Thomas Doty – Storyteller

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Model Trains and Cars, and the Wild Woods Beyond

When I was a boy growing up in Medford, Oregon I spent a great deal of time messing about with model trains and cars. The garage was my kingdom. I created an entire world on a four-foot by eight-foot sheet of plywood supported by sawhorses.

For me, hours passed like seconds. Yet for those who lived in my make-believe world, entire lifetimes were acted out in an afternoon. At the end of the day, the plywood was raised to the ceiling on pulleys, sawhorses were stored out back, and our red Rambler station wagon was parked inside for the night.

During the summer, my model world expanded to the patio out back. I covered the concrete with two old blankets, a gray one for town, a forest-green one for the wild woods beyond. Day after day, lifetimes came and went in a landscape that lasted until the first day of school. Though rain was rare from June to September, I kept a large plastic tarp close by to protect my world from those 10 minute thunder showers that exploded once or twice each summer.

My train-and-car universe was more or less a replica of my neighborhood. We lived in town where three streets came together around a triangle park. Years earlier this had been the turn-around for the trolley that ran between Medford and Jacksonville. The tops of the old steel rails were still visible and they shined in the asphalt. A block away was the wilderness ... acres of woods with secret trails, a creek, sandstone cliffs, an old cemetery, and atop a hill, the red-brick ruins of a Catholic hospital that had been closed for years. This was my "real-life" world.

Then I grew up, more or less. Except for this. In every house I lived in as an adult I have had the same dream.... I unpack my model trains and cars, run tracks and highways along the base boards and along shelves attached to walls, punch holes through walls for tunnels, and within minutes, there is chugging and buzzing through every room in the house. The dream ends this way: I go outside and take a walk in the woods.

These days I create worlds with words by telling native stories ... myths of the people who live in the village and their journeys and adventures in the wilderness. I often include myself in new native stories I make up. I drive along gray roads from gig to gig.

The other day, while traveling the coast highway, I spotted some old train tracks. Bushes grew between the rails. They hadn't been used in years and years. I parked my rig and started walking.

The tracks turned inland, away from the highway, and drew me into the woods. After a mile or so, I paused and took it in. The trees were crowded close together. Sunlight that made it to the forest floor was faintly green. This was a magical place. I could hear my childhood ... the hoot of a train, the distant gurgling of a creek, whispers of people who lived in my neighborhood....

Just below the tracks, there was a path that led deeper into the woods. This was a secret path, slightly overgrown. I gazed back the way I had come -- a moment that lasted for years -- and stepped onto the path and started walking.