Jan Verhoeff – Echoes of the Trail

Some mornings as Amtrak rumbles through town I think of how many years I’ve listened to that whistle blow. I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t hear it blow, and it it’s late, I just automatically start praying for whatever has kept it back. Often, I’ve known later of a wreck, a flood, or even snow, but eventually, I’ll hear the whistle blow.

Growing up on the Santa Fe Trail, I never thought much about the history of the trail or why it might be important in the future. A recent conversation with my kids revealed to me the importance of the trail and why I should be telling the pioneer stories my grandparents told me, more often.

The value of living on the trail doesn’t all have to do with history. Some of the intrinsic value is current events and how the trail applies to life on the plains.

The world, as we know it now, shrunk from the size and form back in those days of pioneers and settlers. Traveling thirty miles in a day meant many days spent rolling along the prairies in the early 1900’s and before. There were no fast food restaurants and no parks along the way. Pioneers stopped and took time to prepare their own food, ate around a campfire, and often had to kill their meat and dress it out before they could eat.

Can you imagine, traveling just thirty miles in a day and stopping at the end of the day to make camp along side a river, not having seen a single person in several days other than those who traveled with you? They might have taken time out to play the fiddle or a guitar, perhaps a harmonica, before they settled for the night, because the only sounds they heard on the prairie were natures calls and their own voices.

Those simple days shaped our lives and continue to shape our future. No matter how often we look away from the the past, it’s still there, lingering and staging our future with events and ripples that changed the moment, and changed for all time. Knowing the value of those times and how much those travels took from our ancestors gives us a better understanding of the value in our lives today. By recognizing the lives our ancestors chose, to make those travels, take that step into the future and hang onto their dreams, they gave us a chance to have our own dreams.

On those occasions when I forget that the roots my grandparents put down on the prairie were upstarts from elsewhere, I begin to accept that feeling of being stuck in one spot, without hope for the future. But when I look back and realize that although we’ve been here and our roots run deep, we didn’t start out here, and we can move on, the recognition of opportunity astounds me.

The Santa Fe Trail ran from St. Louis, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico and then further west to the Pacific Ocean. A trail created by the first wagon that crossed the prairies, and continued by all those passing since. This trail is now a paved highway, seen from satelite in night photos as a string of lights unending from St. Louis Missouri to the Pacific Coast. Although the trail goe either way, my great grandparents chose to stop here, in southeastern Colorado in the shadow of Two Buttes Mountain.

From strong roots, tall trees grow.

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