Thursday, November 30, 2006

Before the Storm

In the warm glow of an afternoon sun, standing at a small place named Straw, MT, and knowing that it's all about to change... That's the calm before the storm, the last look at a nice summer day before it is overtaken by the fury of darkness that is quickly descending. The two silver elevators at Straw glow intensely, still lit by the sun, while the sky blackens behind them. The wind begins to rush, and the sun fades. Before the storm.

The old Milwaukee line from Harlowton to Lewistown used to be right here, just in front of those elevators. It was the link that pulled the grain harvests from Central Montana down to the east-west mainline. The little elevators spread out along those windy granger lines would ship their grain south through Straw to the bigger rail of the transcon line. Early on it was trains of boxcars carrying grain, then the days of yellow hopper cars. Cars that had, "America's Resourceful Railroad" emblazoned on their sides. It was the slogan for the late Milwaukee Road, and has clung on just like Straw, even though the years are wearing on.

When you come across one of the old yellow grain hoppers, which is probably more gray than yellow by now, with faded markings and graffiti, know that it came from here. Grain country, in the days before the storm.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Old World

Is there something magical in a name? The old world had plenty of them, places that we remember from Biblical stories where prophets foretold events of the future and the love of a fatherly god. Places where kings ruled, walls fell, and earthquakes parted the lands. These were places of the old world.

As the Milwaukee Road pushed west from the Bitterroot Mountains the names that sprung up along the way hearken back to these old cities, towns, and the events of long ago. Tekoa, the Biblical home of a shepherd and prophet named Amos. Jericho, and the infamous walls of the city. Smyrna, where the church will receive "the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again." (Rev 2:8). Old world names that live on across the Western Extension, some as small towns that exist out on the farming ranges of The Palouse like Tekoa. Others as simple plots of ground along the abandoned right of way with no markers to tell their tail, like Jericho (pictured above amid the backdrop of the tall Saddle Mountains).

As seekers and travelers move along these places of old, I wonder if their significance ever calls out across the centuries? Do the messages recorded in those ancient times, in those old places carry forward to the present times? Does the fatherly god still call out to a lost people, hoping to catch their attention and reveal himself? Does the one who is first and last really come along side and walk with us as we journey - and would we recognize him if he did? Do the fallen walls of a city still hold a message about the power of faith? Under the open skies of Lines West, among the ancient names of the past is a good place to stop ask.