View From a Window

Catherine Pilling

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It began as a whisper. Utterances here and there about something brewing but I didn't pay it much mind. Then it reached the Pacific Northwest—closer to home but still far enough away that I felt it needn't worry me so much. Then the world shut down. I started the cycle of rationalization over again—only this time applying it to the length of the isolation in our homes. It will be two weeks, then back to business as usual.

What's one more month?

Half-a-year and it will go away.

I've stopped rationalizing.

I spent the first year of quarantine in my childhood home. Between working remotely, attending school through Zoom, and desiring the solitude and privacy of any 25-year-old who hadn't anticipated such a turn at such a time, the bulk of that year was spent in my room. It had all the essentials: a tv to numb my mind from the frenzied social, political, and economic landscapes; a bed in which to sleep and dream most vivid dreams accompanying my rising anxiety; a desk with a computer to connect me to the virtual world; and a window to connect me to the natural one.

Through that window I watched as one season bled into the next and marked time. The first spring was a haze that is difficult to recall, made hazier in the face of the crystal-clear events of the summer that would follow it. The leaves on the tree outside my window were bleached a yellow-green by the scorching sun. The blazing heat of those days mirrored the heated tempers that resulted from the collision of a man's most unjust murder, months of confinement, and centuries of confinement of a different sort.

Summer ended and the brisk air moved in. Whistling wind made the ninety-year-old house creak as it settled further into its foundation. Overnight, it seemed, the trees popped with the vibrant colors of autumn, signaling the season of new books and supplies, fresh starts. Enjoying this view of my favorite time of year for the five-minute breaks afforded us, I would reluctantly turn back to my screen and the boxes which held the faces of my classmates.

Time moved on but gone were the days of speculation about when we'd get "out of this." "This" holding a different meaning from one person to the next. The air grew colder still— made starker by our growing distance from family and friends. The tree now stood bare— visible on nights when the indigo sky and bright, untouched snow illuminated the late hours. The silence of these snowy nights, before life had the chance to step in the white-blanketed earth, allowed for reflection on that which is important. That which I had taken for granted.

And before I could finish such a reflection, spring returned. The earth had made another revolution around the sun. With so many gone, returned to the earth themselves, new life was born. Manifested in budding flowers, the wet dewy mornings, the prattle of birds. The first morning warm enough to open my window, I could hear these birds clearly. They were not so much singing as they were having a conversation. Their distinct sounds volleyed back and forth, as if to say "Hello, how are you?" "Fine, and you? How are the kids?" Such chirps and tweets are pleasing to the ear and conjure the warmth and excitement that can only be linked to the newness of spring. But more, they inspire a sense of awe. Humans will never be able to understand what they're saying. These creatures' utterances are immune to human ambition,
self-importance, greed. Their sounds will remain a mystery. Their conversations a secret. And isn't that something? We can sit for hours, listening and wondering, and never understand. I wonder what they think of me, of us, sitting in our homes these many months. I wonder that they think of us at all.

My appreciation for the natural world outside of home deepened at a time when I largely refrained from venturing into it. When uncertainty and fears abounded, I saw only a snapshot through my window. Still, this window that stands at just 3 feet wide and 4 feet tall afforded me a view to and through an entire year that will not soon be forgotten. The natural world outside my window, its associated transitions, served as a timekeeper when time suddenly became more difficult to measure. Like myself and, I'm sure, countless others during this period of quarantine, it seemed to vacillate through moods. There were moments of peace and content. Moments of utter rage. Rain-soaked days, devoid of color and joy. Mornings in which the sky cleared, clouds parted, and hope was renewed. Death. New life. We humans share more than a few things in common with this natural world, don't we?

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