The vending machines are cushioned with snow. They sit, lit and beckoning, beside roads and water and nothing at all. In the wintery Hokkaido landscape, these machines offer bottled drinks and quiet beauty for photographer Eiji Ohashi in his Roadside Lights series: "When I hold a warm bottle that I buy from the vending machine, my feelings relax."
And weirdly, just looking at these serene photos, I get that.
When I look at these photographs, my feelings relax, and I am drawn into the present. Only by being here, in the moment, can I notice the weird beauty of vending machines in the snow, or the small moments of joy that populate my life.
My days are not typically full of mountains and oceans. Instead, there's the spacious glint of aluminum foil unsheathed on a cookie sheet. There are rows of cereal boxes in a grocery store display, all crisp lines and rich colors, every word an exclamation. There are fat, dusty grapes sold outside of a bodega that I pass every single day, the glowing signs that hover above bakeries and banks, the landscape of my day to day.
If I'm not attentive, my mind turns it all into mush.
Yesterday I was running errands in my neighborhood in San Francisco and every third person I saw wore a mask over their mouths. The air smelled like smoke and the light hung above the street in colors I couldn't capture if I tried, the trippy filter of ash on sunlight. I woke up and read the news and I wasn't careful, because soon I felt bum-rushed by hopelessness, and hopelessness is the kind of emotional mush-mind that I cannot afford.
I have to stay present. If I'm present, I'm paying attention. If I'm paying attention, there's always something I can do to help. I need to stay present so I can listen and seek and move and do whatever needs to be done next, and next, and next again.
It's not intuitive to me to stop and see the vending machine in the snow. Unlike Eiji Ohashi, I would be likely to hurry by, mind blazing, the worry factory between my ears blocking out my feet on the ground, the wintery air against my cheeks, snow heaped on a glowing box of hot drinks and cold sodas. When I look at these photographs of vending machines in the snow, they press a pause button. They recalibrate my busy brain.
I have a friend who throughout the day thinks to herself "Where are my feet?" to ground herself back in reality. Looking for that everyday beauty, a reminder from this photo series, pulls me back into my life — the one that needs my attention and is so easy to miss.