The tracks in Canmore were just outside a coffee shop I liked. When the 8 AM train passed through, there was someone in front of me in line, so I stepped outside. An Asian man was leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette. The train was a shuffle of coal, pipe, boxcars, streaming from one horizon to the other. I leaned up against the fence, looked at the grey sky, the raw morning. The cars were tattooed with maple leaves and words like Canadian Pacific. I was very far away.
The trains in Jasper were the most frequent. They ran a couple times an hour. The tracks run parallel to the main street, impossible to miss.
I was walking back to my car the first night I was in town. It was dark, not just because it was night, but also because the town was small and did not generate a lot of light. A man was walking his dog along the path. He continued without stopping, although the dog gave my ankle a cursory sniff.
The trains were trundling slowly. Naively, I thought it was so that the noise would not wake up the town. Then one loud crack was followed by a domino series of clacks, which continued from right to left, stereo sound in my ears. The engine had stopped and these cars were running into it, in slow motion. Like cattle running into each other, moving and unable to stop.
The sound continued down the tracks until it was replaced by a wheezing sigh, the air being let out of the brakes. A locomotive mechanical exhale. Decompression. It made me relax, I felt myself unclench at the sound.
In Banff, the tracks were a little outside town. I walked past the station on my last night. The sun setting between two mountains. I walked over to a stream. There were bats jigging across the face of the water; I could see their erratic, jerking movements in the reflection.
The moment felt pregnant, like all of the wildlife in the woods would come out and have a drink at the stream. The sun set and the air cooled quickly. I watched and waited with the bats until it was too dark to see the water. Nothing ever emerged. It was still miraculous.