The unexpected haunting of the River Kwai

Last month we had a wonderful holiday with family on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, with sunsets, wine-tasting and much good American food. IMG_1173 DSCN8355 DSCN8360Tabor Hill Winery

On one of our expeditions we visited the Fernwood Botanical Garden. There were woodland walks, prairie meadows and formal areas, DSCN8366 DSCN8378DSCN8368but one particular display grabbed our interest for a long time. We became kids again.  DSCN8377A walk-in area of wooden structures and natural landscape with trains running in and out DSCN8371 and suddenly reappearing where you least expected them. It was wonderfully complex,DSCN8372 engaging and utterly charming. There was so much to see, we didn’t know which way to look. DSCN8374 DSCN8375  DSCN8382We watched these trains dipping in and out of the foliage, creeping round the sheer edge of a wooden cliff, or traversing great gaps balanced on twig like structures. Yet all the while I felt a sense of haunting, a constant tug by the images of another railway.  This is the Wampo (Wang Pho) viaduct,Wampo pc4 and this Fernwood.DSCN8383 and this shows the bamboo scaffolding for the Bridge on the Mae Klaung (now renamed Kwai)and Far East prisoners of war and conscripted labourers at work on the Thailand-Burma railway in 1942/1943.Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 15.56.10                         This is Fernwood again.DSCN8370 - Version 2

Some of us cannot forget.

37 thoughts on “The unexpected haunting of the River Kwai

    • I think it was simply a case of convergence. If you build a railway in a jungle setting, using local materials, it is going to look similar whatever the scale or locality. It was a happy and beautiful day and the garden was wonderful, but I was rather unsettled.

  1. There is often something lying in wait to set us off. I think the something is often referred to as a ‘trigger’ these days. The pictures are excellent.

    • Indeed. I have just had the copy editor’s report and there were only thirty queries and soon dealt with, so I am very happy so far. I am not entirely sure about the way he is suggesting it should be printed – it is very difficult because there are three ‘voices’: letters, memoirs and editorial passages. We shall see.

  2. It is stunning and confounding when that kind of recognition happens, and makes me think that metaphor lives not only in literary tomes, but is also something real in ordinary life that occurs and can set our mood for hours or days. Wonderful pix!

    • I’ve always thought that the poem by Elizabeth Bartlett, Entering Language describes beautifully how metaphor is the source of both learning and language development.

      Entering Language

      Mothers remember the first word,
      rising like a stone in a stream of babbling.
      I heard the word dot
      from my miniature pointillist
      unsteady in his painted cot.
      The first snow, and Dots, dots, dots
      he cries with the eloquence and tone
      of a lay preacher spreading the word
      to a deaf world. We are ecstatic
      and amazed as Seurat discovering
      the phenomenon of vision. In his world
      of wooden bars and milky white, dots surround us
      for a few days, stars are pin-heads
      at night, sugar glacial specs;
      we dot and carry one, hear Morse code
      in our sleep, wake on the dot of six.
      There’s no doubt we are all dotty,
      but we are soon into language.
      No pause each day for breath;
      linked words, sentences gather momentum.
      Dots all gone away, he greets the sun.
      We welcome him into our world; he picks
      out commas, colons, full-stops
      to please us, but Os are more exciting.
      Oh, we cry to everything, but it palls
      At last; the great Os of Advent
      turn into yawns. At dawn we hear him
      trying out the seven antiphons and groan.
      Elizabeth Bartlett

      You can buy it on the internet with Elizabeth reading (but she has a lisp).

      • This is a wonderful poem, Hilary. I like Elizabeth Bartlett’s work. And now I’ve just spent a delightful side-tracked while-away at the Poetry Archive!

      • I’m glad you enjoyed this. I never knew she was American until today.
        I am waiting impatiently for a friend’s birthday in order to giver her a copy of A Certain Age, in the certainty she will enjoy it (there is a post in-the-writing on the subject).

  3. Very poignant, I can see how that would throw up conflicting emotions. I love the complexity of the garden railway and the way the trains pop out unexpectedly. What a fascinating place, and some lovely weather by the looks of things.

  4. What an emotionally mixed day. It would have been such fun to stumble across this discovery but I can see why you were unsettled. It is eerily reminiscent of the Thai-Burma railway.
    By the way, I found your comment that the Pacific sector of WWII is not well known as I would say most Australians would know of the railway and also, of course, Kokoda but then that sector of the war was very close for us.

    • You are absolutely right. Australians are way ahead of the UK or US in remembering and understanding the Pacific War and the plight of Far East POWs and their widows. I have learned more in my research from Australian sites and researchers than from British ones.

  5. Interesting Hilary. I am always amazed by the creativity and devotion of model train buffs. We took our grandkids to a train park in our local city of Medford this summer. There were trains to ride, which was fun with the kids, but there was also an impressive section where model trains chugged through all kinds of terrain, including around Hogwarts Castle. What caught my attention, however, was the replica of a logging operation. My dad worked for a lumber company when I was a child and the logs were brought in from the mountains by rail. My little friends and I would stand next to the track and the engineer would throw out candy to us. Hard to forget that. –Curt

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