of the literature classes, we are reading, listening to, and have just watched the new movie of John Steinbeck’s classic.

“Of Mice and Men.”  The story starts and ends with George’s reflections as he rides a freight train to his next town. Blues musicians emulate trains in their music and words.

My early interest and fascination grew as a child, and in 1954 I woke up to a Christmas morning and a circular track of a model Lionel O gauge steam engine and train set around our Christmas tree.  It became a family tradition, and that set was a family fixture for many years.  When I had my children, it was pulled out again and set up nearly thirty years later, although this time, it ran its circle around the dining room table, trying to give a piece of my childhood to my children.

“Memory is an aspect of who we are,” Dr. Marla Morris, GSU

“Memory is the raw material of history, whether mental, oral or written, it is the living source from which historians draw” Dr. Marla Morris, GSU

I was trying to share my past with my children as my father had passed it down to me.  When I was a child, my father often told my grandfather’s stories and the great steam locomotives he would pilot.  Occasionally he would pull out an old engineer’s cap or lantern of my grandfather to add some visual excitement to the stories. Still sitting on my shelf is my grandfather’s kerosene lantern from the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad in my brother’s home on the shelf.

The surreal aspect of these massive metal machines intertwined with our music and imagination trains is a fascinating piece of our being.  Trains are an element of the industrial revolution yet linked metaphysically to us; it could be the size and power that are getting us from point A to point B.

I will wander a bit and take my morning thinking away from the subject of trains and another mode of transportation but still in line with my thoughts. It has been a few years since we sold our draft horses, Rick and Blue, a team of dapple gray Percheron horses. Each horse stood over six feet at the shoulder and weighed well over a ton. Rick and Blue were big powerful animals, and they could pull anything. I was asked to talk to a group of parents one night at a function and needed a visual aid to get my point across. An aspect of that discussion was narrow-mindedness. I brought along the harnesses from Rick and Blue.

The massive leather harness weighs over 85 pounds each and includes a set of blinders for the horses. The blinders kept the horses from being distracted and only allowed the horse to look forward. I used that example to show how so many people can be like the draft horse and get stuck only seeing one thing, one direction at a time, and unable to look to either side or see anything new or different. Granted, there are many ADHD students I wish I had blinders for.

So, am I wandering today, or what does a set of horses and trains have to do with one another? They are both big and powerful, and trains like Rick and Blue go straight down the track with no side trips or going off the tracks. I talked the other day with another teacher about taking a journey on a train and how that train goes from point A to point B. We then pick up what we need along the way. I ended up comparing the journey to education and learning.

As I thought of the train tracks and how so many of us get stuck simply following the tracks, I thought of all the knowledge waiting sitting along the way but off the tracks. This knowledge could be hidden from the tracks or straight and narrow. I wondered what it would be like if tracks were flexible and that straight line didn’t limit us. We could go where the best ideas were and the best methods, and we could load the train full instead of simply picking up what load we could along the tracks.

I put on Aerosmith in my car today as I left the house yesterday, and track four or five is the song “Amazing,” which contains a line that I hold dear. Several years ago, my oldest son left a sticky note on my computer the night after a very dear friend was killed in a car accident. It was a simple line, a quote, and yes, I have used it for a quote of the day now many times. Interestingly, we also have this quote on the wall outside the cafeteria. The note was a line from an Aerosmith song, a Stephen Tyler original. “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” We get so caught up in the destination, for example, getting to the end of the tracks following the curriculum to a T or the “TEST” at the end of the semester, that we lose sight of all around us the journey. Our journey and our students is teaching them to think, and if they believe they will learn

So how do we get to point B and still get there with as much as possible of a load on the train? We travel and gather as we go, but we are fortunate we can leave the tracks if we choose. We can go sideways, and we can go back, and we can go forward. One crucial thing is that we all need to remove our blinders, see all around us, and live each moment of the journey.

“Piercing through the illusions of modern life is extremely difficult, given a culture where advertising and other media forms are organized so persistently to produce mass public deception” Gerald Smith

Smith points to an ongoing issue in finding who we are and why.  The illusions Smith points out “obliterate the lines between fact and fiction.” We get so caught up in what we are told that we soon fall on the straight track or go through life with blinders. To dig deeper, we have to understand who we are as individuals, how we translate and comprehend our realities, and how people see us.

“Freud, Jung, and now Lang (among others) were digging underneath the surface of their lives, trying to uncover the roots of what is experienced on the surface” Gerald Smith

“Maybe this is the time to embark collectively on a new long journey inward, not for the purpose simply of celebrating our personal or collective subjectivities, but for the nobler one of laying down the outward things that enslaves us.” Carl Jung

 I have wandered a bit today and may be too deep into ideas and thoughts that I find intriguing and puzzling. I once referred to the herding instinct that people tend to herd and want to be in groups. We do want to take the easiest route. I looked at apathy yesterday. We live in a time when we want simple and easy things. I want to get to point B without extra sightseeing along the way. Sadly, so many people live life that way. They live with blinders or follow a pre-laid-out track and never get to know there is so much more. A student asked a question this morning dealing with biology. The question was about global warming and how some people say it is not occurring, yet so many are saying it is. Some folks will never admit to or even suggest some ideas have truth. They are caught up in their veil of ignorance. Watching the news and the impact our current war has on veterans, the number of those in harm’s way is growing exponentially. Please keep them all on your minds and hearts, and remember always to give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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