26 December, from the Natchez Trace

The Sunset Limited burst out of downtown LA right on time; I had
been watching this mariachi band serenade both shoppers & alfresco

diners on Olvera Street, which has been strung with giant poinsettias
& softwhite miniature lights for the holidays. In two days I would meet,

at Lake Charles in Louisiana, those family members of mine living in
sunbelt America, and together we would cross the Mississippi at Natchez

to begin the long drive north to Washington for New Year’s with the rest
of the family. It will be nice to just sleep away the rail miles for the next

48 hours, I had told myself.. The day after Christmas found us all together
as planned, in the southern forest along the relatively empty trace, at places

this line of footprints still visible as indentations in the fallen leaves & needles
just off the parkway; post-rider ghosts galloped through hardwood shadows,

then disappeared again where winter sunlight penetrates the swamp through
the trees. Three deer start warily across the road, then bound back into the safety

of leafy cover as we drive by under branches peppered with mockingbirds &
mistletoe. A radio station out of Tuscaloosa is playing a Christmas chorale, but

I am thinking of W.C. Handy; I am thinking of manatees & fireflies, and of great
white egret clouds this spring, should I decide to abandon my life in California;

I am thinking of turning 40 in the backseat of my parents’ car; and I am thinking
of sons and mothers grown distant from too many years of living too many

miles from one another. The radio tells us there is snow ahead: from Memphis
to Asheville, a blizzard is gathering strength
, the announcer reports. I figure

the same could be said for all of us today- indeed, we too are gathering strength.