Listen to this article

Like a spring, the idea bubbled up inside me for a solo triangle train trip to the East Coast. I don’t know from whence it came, but the notion grew and grew.

My cousin Patty and her husband, Mike, live near Washington D.C., and our friends Carolyn and Earl live in Philadelphia. Their daughter, Xan, is 14, and I had never met her; it was time for a visit.

Should I begin with the stations? Three great halls at the 30th Street Station of Philadelphia and Union Stations of Chicago and D.C. How many American train stations are named Union Station?

Each of these great halls live up to their name, giant marble columns holding up grand ceilings — arched in the Union Stations, rectangular in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, but in all three, rising to the sky like a monument to light and stone.

Once I found my gate, I relaxed and waited for my train to be called. Onboard, I discovered that different trains have differing levels of comfort. Keep in mind that this was my first big train trip, and deciding on a route was a difficult decision.

Luckily, my first leg to D.C. was the longest and had the least comfortable accommodations. Oh, at the time, I counted myself lucky because the seats were roomier than airplane seats, and they recline a bit more. Still, the Cardinal, which heads southeast from Chicago through Indianapolis to eventually follow the Ohio River for a while before turning back northward for the coast, was scheduled to take not quite a 24 hours, and it arrived in D.C. two hours late.

It was a long night and hard to sleep in my seat. I had almost decided to try a roomette next time, but was more cheerful in the morning light, when I could take my knitting and my computer to the tables in the cafe car and sit and watch out the window to my heart’s content.

This train took us through the mountains in Virginia. At times, I felt I was in a tunnel of green and thought my rolling office had the best view ever.

Sadly, so busy was I admiring the scenery (the rolling river was lovely viewed from above — so clear and rocky) that I got little writing done, but I made good headway on my socks, which I can knit while watching the world go by out my window.

In D.C., I had several days at my cousin’s and we caught up, looking at old photos and exchanging family stories. Every morning, Patty and Mike drink tea out of a pot on top of a warming trivet, the tea light making a warm glow.

It is a custom I have brought home with me for both morning and evening cups of tea, even if I had to dig my trivet out of the attic.

I went with Patty to her meditation group and was gifted a flat stone with the word “Risk-taker” written on it.

After a calming visit of a few days, it was time to head to Philadelphia.

The train to Philadelphia was more urban than the cross-country route, and I got to see down into backyards from the regimented suburban yards with identical circles of above-ground pools surrounded by privacy fences to yards behind row houses both unkempt (with rusting appliances piled in a jumble) and neat (with raised bed vegetable patches and rows of flowers).

I noted plenty of railside weeds and hungered after all the elder flowers I saw blooming. I will be in the market for elder as soon as the berries come, but I worry about herbicides.

Just last year, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court, Amtrak was sued for using glyphosate (aka “Roundup”) on this very line. Pesticide use is one part of train travel that makes me feel sad.

Otherwise, according to the Energy Transportation Data Book, rail travel compares favorably in energy usage per passenger to air travel, so I feel slightly less guilty about choosing a train over a plane.

I packed my own food in a little cooler, so I didn’t have to buy meals in disposable containers, except for my morning coffee.

Well, I’m running out of room, so in my next letter, I’ll tell you about Philadelphia and my trip home.

Tour in beauty; explore in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She loves to travel, and she loves to come home again. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.