I look out the window and stare at the dark, with city lights twinkling in the distance. I’m exhausted after a week of the general chaos of being a mother to four children and frantic last-minute packing. The train begins moving, the rocking motion and clickity-clack of the wheels on the tracks inviting me to close my eyes. This is my first time traveling by train, and I want to see everything. As tired as I am, I am also excited – excited for the journey, the adventure, and for the end of the trip as my husband of ten years is waiting for me.
The towns I know float by outside. I pass the small city where my parents live, my children sleeping in their spare room. I pass the town where my boys go to school, almost without realizing it because things look different from the train. Slowly, I sink lower in the seat and eventually doze.
My sleep is fitful, and I stir at the odd sounds around me – the very sick woman in front of me coughing, the man behind me shifting in his seat. I am cold and slightly uncomfortable, and more than a few times, I wish I had taken my mom up on her offer to snag a small blanket from their linen closet before my dad drove me to the station. Eventually, light teases my senses, a subtle glowing that pulls me to full wakefulness.
Stretching a little, I gaze out the window at the snow-covered mountains, trees stark against the white. This must be Glacier National Park that my dad was telling me about. It almost looks like home; if my home had shorter mountains and taller trees. The trees look wrong to me, and for a few minutes, I ponder the reason as they appear healthy and proud. Then I realize that there are not any birch trees, or at least very few. All I see is the deep green of Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and other evergreen trees; no bare white branches glinting with frost and patiently waiting for spring.
A small herd of elk, only eight or so, rest on the rocky hillside next to the tracks and watch the train pass by. Obviously, it is a familiar sight to them as the racket does not disturb them. They remind me of the mountain goats lining the highway in Alaska, leaping from rocky outcropping to ledge with agility and grace. The similarity in the two species comes from their bored looks as humans travel beneath their domains.
There is a break in the trees by the track, and a swiftly moving river comes into view. Staring at the gray-green water flowing and tumbling over rocks between pebble-strewn banks lined with stunted willows, I notice that the color of the water is the exact color of my beloved glacier-fed streams and rivers in early spring. How can it be spring here in this wilderness with snow still blanketing the ground, several feet deep in some places?
As the train slows into a small depot to obtain more passengers, I think back to my childhood home in Alaska. It has only been six years since I left it behind to find a new start for my family. How could I have already forgotten the idiosyncrasies of the seasons there? Summers are short but memorable, with almost constant daylight and very little night. Autumns are rainy days and frosty nights interspersed with days of warm sunlight and glorious colors on the trees. The winter comes barreling in with snow and wind, taking everyone by surprise with their ferocity every year. While springs arrive slowly, snow still melting even as the trees are budding and tulips are bravely pushing through the snow.
It could be spring here, already mid-April, and yet still snow-covered. This place could be my home if I overlook the taller trees and shorter mountains. It is wild, untamed, beautiful, and breathtaking. So I sit on the train and breathe in a piece of Alaska given to me as a wondrous gift from Glacier National Park, Montana. The view brings a calming peace to my soul that I haven’t felt since leaving home.