In the highlands of the Kawarthas, Heather and I hiked through the painted autumn woods near Peterborough. Our friends Richard and Jane took us along an abandoned railway trestle built in the early 1850s, a kilometer long path edging their property.
The line was proposed in the 1830s to extend from Cobourg to Peterborough, though plans for construction were constantly put on hold or shelved until 1846, particularly due to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. The railroad was finally constructed by the Cobourg and Rice Lake Plank Road and Ferry Company. It was 17 km long and reached the shores of Rice Lake, on what is now Hiawartha First Nation land. The railway was often used for delivering lumber from the newly founded town of Peterborough to the port in Cobourg.
The trestle we crossed ran along a steep gully, like a whimsical swath cut back through the decades. Now only ghosts remained. I imagined faces pressed to glass; lunch hampers and worn wellies crowding families as they settled down for their journey.
I heard clinking mason jars filled with home preserves and the held-in-check yammering of young children. I saw loosely tied bunches of cornflower, purple asters, goldenrod poking out from well-latched suitcases tucked under the sluggish seats.
Farming families reconnected across the miles, swapping tips and tales or just travelling from market to market, unloading goods and snatching moments for gossip and embraces from infrequently seen intimates. Richard referred to this trestle as the internet of the old.
But in this “old” there was time for folks to take in the ever-shifting stories told to those who listened; or to simply gaze from the window at the brilliant colours. There were no gadgets in their hands, no power source to locate and engage. People met each other’s eyes and spoke about their lives as the ch-chunking sounds lulled and the sun set a little lower, the train pushing along through the south-eastern Ontario bush.