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.

The Station: Part II

Photos by Noelle

The photography meetup instructions were to be there no later than 6:30am on that Sunday morning. I probably should’ve left everyone a note “Come anytime between 6:30am and 7:30am, because the Zephyr is never on time”, but why spoil the anticipation. As it turned out, she presented herself, full of hydraulics and steam, at 7:45. As everyone grumbled about the delay I quietly sipped my coffee and admired her individuality. “Arrive whenever you want, honey. Nobody’s going anywhere until you get here.”

I have avoided a number of the meetups because I don’t have a camera. Just an iPhone. I have found all the lenses and tripods daunting in this group. No one has ever said a word to me or done anything to make me feel awkward, this is my own shit. I know it doesn’t matter on an intellectual level, but emotionally, I’m thirteen years old again getting beat up at the bus stop for not fitting in with the other kids. Cheap clothes, pudgy, dirty finger nails, greasy hair, nothing remotely fashionable, current or hip. I have probably never fit in, at any point in my life, but whenever I lack confidence I’m that poor, little girl, scrambling not to be noticed. Not that an iPhone isn’t hip or sophisticated. I’ve got a six, but in my mind I often feel this oddness of being the only one there with a phone and no paraphernalia.

Photography aficionados are a hearty and welcoming bunch. They love trading information and working their craft. Everyone is going to great lengths to set up their equipment and find the exact right angle and I’m just looking for a pole to lean against. People are trading tips and current Lightroom techniques and I haven’t a clue what any of it means. I look at my finger nails. They’re clean.

It’s weird the stuff we hold onto. The knee jerk reactions that are so deeply hardwired they feel like they belong to someone else. A few weeks before when the event was posted I sat and thought about it for a good long while. I’ve photographed this train station before, last summer. Click the link below if you’d like to see that series. I have an artistic eye that exceeds, more often than not, my lack of better equipment and software. It seemed silly to still be sitting, hunched down, on the school bus hoping no one would notice me. So I clicked the RSVP ‘yes’ I would go.

Everything changes with one genuinely, heartfelt choice that invites in newness. Histories can change on such small things. Just a click and my younger self is redeemed, as easy as walking through a station door. https://noellevignola.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/night-train/?preview=true&preview_id=1598&preview_nonce=90bbf66289&post_format=standard

Photos by Noelle

The Station: Part I

Photos by Noelle

It’s a huge love affair. The feeling of train stations. Newer ones aren’t as sexy, but that pulse of people moving places and massive engines engaged around me remains. There is a wondrous sense of travel, time and motion in train stations, even in the hubbub of a morning commute, that never feels as strained as that in an airport. Time becomes the maleable element. There’s little fanfare when the California Zephyr is late. In fact, it might shock everyone if her silvery self arrived on time. Where else do we so willing accept that there is a rhythm we can’t effect and casually grab some coffee and take a seat? Few places, whether within us or external to us, are like this in our lives. We are all in a tremendous hurry. To where? Who knows? Most of us can tick off places and times on some schedule, but could hardly tell you what cracks a whip, so persistently in our minds, to make us move faster.

In the United States the name of all the main train stations remains Union Station. I find a cozy comfort in this, too. A familiarity that fills you the moment you walk through their doors. They are timeless places hawking to eras long since past, and yet, here I am like thousands of others partaking of the stone and glass. Thousands long dead and vanished in the dust that swirls upon the early morning tracks invite me in. Train stations are, for me, time machines for touching on the life force of dreamers.

Photos by Noelle

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: 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.

Images from a Train: Silos

image

Silos of the Heartland: Photos by Noelle

Silos of the Heartland: Photos by Noelle

image

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.

Night Train

image

image

The moonlight helps delineate the night earth from the night sky, as the train passes through the countryside. Sometimes Black-eyed Susans and bramble flicker against the thick glass, calling of the prairie unseen. Palsied shapes of trees form along the dusky horizon, seen by little more than the absence of stars. Closer, lone farm lights appear out of the inkiness, never casting much light into the thicker shadow, before they, too, are taken by the train’s flight. I listen to the horn blow as it comes to crossings or passes through small Midwestern towns. Rocking, rocking, a steady rocking, should put me to sleep, but my mind has yet to find the rhythm of slumber. Moths and night bugs expanding and contracting around a street light still lingers in my sight from the last stop. A single liquor store to accompany the jaundiced light on a dirt road. A set of stairs, but no platform to climb into the silver car and no crossing gates or ringing bells apparent. Only tail lights of a pickup truck disappearing into a field and our only passenger, a wisp of a girl with spindly legs vanishing off the stair into the car ahead. Oddly, it is the tail lights disappearing into what looked a cornfield and not the girl that still haunts me.

Faces loom in my cabin, sleeping or peering into devices, but no voice is heard down the aisles. We are together, all of us, and apart. I turn to watch the ghostly apparitions of silos, grain elevators and roadside churches come and go in the darkness. They, like my thoughts, are but a moment on a broader landscape horribly vague at this hour. A skunk or opossum slips beneath an oil tanker in a passing lot, but we are past it before I can be sure. Through the glass I see an eighteen wheeler full of cattle and wonder if it heads for the slaughter house, as exhaustion makes the mind melancholy. Passengers may sleep, but the moon slips between the clouds, keeping me company, as if it too, traveled the same tracks. I am comforted and left lonely on this midnight ride, Chicago hours off. So I write in the dim cabin light and listen to the horn blow, with miles of track to go.