Friday, July 16, 2010

Carried away by the train!

Something there is about riding a train. I don't recall getting excited about the arrival of a Greyhound or Continental Trailways bus back in the day. But some 30 years ago and again Saturday, I shared in the almost magical anticipation along with people from toddlers to grandparents and a range of couples, singles, families and even a 20-strong group wearing shirts proclaiming "The Royal Family of Lunch Ladies" -- all waiting for the train to arrive. "How will we know when it's here," a pretty young girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old and wearing a flowery summer dress, asked her family. Oh, you'll know, I wanted to tell her!

And soon there was the distinct sound of the train whistle, and then the vision of that intense light, for a short while barely seeming to move closer, and then suddenly at the station.

People seemed exceptionally good-natured awaiting, boarding and riding on the train. The Heartland Flyer's crew was friendly and professional. For someone more used to traveling in a plane, the seating seemed roomy and comfortable. The ride was smooth and amazingly quiet. The pace seemed leisurely.

In the nearly 29 years I've lived in Norman, Oklahoma, I've made the trip homeward to Gainesville, Texas, many times, mostly in a car or pickup, occasionally passing overhead in a plane. Except when construction causes traffic to bottleneck, I don't mind the ride along Interstate 35 at all and in fact enjoy parts. But making the journey on the less-traveled tracks of a train, through trees and brush and pastureland and right up against a face of the Arbuckle Mountains at a couple of places, provides a refreshing new perspective.

The people: I don't recall wondering about the stories and destinations of fellow vehicle-bound travelers on the highway, but aboard the train, leaving the driving to someone else, it was fun to wonder, eavesdrop and share stories. The guy sitting next to me was using the first of his 18-trip ticket package to travel from Purcell to Fort Worth to see his girlfriend. They hoped to watch a Rangers baseball game, even though it looked like the trip south was headed toward rain. In the row ahead, a 60ish couple traveled with two young grandsons. They, also, were trying to plan adventures around the rain; would it be the zoo or a museum? And of course I regret not getting to find out the story of the Royal Family of Lunch Ladies, but they were boarding when I spotted them, and I'm not sure where they ended up sitting.

The scenery: I think my favorite view is gliding through tall grass, brush or trees that seem to grow right up to the tracks. The recent rains added to the lushness, I'm sure. They also enhanced the view through the Arbuckles, where twice we got a good look at the winding Washita River. (The stewardess -- is that what she's called? -- described it as looking like a sea of chocolate milk. I think it had some strawberry in it, too!) I'm also fascinated by running so close to cow pastures, small towns, oil-industry compounds and railyards. And something intrigues me about crossing under the highways that are my normal pathway. The final fun perspective was actually crossing the trestle bridge over the Red River that I seem to always notice to the west when I cross into the home state on the highway.

I was met at the station by my mom, and after some shopping, we went out to the family farm, where I spent the afternoon visiting my parents and catching up and getting the facts straight on some family history. Then my husband, who had driven to Texas earlier to take care of some things, came over for steaks and then to drive us back to Norman.

To my surprise, as we headed across the Red River northbound on Interstate 35 about 7 p.m., just to our west was the leisurely Heartland Flyer. Rainbows to the east for much of the return trip were one more reminder that this was a day trip for which I had been destined.

I'm not sure when I started hearing the low train whistle calling me to ride, but I'm blessed to have responded by jumping on board! If I'd taken time to plan my trip, I could have saved money. But I probably never would have made it to the train station. I would have convinced myself it wasn't worth the cost, that it wasn't convenient or that it wasn't practical. And I would have missed a great day!

Sometimes God clearly says: This one's yours. ... I'm grateful I was able to hear, and I pray to continue to grow in awareness and responsiveness to such calls.

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