The Station: Part Three

Breakfast: Photo by Noelle

Breakfast: Photo by Noelle

The clanking of pots caught my attention and I turned to look inside. A gray head bobbed behind the grill; I suspected he was doing prep work. The tables were half set up and the smell of bacon drifted out the cafe window. Listening recently to a lecture with Carol Tuttle, she guided a meditation where you experience the divine through your senses of touch, taste, smell, and so forth. Without hesitation my first thought was that God likely smells of bacon. I smiled sheepishly. I sometimes have deep vegetarian guilt.

Even at 6:30 on a Sunday morning the station is active with movement, though my own eye is more interested in the long angles. Nothing effects our inner clocks so completely than the long angle of sunlight at dawn and dusk. One elicits a feeling of promise, while the other – mystery.

Union Station: Photo by Noelle

Union Station: Photo by Noelle

Union Station and the Moon: Photo by Noelle

Union Station and the Moon: Photo by Noelle

Amtrak: Photo by Noelle

Amtrak: Photo by Noelle

People milled in coffee shops or sat on the benches by the Amtrak ticket window. Newspapers laid in laps or noses were buried deep in phones, while dreams of future destinations stuck out conspicuously from suit coat pockets and overstuffed purses.

The Flower Stand: Photo by Noelle

The Flower Stand: Photo by Noelle

The flower stand was still closed, but full of spring blooms and a rainbow of tissue paper and inexpensive vases. I looked back at my reflection in the glass doors to the refrigerator case. A rose bloom appeared where my mouth should be committing me to only speaking love for the rest of the day.

The Station hotel: Photo by Noelle

The Station hotel: Photo by Noelle

I moved along the perimeter and stopped at the entrance to the hotel. I have never stayed at the Crawford, but the romance of it fills me with a timelessness and magic I haven’t felt in years. The concierge and I share gentle bows of good morning and I move on. I roam about the terminal for the better part of an hour, letting my ghosts wonder the gates and tracks, fingering imaginary maps to infinite destinations. There’s a beauty in not needing to go anywhere. I can simply indulge in the energy of the space without the frantic longing to be on my way. The mindfulness metaphor there is not lost on me. The Power of Now, as Tolle would say. If I stop and breathe deeply I can smell the scent of every train station on this earth, for they all hold decades and even centuries of diesel oil, engine smoke, luggage fibers, coffee grounds, newspaper print, and thousands of hungry soul’s anticipation in their rafters.

The Windows: Photo by Noelle

The Windows: Photo by Noelle

The Terminal: Photo by Noelle

The Terminal: Photo by Noelle

Glitz and Glamour: Photos by Noelle

Glitz and Glamour: Photos by Noelle

I stare at this last photograph on my phone and marvel how I can be a dozen different versions of myself, by allowing my mind to fall into a single image. I hear the call to track 3, followed quickly by eggs over easy with whole wheat toast. A door to the street opens and the smell of engine exhaust wafts into my nostrils. The flower girl steps behind the flower counter, the sound of jangling keys to open. The man seated to my left rises, still wearing both reading and sunglasses on his head, and begins to move. I breathe deeply.

I am a Time Traveler and this moment is my current home. While we are together, allow me to introduce myself.

Images from a train: Late Night Rain

Union Station Chicago: Photos by Noelle

Union Station Chicago: Photos by Noelle

It came horizontal to the ground, bending the trees back and delaying the train. As we disembarked it greeted us pouring beneath the roofs. Bouncing off the train and hitting its brethren falling down from above, a most curious silver veil was created between the train and the platform. I wasn’t ready to leave, yet like all journeys, mine had come to an end in Chicago. As I strolled in the bustle of other passengers, dragging my own gear, I pondered the auspicious nature of beginning my next journey stepping through a veil of silver light.

Images from a Train: Vacancy

Vacant were the eyes that stared back at me from rotting sills. A wave of isolation and loneliness pervaded my thinking and I pulled back a bit from the train window. I felt the desertion like oil seeping from toxic barrels sinking into my chest. Small town death, I mused and the end of the family farm.

Then the briefest flutter of something at the top window of a grain elevator caught my eye and the thought of a barn owl nesting in the eaves came to mind. How easily this lead to the sound of mice squeaking below the warped floor boards and the pondering of a raccoon sleeping atop an air vent. Bees work to winter in a broken tractor engine, as geese munched on the grasses growing from past year’s feed. My inner vision shifted, just a hair, and I looked more closely as the peeling paint rusting pipes. Something about the decay creating a curious beauty that was consuming all that passed before me.

I see now it was my own isolation and loneliness that I saw in the darkened windows. It was my own decay that pervaded my thoughts. As the pigeons left the rooftop of the silo and squirrels darted along the fence of the abandoned feed lot, I saw it was not life that was missing from these places, it was fear of death that was haunting me.

Images from a Train: Train Yards

Passing through the loading areas of train yards is a bit like passing through a graveyard. Stories that once were, now wrappers blowing between empty coal cars. I wonder who comes to work in these lonely spots? Who sponges the graffiti and loads the tankers? Nothing moves upon the gaveled lots and so much seems left in shadow.

We all travel in circles of others. People who are connected to us by locale, family, religion, and work. When I look out the window of the train I see many lives I have no association with. Hands covered in train grease and punch clocks that mark their hours. A hundred years ago we lived in towns where we knew everyone and what most people did. I look out at these yards of old train cars and filling stations and wonder are there really ghosts moving between the rails? Is there nothing in the shadows or do I simply lack the eyes to see?

Images from a Train: Sunset in the Farmland

The sunset rolled in on long lines and parallel shafts of deepening orange. The clicking of the rails, with the steady rocking, left my limbs heavy in the seat. Tracters were rolling toward the barns outside my window and the swallows had taken up vigil on telephone lines. At day’s end even the birds know it is best to simply sit and witness.

Images from a Train: Omaha

We arrived at daybreak into Omaha. The station is under construction and there are pieces of its past and future, arising together, before the platform. Sleep came late, but the sun was welcome. Coffee wafted down the corridor from the dining car and few were up yet. Feet and arms littered the aisles as I slipped from the car to the fresh air of the platform. The stone and masonry were still wet from the night’s dew and the conductor pulled tight his coat. Passengers lit up for this brief stop and the long rays of the sun caught the smoke rising, as I turned to walk the station.

As I look at the images now, I wonder at all I did not photograph. Pieces of time and movement that still drift upon my mind, as if the cars were still moving in my head.

Images from a Train: Motion

In the distortions and flashes I see my image. The bridge of my nose another geometry in a flashing landscape. Coal has already passed on the previous cars – strapped lumber, too. The rails are one of the few places in the country where a passenger goes last. Passenger trains stop for all the cargo that moves. Milk and oil tankers, flatbeds of slate and shale and bales of grasses for cattle lands. Graffiti is a color smear against the gun metal.

My reflection comes and goes between the cars and I realize this is true of all of me. I am what exists between each thought, as life exists, flashing between each car.