I stepped out of the big blue truck and walked just beyond the gate. The scent of the impending rain hangs heavy in the air. The local songbirds are all huddled under the bushes for shelter as thunder rolls across the ridge. The empty roads beckons me to come & explore but the Darkening sky forbids me to walk too far. As I gaze down the road I allow my imagination to wander beneath the approaching thunderheads. My thoughts are interrupted by a different thunder. Its the sound of four large engines turning propellers on the tarmac in the distance. It has the be the 130th Airlift Wing warming up a C-130. The massive aircraft is often seen floating above the Kanawha Valley. It’s truly an awesome sight to see them emerge from the thick clouds on days like today.
When I was 11 years old my Civil Air Patrol group was transported to the Patuxent River Naval Air Test Station by the 130th AW ( the aircraft is a C-130 & the Air National Guard Group that is stationed her happens to also be the 130th group. ) My impression of the C-130 was that it’s the aeronautical version of a four wheel drive SUV. The seating for troop transport in the late 70s & early 80s was an adventure all of it’s own for a farm-boy of my age. Imagine that you’re locked into a tube with woven web lawn chairs hanging from the interior of the tube. They strap you in and taxi to the runway. The 130 is an STOL aircraft. That stands for Short Take Off & Landing which means that its angle on take off is really steep. The woven basket that you’re seated in swings like a pendulum as the plane jumps into the air. The sky on that day was really cloudy like you see in the feature image and it was turbulent. I suppose the resulting ride reminded me of sliding around on a muddy jeep trail which is what makes me think of them in the frame of a four wheel drive. Or, maybe the pilot was just adding a little extra adventure for a cargo load of wide eyed kids but it was like an amusement ride. Once we had reached a certain altitude we were allowed to get up and walk around a bit. everyone rushed towards the windows. For may of us it was first time off the ground. land was also an experience because they reverse the engines to land and its not like a passenger jet. There’s little or no soundproofing in the big green birds and when the propellers start the other direction its quite a racket.
I relive that trip several times a day now when they fly over the office at my day job. They fly really close to this road & if I can ever time it right I should be able to get some good shots of them. Today however, the combination of rain & limited time forced me to climb back into the truck before the C-130 made its appearance. As I rolled the big blue truck back onto the hardtop the large drops of water made contact with the windshield and I knew that today wasn’t the day. That’s okay. It’s an event that occurs on this road every day and I’ll get the shot eventually. It’s just a matter of timing. I do have a decent shot from an earlier flyover to share but I’ll continue to watch the sky for that perfect shot.
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The sun hangs low in the sky and a cold damp chill sweeps through the Appalachian Mountains. In the distance I hear the frogs singing as they prepare to invade the newly formed puddles that sprawl across the old logging trails. It’s rained off and on most of day but the nightfall brings a downpour. We’re on the edge of a storm. I have been running about ten minutes ahead of front and that has kept me out of the high winds. Behind me the sky hangs in ragged tatters as the gathering clouds are ripped apart by the oncoming surge.
A quick snapshot of the oncoming storm as seen through my windshield
Yet in spite of the ominous signs of a major weather event the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains brings you sense of peace. Perhaps it’s the expectations that the mountains provide a degree of shelter. Or maybe it’s knowing that God has a way of working things out regardless of the storms.
I always feel more at ease once I pass by the old trestle bridge in Gauley Bridge. Not only does it mark the point where I’m almost home but it’s also the point where I enter the most sheltered terrain. We’ve had some bad storms in my area. In 2012 a straight line wind came through and did a lot of damage. Then there was the flooding in 2012. But through it all God took care of us. He never really promised that there wouldn’t be storms. He did promise that it would be okay.
As the big blue truck carried me deeper into the hills and mountains the storms were nipping at my heels. As I stepped into the house the rain finally caught up with me and the wind howled in the trees on the ridge line above. There will be the dead and broken branches in the yard to clean up and the odd piece of trim to replace but I thank God for the shelter of my mountains and that we’re all safe and warm.
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Summersville Lake is unique in West Virginia in that we have the only lighthouse in the state. Standing on private land the lighthouse overlooks both the lake and the Route 19. The lighthouse is recent addition but when I was a kid there was a beacon light from the local airport. In stormy weather we would see the flash from the airport and think that there was a lighthouse that only lit up in storms. We couldn’t see the actual tower. Just the beam reflected off of the clouds into the window of our bedroom. It would light up the bedroom as we slept and we knew that somewhere out there it wasn’t so dark.
It’s good to have a guiding light when times are dark and dreary. We need a fixed point to center ourselves and a light to sweep away the darkness no matter if you’re on dark foggy water, traveling on a four lane highway or snuggled up under the covers on a stormy night.
Tonight’s image is the railyard at Cheylan West Virginia. If you look closely at the background you can see one of our coal tipples. The coal comes down the river in huge barges and is offloaded to the tipple where it’s moved by conveyor belt into the train. It’s some of the most dangerous work in the mining industry. My whole life I’ve heard stories about workers stepping between two rail cars at the wrong moment. The large piles of coal have been known to collapse and bury men alive. I know that coal energy is controversial in the world today but it is our main energy source in a large portion of the world. Here in West Virginia coal lights our homes, cooks our meals and powers our internet connection. It even powers our electric vehicles. Through the paychecks paid to the miners coal feeds families whose members have never set foot in a mine. (Every mining job supports between 3 and 5 others. ) It all centers on hubs like you see here and the workers who risk it all to pull light out of darkness.
As a child I used dream that I could fly. The dreams were always very vivid. I could feel the inertia as I banked through the clouds. Every time I stand by this spot between two skies I’m taken back to those dreams and I know that one day I’ll hear a trumpet summoning me to “come up hither” and in the twinkle of an eye I’ll be soaring between two skies.
The ancient Chinese told how dragons might be responsible for storms. The Aztecs had Quetzalcoatl. But the old timers in the eastern part of West Virginia told stories about the Snallygastor. A dragon in the New World. Even though the feature image shows a dragon-like impression in the texture of the clouds I’m not quite ready to lay responsibility of a storm on the existence of a “fearsome critter”. But it does seem to fuel the imagination. I can imagine a grandfather type character looking out from the shelter with children on his knee telling them all about the dragons as the storms pass. The story always has a happy ending and the children become so enthralled by the tale that they forget about the fear of thunder and lightning outside.
Life is all about balance. Mountains don’t exist without valleys. The Earth is never without a sky. Rivers dry up without clouds. Without gravity centripetal force would sling us into outer space. Why then should the ebb and flow of life not include the same pattern? At first, it might seem like a nice thought to always have things go our way. But soon the lack of a challenge to overcome would leave us without the joy of overcoming. In short, we wouldn’t grow and become physically, emotionally and intellectually weak. It’s a lot of work to go from the river in the valley to the mountaintop but when you stand on that rocky ledge overlooking the valley the view is enhanced by the thrill of winning the challenges. Of course you also have to pick your battles. The amazing view in tonight’s feature image was taken from a local bridge especially for you to enjoy while we ponder finding the balance together. Hopefully the lesson that we’ll learn is that if a storm, sunshine, mountains and valleys, Earth and sky can all exist in harmony together to create a fantastic view then perhaps all of the different ideas in today’s society can both maintain individuality and work in harmony to create a fantastic world.