The rhythmic thunder of the the train pulsates through my body. I’m on a journey to a new and unknown place. My ticket is stamped with the words “Somewhere Else”. Just beyond the river a tunnel under the mountain comes into view. It stands there as a gateway out of here. Wherever here is. My spirit is longing for escape from the mundane. I want to see new faces and open skies. A mist hangs across the end of tunnel like a curtain ready to be drawn back to reveal the surprise of my life. What could possibly be on the other side of that mountain? A beautiful meadow? Yes, I think so. If I can dream it that way. In my imagination I can clearly see a field full of wildflowers. I can smell the sweetness of Bergamot as the train slowly rolls through. Ruby throated hummingbirds buzz across the field feeding on the sweet nectar from the bloom. The train whistle drones out and reverberates against the mountains that surround this special place. Steam erupts from the valves as we come to a stop and the brake is set. As the chugging of the engine ceases the air if filled with the buzzing of bees as they join the hummingbirds in working the flowers. The conductor walks by and announces “rest stop”. A gazebo stands in the middle of the field and I walk over to enjoy the scene. This is the perfect spot to be lost; until I am ready to move on.
Early mornings are a way of life in the Appalachian mountains. Many of us chose to live well away from where we work. I remember when I was a kid lying in bed and hearing the door close and then the car start before daylight. My dad was off to work. (My dad was a telephone lineman. He didn’t work with trains or coal.) I pass by this railyard every day and every time I do it looks like the morning crew had been at work for hours. I’ve never worked for railway but I know the kind of work that’s done there. It’s hot and grimey in the summer and bitter cold in the winter. I imagine that the coal dust gets into every little crevice of your skin as the coal comes off the beltline and pours into railcars. I have been told that one of the more dangerous tasks is keeping the chute clear of “clinkers”. Clinkers are large clumps of coal that clog up the chute and have to removed by hand. The work is hard and dangerous. The train here is a short one. It’s only about three quarters of a mile long. (A little more than 1200 meters) once it’s full it’s probably heading to a power plant where it will boil the water that drives the turbine that makes electricity that powers the servers that runs the internet that makes our lives so much easier. It all happens because someone got up before daylight and did the dirty work.
Most of us are familiar with The Little Engine That Could. However, it occurs to me that some of my international friends may not have been told the story as a child so here is a summery.
The little train engine was loaded heavy and faced a long stretch of tracks up a steep mountain. The climb was hard but he kept repeating “I think I can. I think I can.” Over and over until he was over the top. It’s a preschool classic tale about the power of positive thinking. Proverbs 23:7 tells us that the Heart’s thoughts forms us into what we are as a person. In other words, how we identify ourselves determines how we behave. Do we see ourselves as the happy one? The fun one? The smart one? Maybe we see ourselves as the one who has a good heart but is always being taken advantage of. Whatever it is it’s that self identity that influences what we will do in any given situation. Even if the choice is being made subconsciously we are still making a choice. What forms that self identity can be pretty complicated but as I understand it we get a lot of this from the opinions of others. I once witnessed one of the cruelest pranks known to mankind when working in a prefab housing factory. The short version is that multiple people who was in on the prank simply asked this person if he was feeling okay. No suggestion of what might have caused the question was to be made. After several inquiries the otherwise healthy young man left early claiming he felt ill. The opinions of the group had so much influence on his opinion of himself that he manifested symptoms of illness. The next day he was told by several people that he looked well and that his recovery was amazing and he had one the most productive days ever! It was all done by manipulating his opinion of himself. And that brings me back to The Little Engine That Could. By repeating to himself that positive thought over and over he brought out the best that was inside himself and overcame the obstacle before him.
I try to keep these two stories in mind when I’m feeling down. One of them I learned as a child and the other I witnessed first hand. The lesson I learned was that positive thoughts can improve my quality of life. Also, with the rise of social media we’re more likely to encounter people like the coworkers who made a person sick simply with the power of suggestion. Keep that in mind when listening to the negative opinions yourself and others that might be floating around out there and never hesitant to give a kind word to someone who might need it to get through the day.
Not every open doorway should be explored. Too often we fail to recognize the difference between can we and should we. The old saying is that “God doesn’t close one door without opening another.” I’ve found this to be true but I’ve also learned that Satan also opens doors. Sometimes it takes a lot of prayers to figure out which is which. And, always trust that gut feeling that tells you that something doesn’t seem right. Especially when you can’t see what waits in the shadows just beyond the threshold.
About tonight’s Feature image. Up until recently I thought this abandoned building was a train station but I have learned that it’s actually an abandoned bowling alley. We live at the northernmost range where Kudzu can grow. Every summer the kudzu completely swallows not just the building and every winter it all but vanishes.
At the bottom of rustic staircase that winds its way down to the rocky ledge is the Lover’s Leap Overlook. As we draw near the end of the trail beams of light break through canopy and when there’s a breeze shaking the branches the light seems to dance in the shadows. Small wildflowers dot the forest floor along with the occasional mushroom. At the landing near the canyon rim a small park bench waits for those who wish to enjoy the scene but not from the very edge. But, for those adventurous spirits who want to challenge the wind arising out of the New River Gorge the trail has not ended yet. Walking right up to the safety rail yields a view of the New River slowly working it’s way North. The canyon rim is home to large buzzards but recently the American Bald Eagle has returned to the area and it’s just a matter of time before they are seen skimming the surface of the water to catch a fish.
I wasn’t able to take the tram down into the canyon this time but it’s on my to do list 😀
I think that one of the reasons why I’m attracted to railroad tracks is that to me they symbolize a simpler lifestyle. The railway has a rhythm and tempo that’s ordered as opposed to chaos of the highway. As I’ve said before in other posts I like to daydream about the places where the tracks will take me. In my mind’s eye we pass through lush forests and over peaceful rivers. The old saying about it being about the journey over the destination is right. The journey sets the tone for the whole experience. Tonight I want to wish you a peaceful experience in both journey and destination.
The ringing bell drones out with an urgency worthy of impending doom. The red lights flash like the angry eyes. The Earth rumbles and in the distance there’s the wailing of an air horn. Stay off the tracks. A train is coming.