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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Two birders on a train

I’m not sure what it is about me, but I’m always the one that the crazy people end up talking to on the bus. I’ve met a lot of interesting people while riding public transportation. The 250 pound ten year old that kept falling asleep and bumping into me one night on a Greyhound crossing Kansas was one unforgettable one. The guy with the big hair was another.

The other day on the train back from DC, I had my binoculars out. You can often see some fun birds from the train, since Amtrak trains pass through all kinds of swampy and neglected industrial areas between Boston and DC. So, I’m sitting there with my binoculars out and this guy with really big hair comes and sits down next to me. He’s got on these really retro style clothes, maybe 50s or 60s. I wasn’t around then, so I’m not too sure about the style.

Anyway, the guy’s got big hair. Not totally afro big, but getting there. And he’s a white guy. So, white guy, pseudo afro, strange clothes=what the heck is he sitting next to me for when there are plenty of empty seats in the car?

Good thing about binoculars is you can always just lift them up to your eyes and pretend to look at something if you don’t want to be bothered. I was a little tired, so up they came.

“What you see out there?” asked the afro man.

“Oh, not much,” I replied. “Just some birds.”

“Many Cooper’s Hawks?” the guy asked.

Wondering what this guy might really know about birds, I turned back to him and answered, “not today, but I did see three on the way down yesterday.”

“Seem to be more of them around than there used to be,” he said. “Back when I was young, you’d see ‘em, but not so much. Not in cities so much, anyway.”

“You a birder?” I asked.

“No, no…but I see ‘em sometimes. I’m a musician,” he replied.

“Oh yeah,” I asked, “what kind of music?”

“Little singing, a little guitar.” He said. “I once wrote a song about birds, after a cross country trip, back in the ‘40s.”

Now, this guy didn’t look like he was more than maybe sixty, so I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. Maybe he was older than he looked. Maybe I didn’t hear him correctly. At any rate, I asked about the song.

“Well,” he said, “I just really liked being out there. Seeing the birds. Flying free. Soaring around. Going where they wanted. I could really relate to that. So I wrote a couple verses of something. Then the song kind of went a different way. I stopped singing those first few verses after awhile. Nobody has probably heard them for a long time. Not sure I even ever wrote them down.”

“You still remember those verses,” I asked?

“Sure,” he said. “I never forget a song.”

“You ought to write them down,” I said, not really sure why. I mean, the guy was a little strange-looking, and for all I knew he was a songwriter about like my grandmother was a poet: earnest, but utterly unremarkable.

“You got a pen?” he asked.

“I think so,” I said, digging into my bag. “Here.”

As the guy started writing, I noticed that his hand kind of shook a bit. And he fidgeted more than I’d noticed. This guy was stranger than he first seemed. Maybe he’s off his meds, I thought.

After a few moments, he folded up the paper, handed it to me, and started to get up.

“Well, gotta get going. Back to the hospital. I haven’t been out in a long time. Nice talking to you. Good luck with the birds.”

And then he started off.

“Thanks,” I said. “Nice talking to you. Take care.”

I opened up the paper. The handwriting was a little hard to read, what with the train moving and his hand shaking. I read it, but didn’t know what to make of it at first.

In the great blue heavens, the eagle circles
His calling beckons, to the wandering stranger
And as I watch him, I can hear him crying
This land was made for you and me

In the marshy swamp lands, all across the nation
I can see the herons, with their keen eyes staring
And when they fly off, their squawking tells me
This land was made for you and me

On the highest mountain, in the lowest valley,
In the driest desert, and the ancient forests,
On the widest prairies, the birds are singing
This land was made for you and me

Maybe you know the rest—Woody


I quickly looked up, but he was already gone. I asked the woman behind me and the guy on the seat across the aisle if they’d seen him, but they hadn’t noticed.

When I got home I did some Googling, and found some photos that looked like the guy I talked to. But it doesn’t make sense. I mean, these were old photos of a guy who died back in 1967. So I don’t know what to make of it all.

You meet some strange people riding public transportation. But I suppose that’s the way it should be, since like the birds told Woody about this land, our public transportation system really is made for you and me.

I'm not sure why I always seem to attract folks like this. Maybe I'm a little crazy myself.

7 comments:

Larry S said...

OK, So now you saw the ghost of Woodie Guthrie - and you follow that with the letter to Tyler?

birdchaser said...

Woody and the Woodpecker were made for you and me.

Mike said...

Maybe you are...

You should have asked Woody to sing you some of his children's songs. My son loves them.

Bill Pulliam said...

I'm sorry, but without a good photo I'm afraid we simply can't accept this record.

Patrick Belardo said...

Wow... crazy story. It must be the diesel fumes.

Larry said...

I don't know if you're putting us on but that was a good story anyhow.

John L. Trapp said...

Great story, Rob!

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