On the Train to Rusk

On the Train to Rusk

         Rocking along to the sound of metal wheels screeching and clattering on rails is a thrill for those of us more used to our modern world of rubber on road. Add to that old fashioned sound the beauty of white dogwood blossoms sparkling among the dark green pines and oaks of East Texas and throw in a meal of steak or chicken, and who can resist?

Four of us not-so-young ladies determined to join hundreds of equally entranced tourists for the Texas State Railroad’s Dogwood Festival train from Palestine to Rusk. First class tickets, which I wrongly assumed were the best seats available, cost about $115 for the trip. Not bad for a twenty-six-mile round-trip in a train car with comfortable cushioned chairs, four to a table, and big picture windows looking out over the landscape. Oh, yes, and little plastic boxes of snacks and bottles of water setout for each of us on the tables.

That car, however, was not really first class. Really first class was the Dome car, (we visited it after the fact), which provides luxurious lounge chairs high above the ground under an arched glass roof putting guests right up among the flowers. And don’t be tempted by the “luxury” of the Caboose with its plush interior and flowing liquor – it has one window and practically no views. Choose that car for socializing, not viewing the scenery.

We were ready for a lovely experience. Except that once again, Mother Nature did us wrong.

In 2020, we took a group down to the Ima Hogg Azalea Festival in Houston. The Bayou Bend gardens are magnificent and well worth a visit. The hop-on-hop-off bus tour to visit other gardens around the River Oaks neighborhoods was sponsored by the diligent and hard working ladies of the River Oaks Garden Club. They sell tickets and provide buses to take guests on tours of the expensively landscaped gardens and the equally expensively decorated homes. A really wonderful tour.

But Mother Nature did us wrong on that one too.

The ladies always plan their money-raising Azalea tours for early March. In 2020, however, whether you want to blame it on global warming or changing seasons or just bad luck, by the time the festival took place, the azaleas had already bloomed out. They were done. Gone. Zip. Caput. Nada. The Garden Club worked hard to add floral arrangements with other flowers, but it wasn’t the same. Since our group hadn’t known what to expect, we weren’t disappointed. There were still wonderful gardens to see, houses to visit and flowers blooming but few azaleas. Once burned, the Garden Club opted to hold the festival every other year. They didn’t know Covid was going to devastate their plans for the coming year anyway. Now, in 2024, they are back in business but, just in case, they have added  6000 tulip bulbs and 1500 daffodils to their floral offerings. Don’t count on the azaleas to bloom when you want them to.  

And so it was with the dogwoods. In this case they didn’t bloom early. They hadn’t bloomed at all. Our expected canopy of glorious white dogwoods turned out to be about five blooming trees scattered among the pines along the 13-mile route. Perhaps we would have done better in Woodville, which also claims to be a Dogwood “capital”. But the food was good, the train trip was entertaining and we will be back to try the Dome Car.  

Meanwhile, we were just happy to see the bluebonnets along the highways. According to the March 6th Texas Highways article by Asher Elbein and Horticulturalist Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the bluebonnets are early this year and will be gone by April. So don’t count on pre-planned tours to see Mother Nature’s flowers. There will be lots of other flowers and if you want to know what they are, DeLong-Amaya suggests going to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s website.  

Meanwhile, just get out and drive or hike the many nature trails and enjoy Mother Nature’s largesse. Remember, summer is coming and what Mother Nature giveth, she also drieth up.

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