The train snakes its way steadily up the foothills, climbing gradually with each out-of-the-way switchback.
The city of Denver begins to spread out below us as we mount the slopes, until we start cutting through rocky outcrops into the taller mountains beyond. Now the dry rangeland has given way to a steep landscape of granite punctuated by brave pine trees clinging in the cracks of the stone hills.
Passengers “ooh and ahh” as each new vista unfolds, and we see the snow-covered “fourteeners” that form the Continental Divide. (“Fourteeners” is mountain climber lingo for the 14,000-foot peaks, including Longs Peak which I remember climbing as a child.)
I lose count of the tunnels we go through. Most of the 31 between Denver and my destination of Winter Park are fairly short, but the last, the Moffat Tunnel, is 6.2 miles long, taking us right under James Peak to the Fraser River Valley.
As the train pulls up to the little station, surrounded by snow-covered mountains topped with clouds, my smiling brother-in-law meets me, looking fit as ever from his athletic life of skiing and mountain-biking. He spends the next few hours showing me around the snowy village and ski slopes. As we walk, I feel a bit winded, and realize the elevation is almost 9,000 feet, so the air is thinner.
In the afternoon, I board the train from California to head back east. Back through the tunnels and gorges, back down the switchbacks to the plain, back through the city of Denver where I had spent the last precious week catching up with my nephew’s family. Their gentle, gracious voices still ring in my ears. I treasure the special time of worship in their home, their singing prayers as the mother drives them to school through city traffic.
In the more than two years since I saw them, they have matured marvelously, yet our bond of affection remains strong. I was doubly blessed by catching up with another nephew I hadn’t seen in years, and so glad to see him doing well.
Evening has fallen, and in the train we settle in for the night-time journey across the plains. After a pleasant meal in the diner, meeting some other travelers bound for various destinations, I bed down in my sleeping compartment with the moon shining in my window.
Sleeping on the train is a special experience — aware I am all night of the rocking and rumbling, the warning whistle sounding at each intersection, the deep darkness of the landscape beyond the tracks, and the calm assurance that as I rest, the miles are rolling away and I am nearing my loved ones at home.
Mid-day will see me stepping off the iron carriage in familiar Princeton while my fellow travelers continue to Chicago. My daughter will meet me and on the drive home we’ll catch up on her doings at the farm so I can rejoin the work force, the home team.
I will bear greetings from the relatives I visited along with their thanks to her for doing the chores so I could take this rich and welcome respite.
As I return to my routine, in my heart I will still feel close to my dear ones I visited, and in my mind I will still see the expanses of sky I’ve traveled under, and the mountains revealing the unshakeable majesty of our Maker.
WINIFRED HOFFMAN, of Earlville, is a farmer, breeder of dual-purpose cattle and a student of life. She can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.