The days tick by – it's been three weeks now.
Our leaders tell us to get on with our lives, resume our normal routine.
But then they tell us that more attacks are likely.
That chemical attacks are a possibility.
Then we see more bodies being pulled from the mass of rubble that was once a center of industry.
But get on with your lives, they say.
I'm sure they know that their words are mere artifice.
Spoken in the hope of encouraging some return to normalcy with the knowledge that normal has forever changed.
* * *
In the spirit of moving forward, I was fortunate last week to be a guest of my husband's employer on a train ride.
The company hosted all of its employees and a guest apiece on the Verde Canyon Railroad.
I am grateful to the company, and to my own employer who let me go, for the experience.
The Verde Canyon Railroad offers a scenic excursion along the Verde River.
The trip begins and ends at a well-appointed depot in Clarkdale – about a three-hour drive from Kingman.
For two hours the train meanders slowly through the scenic canyon, past the many scars of the mining operations that once defined the area, past the long-abandoned dwellings of ancient Americans, along the cool ribbon of water that passes for a river in a desert, and on to the nearly abandoned town of Perkinsville.
Perkinsville once was home to a handful of mining families and served as a backdrop for scenes in at least one Western film.
Today Perkinsville is home to two hardy souls and the turnaround point for the tourist train.
The two-hour return trip is over the same line of track but the scenery is so such that it doesn't diminish on second view.
In fact, the rocks and foliage and river are presented as wholly new when coming from the other direction.
There were two unexpected highlights to the trip.
The first was the conductor.
The disembodied voice piped into the cars described the history – both human and geological – of the area.
He pointed out different sights including a rock shaped like an elephant and a bald-eagle nest.
And then he sang a song he said he had written about Arizona.
Then he read a poem he wrote about a bald eagle he saw on a previous trip.
Then he sang Amazing Grace in Cherokee.
And then I saw him walk by.
He walked across one of the outdoor viewing cars, a slight man with long dark hair pulled back into a low ponytail wearing jeans, a headband and a patchwork vest and speaking into a mobile headset.
I heard a woman near me draw in her breath.
"How do I get a private tour," she laughed to a friend.
Then the car attendant broke the spell.
"He's from Chicago."
And, as if the breathtaking scenery and spellbinding narration weren't enough, the biggest thrill was yet to come.
As the train rounded a corner, bound on one side by a steep red cliff and on the other by the quiet river, the mouth of a tunnel opened in front of us.
Sitting above the tunnel, calmly watching our progress, sat two bald eagles.
Unperturbed by our clacking approach, the magnificent birds sat for a moment.
Then one opened its wings and flew over the train.
Its partner watched and then followed, swooping just above us as it headed over the river.
Cameras clicked and all eyes were on the birds as they receded from view.
This is what the birds told me: Yes, normal is forever changed, but beauty and hope are alive and flying high.