The recommendations we currently live under, here in Ireland, include one that says we can take some exercise every day, while practicing Social Distancing, but that we shouldn’t stray any further than 2 km from our home.
Wishing to get a walk in, but not really very keen to impose ourselves on anybody else, I hit Google Maps to inspect my vicinity and my boundaries. I happened upon a previously unnoticed slender country lane that continued down the back of a little-used road and seemed to terminate in a wooded area. We resolved to check it out.
We’re now been walking there once a day, every day, for the last week or more. We’ve seen one girl on a bike and a man in his tractor and that’s all. Apart from these brief crossing of paths, the laneway has been ours. It’s not a terribly long laneway, so we go up it and back and then do it all over again and that’s our walk.
It’s nice to have a little space and it’s quite an advantage to not have to be calculating how to best keep clear of other people all of the time. The laneway also has horses in the adjoining fields, quite a lot of them actually. They remain pretty aloof, not really looking to say hello or anything like that. They tend to hang near the gates of the fields, because that’s where their feed is, and they eye us up in a detached fashion, but that’s about it with the equine interaction. This suits me okay, I’m not a horsey person.
There are also rabbits. Their white butts flash regularly in the dull green of the fields and sometimes they move across the lane in front of us. (Sorry about that boring use of the word ‘move’ – ‘walk’ looks wrong and I can’t bloody bring myself to use ‘lollop’.) Once, we saw a pheasant. It’s rather a wildlife jamboree by our usual standards and that all adds a little something to the excursion.
It's not any kind of nirvana, though, our little lane. It's quite heavily littered in places, by fly-tippers, and the views are green and underpopulated but not otherwise inspiring.
I mentioned that the online map shows the laneway leading into some woodland at the end. This is indeed what happens but, when we got down there, we found that we didn’t get to go in. Just as the woodland commences, the railway track runs perpendicularly across the lane. Of course, I knew this from the map but I thought we might be able to get across. No such luck, though. The track is protected by bright red ‘high vis’ gates and these gates are firmly padlocked. No way through.
Because of this, the wooded path on the other side of the tracks quickly gained the status of an enigma to us. It curves off up into the unseen in such an inviting way that it’s hard not to speculate about what wonders might lie up there. There could be a house made entirely of sweets and candy, an old lady and her wolf, or even (less likely) three pigs in some new-build housing. We stood on our side of the tracks and looked up the inviting lane and wondered what or who was up there.
One day, as we stood and speculated, the rail tracks began to fizzle and sing. The train was coming. We don’t have enough trains in these parts to say, ‘a train was coming’. It was the train and it was on its way. We stood back a little, even though we didn’t need to, and waited. Before long, the train appeared. Four carriages and an engine. We waved to the driver and he waved back and blew his horn. Four completely empty carriages rattled by and that was it, the main Dublin train had passed.
Since then, without really agreeing it, we have timed our daily walk to be down at the gates when the Dublin train comes through. Some days, we’ve missed it and been back up the lane when it clattered through. Yesterday, we stood and waited at the end of the lane for the train to come, just so we could get our wave and our whistle toot. In a matter of two weeks, from being professional people, parents, and active members of our community, we have become the Railway Children.
Not really though. That’s mostly just an attempt at a funny line.
Our waiting to see the train roll through is not any indication of a reversion of sophistication or intelligence. It’s not a sign that we’re losing our marbles. It’s just a small connection in a moment where small connections are rare and valuable. The train may be empty of passengers, but it is still on the move. It is traversing the entire country while we are confined to our homes and our two-kilometer laneway. Seeing the train, waving quietly and getting a toot back, is something. In months and years to come, it may seem naive and even laughable that we did this thing at this time.
But, in truth, I don’t think it will. Perhaps a new family ritual is being instituted, right here and right now, down the littered lane. Perhaps, on some particular marked day, in each of the years to come, we will venture again down the lane just to wave at the driver and to remember all that came to pass in the Spring of 2020.
Who knows if we will or not? Not me, that's for sure.
It’s just too early to tell.