While my grandfather hilled his potatoes in the garden dug into the sod between the road and the railroad tracks, I traced bug tracks, like long wiggly worms, in the fence boards. We were both counters. First, he’d count the mounds. Later, he’d count the number of potatoes he shook out from each hill. Then he’d count them out as he spooned them, steaming with butter, onto our plates.
I counted the fence, rail ties, number of steps from one place to the next. Eighteen stairs to my bedroom. Eleven town blocks to school. Four hours and fifty-six minutes from the driveway to the long bridge across the coulees to university. Three-thousand-four-hundred-eighty kilometers to a new life in a real city.
Twenty-five years later, I pick my way through construction cones as huge yellow machines plow open space for light-rail transit that will run along the path of the old CPR. I find a hole in the chain link fencing and arrive on the wood and iron line half-buried in brush and litter and follow it to inevitability, where the tracks disappear into an embankment of gravel and recycled tires. You can’t tell, anymore, if the path was meant for coming or going.
I don’t count steps now, let my phone do that for me. Four-thousand-six-hundred-forty-eight so far today, about as many to get back home.