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.
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?
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.
Silos of the Heartland: Photos by Noelle
Worlds great and small rise and decay along the tracks. Underbellies of mediocre villages and hard edges of factories share the same trail. Worn and haggard becomes beautiful, in a countryside of weathered barns, while never enticing anyone closer. Haunting are silos abandoned while compelling to even the dullest mind to look more closely.
Heather and golden rod litter the edges of hundreds of fields, rich in the green of cornstalks and soy. Yellow are the elder stalks from earlier harvests ready for the straw-men of autumn, while bales for the harvested fields already line the lanes. The clacking of the train cars shifts as the train makes its turn heading north past the width of the Great Mississippi. Muddy spillage pours from drains as the floods of summer still fill its low banks. Barges and small crafts pass beneath the train bridge on their way to the deltas of Louisiana.
Ancient seems this story of fields and metal, floods and drought. Harvests come in that stave off the bankers and pays for the baler before summer’s out. Corn packs the pickups and soy to the moored barges to the south. An endless cycle of life and movement from field to mouth.