But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Crossing the Bar”
I walked the little beach many times in the five years I lived in Cape Charles. With the ebb and flow of the tide, tiny periwinkle snails bury themselves in the sand. Gulls hovering overhead cry in their piercing, lonely voices. Storms churn the Chesapeake Bay, stirring its hidden contents so that afterward, treasures can be found on the shore – sand dollars, whole and unharmed, prizes to a beachcomber. I collected many.
I was alone on the beach the day I saw the old train coming to the end of the line at the harbor. I’d never seen it come through – Cape Charles is a tiny railroad town that almost didn’t survive the loss of the industry.
Where’s that train going? I wondered. Has it gotten on the wrong track? There’s nowhere to go – nothing but the bay ahead of it. Will it turn around, somehow? Or back up?
Is it going over the edge, into the water?
The train kept rolling forward, slowing to a stop at last.
And the train began to float away from the land, as if by magic, as if it were Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, sprouting a flotation device.
It’s on a barge!
I watched, marveling, as the train sailed out into the bay, a majestic, most rare sight. I imagined visiting fishermen looking up from their bait and tackle to gawk as the train drifted by their boats.
There was something poetic about it, both grand and poignant, filled with awe and tasting of sadness. The gulls cried; a salt-tinged breeze caressed my face. I watched as the train grew smaller and smaller on the bay, until I could see it no more, and turned again home.