Myth, Legend, Soul
Elizabeth Alexander

The Bud Lake Express used to run right next to the lake. One day the lake flooded over after a several days of heavy rain. The train that was running on the lines was swept off the tracks and now sits on the bottom of the lake. Sometimes, the train’s whistle can be heard after dark to those who know the story. It still makes its run over the lake.
At least that’s how the story goes. I first heard the story when I was very young. It has been in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember. My grandparents used to live in a log cabin next to Bud Lake, in Harrison Michigan. It was a real log cabin with just the logs and the adhesive holding them together. At least that’s what my childhood mind thought. I now realize there was more to it than that, but it remains a mystery, a feat of magic. I remember the smell of the house, the rough feel of the wood. I remember how none of the grandchildren wanted to go down to the basement alone. It was a dark dank abandoned place with cold concrete floors. The roughly sanded raw wood leading into its depths and the rough cracked cement of the stairs going down to the water and the rusted break wall were like some long winding path through a forbidden land.
Summers were spent with the whole family―aunts, uncles, cousins―crowding into the three-bedroom house. We grew up on the lake. We celebrated our birthdays at the lake. My cousins told us young ones about the train that rested at the bottom of the lake. They were so much older that we took what they said as real. Years were spent gazing down into the depths of the lake trying to catch a glimpse of the train past the disgustingly slimy seaweed or listening and dreaming of the train’s whistle in the middle of the night, of running out to catch the train to see where it went. I spent so many years of my youth wondering about scuba diving to the bottom of the lake looking for trains or steel tracks.
I think I held onto the ghost stories and myths and legends of my childhood for longer than others. I know I held onto the story of the Bud Lake Express longer than any of my cousins, even the ones several years younger than I. Now it no longer holds truth for me, but the feelings it inspired still linger. Ghost stories like the Bud Lake Express, myths of heroes long gone, and legends of monsters give us not only the heebie-jeebies or make us afraid to go outside in the middle of the night. They give us mystery. They give us the desire to see: What lies in the depths of the lakes and oceans? What lives in the deepest darkest forests? What calls the highest mountain home? Whatever the answers to these questions, they have always captivated our imaginations, our curiosity.
We leave and explore, develop tools to help us find out the secrets of the world. We have climbed the tallest mountain, cut down the deepest forests, and mapped the ocean floors, traveled to the moon. There are few places on this earth that man has not trod. The myths and legends of times past are fading away, becoming jokes and things only the nuts with tin-foil hats really believe in. Still, we continue to spread the stories of these legends to the younger generations. We spread the tales of Sasquatch, Yeti, Mothman, aliens, all the monsters and myths of things that live in the dark, hidden from the world. We still seem to understand in the depths of our souls the importance of these mysteries.
As the natural wilderness gradually disappears, what is left to discover? Where else can we look for our mystery? How do we satisfy our burning curiosity? We turn then to other secrets. Secrets of human beings. We wonder: What lies in the dark corners of the human mind? What lives in the shadows of the human heart? Where does the soul live? Philosophical matters. Questions for which there can be no true answer, only many complex truths.
The quest for knowledge can never be finished. No one can know all there is to know. We may never know if the monsters talked about in legends really lived, if our ancient ancestors met such creatures. We may not ever know if the ancient-astronaut theorists are right and humans are hybrids of aliens and native earth primates. That doesn’t mean we don’t try. We still search, explore, wonder. Can we ever be content with only what we know now? Can we ever just let it be? Where is the limit to human knowledge?
As a society we give our kids stories of warning and stories to promote exploration. We inspire in them a desire to go and learn. We congratulate them for learning and being curious, through stories and by asking them to learn for themselves. But then why do we have sayings like “curiosity killed the cat”? Our society is filled with mixed signals. It’s no wonder we are so confused about ourselves and who we are. We fight a desire and a need to believe in magic and myth while our logical parts tell us that there are no such things. Which side will win out in the end?
I still dream about Bud Lake and the train on the bottom of the lake beyond the disgustingly slimy seaweed. I fight to believe in Sasquatch, Yeti, Mothman, and aliens. I still wonder and dream. But the fight keeps getting harder and harder. The reality of a world in which myths are just stories and carpets don’t fly, animals don’t talk and wishes definitely don’t come true, has tainted me against such easy belief. I fight though. I continue to fight for such simple and easy faith.
How long though will this last? How long before I forget the Bud Lake Express? How long until we all do? The legends are still being passed down, but with each retelling and popularizing of the myths, they become simpler and simpler, in the mass production of monsters losing much of what they really have to teach us. What will the world be like without mystery? Without myths? Without things that go bump in the night?