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Mack Williams: polar express Prequel

Not long ago, the prequel arrived for the polar express. This “prequel” is more correctly  a “prelude,” nothing to do with a movie. The lack of capitalization of “polar express,” even in the title of this piece is meant to prevent confusion with the movie or train. Instead, I’m referring to a recent meteorological blast of cold air from the north, which despite its mid-late Fall occurrence, is often a common portent of Winter.

This “winter-preview” happened the other day as I was working at the old train station-science museum in Danville.

I was attempting to open one of our “crash-bar” doors for an incoming patron, when all of a sudden I had to put the strength of both arms into play, since that door was being pushed shut by a freshly stirring, cold, strong wind.

After the patron entered, the wind took advantage of the situation which had been “opened up,” catching the door and flinging it “obtusely” open as if it were a flimsy screen affair instead of that thick, seasoned combination of 117 year-old wood and brass (someone recently removed the brass’ familiar, time-worn, green patina, but I guess I’d better leave that road untraveled).

It seemed that those fall colors of my recent mountain trip had “dripped” down the mountains and foothills like wet paint to color the piedmont, as if gravity-drawn rather than a product of the passing of days and the gradual switching off of those veined, “plant food” factories.

The great pin oak between the museum’s buildings still held onto most of its leaves, with only a few infrequently joining those now under the power of nature’s “leaf blower.” A sale of discounted 45 rpm records in the 1960s was sometimes advertised as “record riot,” while this looked like a “leaf riot.”

Perhaps the attached leaves still had enough of their green “blood” left to strengthen their hold; while those joining the wind seemed like a rock climber whose dangling grasp of a precipice could no longer resist gravity, resulting in a “letting go.” The only clue of leaves being released later on during the night might be when one of those “silhouettes” briefly eclipsed a star, mixing “faux” twinkle with genuine.

Another much smaller tree was left with only a few “hangers-on,” their arrangement being similar to that of a Christmas tree whose decorations were sparsely spaced. Their scarcity reminded me of the tree in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”(1965), and the tree on the album cover of The Moody Blues’ 1969 “On the Threshold of a Dream” (minus that thing that looked like some alien, cyclopic robot-vacuum cleaner with hoses for arms).

Walking over to our other museum building, a solitary leaf came sailing by me and descended at an angle. Seeing it first out of only the corner of my eye, my knee-jerk (more correctly, “eye-jerk”) reaction was: “Look to see what kind of butterfly it is” (the annual extinction of such response not having yet occurred, due to the seeming extension of this year’s Indian Summer). But the leaf’s scraping-the-ground, “Gooney Bird” landing was a dead giveaway that it was something other than a butterfly.

As the wind increased, the old museum’s awnings, along with their supporting metal “skeleton” began to “kick up a fuss” (but being already outside the building, they couldn’t be asked to leave).

Not far from another exhibit room’s windows, the eyes of taxidermied birds seemed “fixed” upon the awnings’ battering. Being on “this side” of the glass (but on the “other side” of existence), they remained deathly still, “unflapped” by the poor awnings’ plight.

By the time I left for the day, those awnings were becoming so repeatedly wind-inflated that it seemed like the building was trying, again, and again to achieve “take off.” My best guess as to the object of such imagined flight: the old train station’s melding with fiction in being blown far North to become another disembarkation point for future passengers of the Polar Express (the capitalized one).

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