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Edition #141, January 1, 2011

The Sun Rises Again

Photographer: Bryant Kaden

                                                                                 Photo by Bryant Kaden

The Sun Rises Again

On January 16, 2010, the sun rises over the Canadian Pacific’s mainline across Minnesota as another train heads west. This is nothing remarkable. It happens every day, often in this spectacular way.  What makes this photo special to me is not this event or this train, but the context in which it happened. I serve as a Lutheran pastor in rural Minnesota, having graduated seminary in 2008. I have friends from school scattered across the country and around the world. One of those friends was Ben Larson, who had traveled to Haiti that January with his wife and cousin as part of their senior year of seminary. They were visiting St Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port au Prince when the disastrous 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck on January 12. As reports trickled in via email, phone, and facebook, we learned of their fate. Ben had been killed, while his companions miraculously escaped the building as it collapsed around them. Their lives were forever changed, and my heart filled with grief as I joined millions of others watching in disbelief at how vast the destruction and suffering was in the wake of the earthquake.

These kinds of events make it impossible to quickly return to “business as usual.” Our family and friends wrestled to find some normalcy in the days that followed. When a couple of my railfan buddies suggested we try to see some trains that Saturday, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. I didn’t know if I could bring myself to do something as frivolous as taking pictures of trains when the world seemed to be in such turmoil. My wife simply said, “You should go.” So I bundled up, packed up the camera, and headed out in the predawn darkness to see what this cold Minnesota day would bring. 

As I drove west on State Highway 55 toward Glenwood, I turned on the scanner in time to hear westbound train 293 preparing to depart on the Elbow Lake Subdivision, Canadian Pacific’s Soo Line mainline to Portal, North Dakota. The sky was beginning to lighten in the east, and I quickly figured out where the sun would break the horizon. As I continued west, a shot began to form in my mind of the train with the sun rising behind the elevator at Lowry. I arrived in plenty of time and got the camera set up, hoping that the train wouldn’t be delayed. For once, everything was falling into place. 

In a few minutes, a horn in the distance announced that the train was near. Now, with the sun barely over the horizon, I was worried that the train might be a little too early. I stepped back out of the car into the frigid air and made some final adjustments. Everything was quiet except for the swelling sound of GE locomotives at work. As the headlights broke over the slight hill in the distance, the sun rose just enough above the trees to be fully visible. At that point, there was no thought, only action: the power of steel wheels on rails accompanied by the clicking of a shutter. Within seconds, the train was rushing by, the images had been captured, and I was getting back in the car to chase it west toward my waiting friends. Things felt…normal.

As I approached the overpass east of Hoffman, I saw one of my companions already there, composing his shot. When I got out of the car, he put an arm around me and said, “Hey, man. How ya doin?” I said, “Good. I think I just took my best shot ever.”  And for me, it is my favorite railroad photograph that I’ve taken, but not just because I think it looks great. More than that, it’s my favorite because it reminds me of friends, both ones that I’ve lost and ones that I still have to see me through dark times and into another glorious sunrise. It reminds me that the sun always rises again.

To learn more about Ben Larson and the St Joseph’s Home for Boys, visit www.heartswithhaiti.org

Bryant Kaden

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