Tuesday, September 24, 2013

To Be Alive Is to be Changing

Why are we surprised by change? The world around us is ever changing. Leaves are falling. Children are growing up fast. I am growing slower. The idea that things always stay the same or some things never change is a myth.

This summer I visited the town of Thurmond, West Virginia. Thurmond lies just five miles from State Highway 19. Yet it takes forty-five minutes to drive the ever narrowing winding road down into the New River Gorge to reach it. The last sign assuring you that you have not made a wrong turn is ten minutes into the forty-five minute journey.

Some things in Thurmond have not changed. The rail station is still there. Trains still barrel through three or four times a day carrying loads of coal. Many of the old buildings still stand. But the rail station is now the park ranger station and a museum. The trains are now electric diesels and not the steam engines that ran these tracks fifty years ago.  Less than half a dozen families now live in Thurmond.  The train stops in Thurmond but only to let another pass not to load or unload anyone or anything.

Even as late as the early sixties Thurmond was a thriving town. The long trek to the highway didn’t matter because people and goods came through the valley by train. All along the valley were other small towns and small mines. All are gone now. The small mines have been replaced by major industrialized mining operations. The coal fueled steam locomotive was replaced by sleek new diesel locomotives. Coal furnaces for homes and buildings have been replaced by oil then gas and electric and in some places geothermal heat.  I don’t remember ever seeing a steam locomotive actually in commercial use but I do remember what an exciting thing it was to see the beautiful new Santa Fe Chief.

For the people of this valley life changed quickly. The mines closed and the towns died. The day before as we floated down the New River on a raft the guide pointed several times to vine covered foundations that were the remnants of other towns now gone.

Most of life changes slowly and incrementally but be assured it is changing, that is how we know we are living.

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