Cold Stations

Cold Stations

Midwinter beacons

 

I've made quite a few midwinter cross-country trips. Living between the east coast and the Midwest has meant that I've gotten to see the country in between at its darkest and coldest as I venture home for Christmas. Most times, I've watched the winter through the window of a train, seeing isolated spots of holiday decorations slide by, pools of strange, almost celestial light piercing through the blackness. Empty parking lots become nebulas; everything in its lonely transience takes on a new ethereality that's unlike any other.

I love that sensation, and I love when I rediscover it secondhand via well-captured photographs. A structure--a bus stop, a convenience store, a streetlamp--stands in a pool of its own light. It looks as though it may well be the only light in the universe. The dim fluorescence is a self-contained force, perhaps a beacon for lost travelers or a simple reminder of the presence of humanity on an otherwise vacant landscape. It's a mark of both loneliness and consolation for that same loneliness. It's a deep, fragile encouragement to keep moving through the night.

Matt Barnes's "Cold Stations" series documents gas stations at night, surrounded by nothing but darkness and snow. These small fueling stops can be a welcome sight for lost drivers nearly out of gas while trekking across the country. They can be a promise of a continued journey, maybe a brief conversation with a nightshift clerk, a small reminder that other humans still exist. There's no quiet like the quiet in these photographs, in these lonely glowing places. They stir a feeling similar to that in the famous poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening": the darkness around the rest stop holds an infinite stillness, but it's not for us, not yet. We've still got promises and miles left.