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New River WVA   Several years ago on a lovely summer evening several of us sat on the wooded banks of the New River in West Virginia, relaxing and enjoying the quiet after the first of our planned two days of rafting. During that day we had floated a relatively smooth portion of the river. We had visited some of the ruins of the old riverside mining towns that played a part in the struggle between management and miners in the formative days of the unions that finally succeeded in improving the conditions that workers and their families faced. The rafting outfitters had prepared for us a delicious steak dinner on their portable grills, they had erected tents for us, furnished a blazing campfire, and one of them was warming up on the guitar for some singing. We looked forward to the next day when the rough and tumble part of the river would show us why the New River is a popular rafting destination. We needed our rest to prepare for it.
Across the river ran the railroad tracks that had served the New River Valley since early coal mining days, and, sure enough, along came a train with cars full of coal headed north, filling the world with roar and rumble. We supposed correctly that the trains we had not noticed during the day of rafting would make some unpleasant appearances during the night, interrupting the restful sleep we craved.
About thirty minutes later another train rounded the bend, with its coal cars also loaded, headed south. It was not enough that the peace of that lovely ancient valley would be interrupted regularly by noisy trains, whose places of origin had to be separated by many miles in either direction. They were both carrying the same commodity in opposite directions!
Hold on. Wait a minute. What’s going on here, we asked. What sense does it make that coal mined far north would pass coal mined in the far south to get to places in the far north and the far south? Who organized that? They need some help. Keep the coal mined in the north in the north. Keep the coal mined in the south in the south. Forget hauling all this heavy stuff through this long meandering valley, where we want to rest and sleep and enjoy the beauty of nature.
There may be, possibly is, a reasonable and legitimate explanation somewhere, but it sticks in my mind as an example of human efficiency, planning, and cooperation. Carrying the same commodity, passing in the night, going in opposite directions, carrying resources to places they already exist, people expend their energies. A variation of the Greek myth of Sisyphus seemed to be replaying before our eyes. Does God have a sense of humor, or what?