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Through a Window

I had a dream last night. I was at a gym or a rec center, trying to sort out my gear which seemed to be spread all over the place when a custodian cautioned me to mind what I was doing, he wouldn’t want to have to call my parents. My parents? I shot back at him. My parents?! I’m fifty! I yelled.

Actually, I’m over fifty—but anyway, I made the point. Just recently I’ve begun to think that I now have the years on me to have experienced some things, and even chew them over for a while. It turns out a lot of stuff happens in fifty years, even in a fairly ordinary life like mine. In fact, everyone’s life, including mine, has remarkable moments. I think I had to get to fifty, almost, before I could even recognize this, or see them—the remarkable moments—for what they are.

Yesterday I stood at the big window over the staircase at the library, a wall of windows really, looking out on the garden under a thin blanket of snow: beds with huddled stalks and clumps of old plants draped in white, the sculpture (of a boy, balancing on a ball) and the benches anchoring the paths, the big spruce trees towering over all, lending scale. Beyond the garden I saw the ravine where the Paint Creek runs by, the far side rising steeply, all snow and a tangle of dark branches. The sky above the pointy tops of the spruces was gray but still light was flooding the immense window this cloudy November day.

I stood there just looking. In fact I’d only run in for a minute and I had no business on the second floor but I’d climbed the steps to the landing anyway, just to stand at the window and look out. Two boys half-ran, half-stumbled through the garden, scooping up snow and throwing it at each other in barely formed missiles. I could see they were laughing as they disappeared beyond the corner of the building. I went back to gazing at the sky, the spruce trees, the far bank of the ravine so dramatic in snow. Last winter while sitting at a table by a window upstairs I saw deer over there.

I stood looking out as people went up and down the stairs behind me and I was overwhelmed with the thought: all of this is so beautiful and often we give it the merest glance, going back and forth, on our way to and from. I’ve admired the view from the library stairs before but still it seemed a rare occurrence, to feel so strongly about it. I had the thought that maybe I was feeling something similar to what people who have had a reprieve feel, after their cancer has disappeared or their heart stopped and was re-started or they survived the plane crash.

I haven’t lived through any such dramatic turn of events, but I know this: I’m over fifty. To and from?

This is to, and from. This is where I was going. This is where I begin.

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In a Word

The other morning I was drinking my first-thing coffee, sitting in the armchair in front of the window when I heard the wind shudder the pane behind me. It made me think about the connection between the words “wind” and “window” – it suddenly seemed obvious they’re related. I wondered idly if window means something like opening to the wind.

I finally got around to looking it up – and the etymology is more poetic than I imagined. The word “window” comes from old Norse, vindauga – “vindr” meaning wind, and “auga” meaning eye. “Window” means “wind eye,” or maybe more musically in English, “eye on the wind.” I’m going to keep this in mind next time I have to suffer through one of those commercials for vinyl windows – now I can think of it as an ad for updating my “eyes on the wind.” Suddenly there is a whole new, lyrical dimension to a simple word I thought I knew.

Norse people centuries ago (not unlike early settlers in Michigan) experienced the elements in ways that we rarely, perhaps never, do. I can imagine sitting inside a dark room, lit only by a fire, and hearing the wind howl – but not being able to see it, until you cut an “eye” in the thick logs that form the walls that shelter you. Even then what you see are the acts of a phantom, animating the landscape: tree branches bobbing and dancing, and if it’s winter and really blustery, snow peeling off of drifts and rooftops and sent dancing in small clouds. The wind is a ghost – sometimes it even howls like a banshee.

Not long ago I watched through the window as snow came down, knowing the breeze outside was gentle because the flakes floated, spinning just slightly in a slow descending spiral. It was mesmerizing, like watching the running water of a stream, or clouds drifting in a clear, lazy sky. Then the wind picked up – I could see it because suddenly the snowflakes went flying, shooting horizontally across my view for a moment before settling back down to their slow, steady rhythm.

I thought that I’d like to be walking a trail somewhere in the last hour of daylight, in the woods with the snow falling silently around me. I pictured myself heading for a room full of warmth and light – but not quite there yet, still making my way as the light faded. But since darkness was fast approaching and I was already somewhere warm, I contented myself with sitting on the sofa and looking out through my eye on the wind.

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