Through Windows

Vehicles rush past the windows. Four lanes carry cars, vans, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, and semis overloaded with alfalfa. Men at work. Dirty orange flag and cones. Inside, hardly anyone looks, and no one pays attention to the noise. Outside, sharp and acrid exhaust hangs in the air. Nothing is really clean. Gangly trees struggle to breathe. By slow degrees, the sun turns parked cars into furnaces. Houses cower behind the fence on the other side of the road as if it were possible to pretend there’s no traffic, no squealing brakes, no engines accelerating or lives passing by.

The fine layer of dirt on the windshield doesn’t obscure the cars in front; an SUV, a blue pickup, a BMW and some sort of expensive silver car. Traffic light stuck on red. One man nods his head in a rhythmic motion, his shoulders join the groove, and then he’s off. Someone else talks on a cell phone. The new car smell is long gone. Buildings low to the ground with flat roofs and peeling signs line the street into sterile infinity; all different and all exactly the same. Traffic ebbs and flows. Vehicles leave the pattern, enter the pattern. Trees flash by. Big green signs with white letters. Slow down for cross-traffic and pedestrians. More lights, Botts dots, yellow and white stripes on crinkled asphalt.

Grass covers the hills like sere velvet. Oaks thick and gnarled by centuries of weather. Slumps mark ancient landslides and swales the vernal creeks and wetland. Cows. Sheep. Horses. Llamas and a goat or two. Stacked bales of hay. Paths worn to dirt lead to salt licks, water troughs and feed bins; not in a bee-line, but curving along the way of the least resistance.

Two peahens walk by the sliding glass door. Only one of them has babies. The other is a devoted auntie. They pause. For a moment, the bodies continue to move forward while head and neck stay behind. They peer through the glass, cocking their heads as if to ask, “Got food?” The first of the two babies appears, stepping on long, high legs. An instant later the other dashes into view. They, too, pause to peer through the window. They have all their feathers now. Topknots pitching and bobbing, they follow Mom and Aunt. Next comes the third peahen with her baby still more fuzz than feathers. They fade into the garden beyond the pond, findable only when they call out. Attar of nature; creatures and dirt, plants and wood and flowers all in a vast and utterly irreproducible blend of things living and dead and only just born.

Next, the white-and-black border collie. The peahens ignore her because the dog only comes to drop her ball into the pond and then whine hysterically until someone fetches it for her. She takes endless pleasure in this game. It’s hot, and she’s been chasing her ball or else herding the chickens into a corner. She lopes along, drops her ball into the pond and then submerges herself in the cool green water. When she comes out, yellow, red and gold leaves cling to her dripping wet coat.

A small bird the color of weathered wood bounces along the deck. Across the way, humming birds zip and zoom among the fuchsias, the lady’s slipper and the bleeding heart. Water lilies open wide to the very last of the afternoon sun. The wind rolls through distant eucalyptus with a sound like waves on a beach. A red-tailed hawk gives its high-keening skree, arcing, diving, wheeling, dashing through the air. Two vultures soar in eerie graceful circles. Quick! Lie down and pretend you’re dead! That never works.

Light through the elm tree filters lengthening shadows on the deck. Quail emerge from low bushes and brambles. They’re soft, round, blue-grey burghers of garden and field and their plaintive cry means dusk is nigh. At night, owls softly call. Stars dance overhead wrapped in ancient black. The moon hangs low and heavy in a sky that would remind us, if anyone were looking, how vast and wide the world is and how very little we fathom of it.

So, what the heck was that, Carolyn?

It’s an assignment I wrote while I was in grad school, but this was for an undergrad class. I wasn’t an English major in undergraduate school, so I was conditionally admitted to the MA program with the understanding I would take a lot of undergrad English courses to make up for the lack. One of the courses was The Personal Essay, and this was our first assignment — to write something that was essentially a big long list.

This essay is about my day from the time I went home from work to when my day was finally over. Natually, I wanted more time to work on it, and thought I’d bombed terribly. But when you’re writing on deadline (heh!) there comes a point where you have to commit to what you’ve got.

So, everyone, off to your blog or writing place and write an essay that’s a list. Or not.


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