And I did. Yellowstone National Park, with its spooky-looking landscapes of mud bubbling like pea soup, steam emerging from below, and, of course, geysers. Grand Teton National Park, home of bears, elks, bison. A week of beauty, exercise, good food with good people. In a word, perfect.
Yes, it really was faithful: every 90 minutes.
A real live elk with gorgeous antlers
What I didn’t expect, though, was how much I’d love the three-day train ride back home. The pleasure snuck up on me; it wasn’t until the end of the first day that I realized how much I was enjoying it. Why did I like it so much, you ask?
Good question. Bad answer: I’m not sure. I just know I did.
You know that bit about “Life is about the journey, not the destination”? Yes, yes, but for a task-oriented closure-seeker like me, the destination is just begging to be reached, beckoning with crooked finger and seductive look, saying “Faster, Carole, faster.” On the train, though, it really was all about the journey, the moment. It was about observing the continually-changing scene outside the window, reflecting on it, zoning out to it. There was no closure to be achieved, other than getting to NY, and I was only too happy to extend my vacation, so didn’t particularly need that closure.
Long distance trains are, I discovered, a bubble in time. Nothing needs to get done; there are no meetings to attend or commitments to fulfill. All I needed to do was just be. Should I read? Or go to the observation car? Or maybe it’s time for the Dining Car. Or a nap in the sleeping compartment.
Then there was the community. (See Community.) At each meal – and there were eight between Salt Lake City and Poughkeepsie – we were seated at a table with two strangers, from 6 years old to about 70. They were always interesting, sometimes downright fascinating. We heard about competitive pumpkin-growing contests, about role-playing to prepare U.S. Marines for the wartime realities of Iraq, and lots more. We were African-American, white, Hispanic, Anglo, Amish. We were America. These strangers became friends, even though we knew we’d never see each other again.
And, of course, the motion of the train and those choo-choo sounds (there’s no other word for them, really) were supremely comforting.
At the end of the trip, I was amazed that I’d taken far fewer pictures than usual. Even back in the days when it was expensive to get all those pictures developed, I snapped away. And in the digital age, we usually printed out the shots we wanted to include in our albums, now numbering 27.
But not this time. Again, it was about the journey, not about documenting the journey. I was happy to just be there, and didn’t need to show anyone, including my future self, what it looked like. Contentment in the moment. How about you: do you take pictures when you travel? Do you print them out and put them in an album? Or leave them in your phone and/or computer? And then what? Has your picture-taking changed over time?
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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing.