Staring out the window one recent sunny winter day, I watched one of “our” squirrels drag a large, green hedgeapple, three times the size of his head, up the maple tree outside my window. He had to go up backwards—tail first—and then ease the hedge apple across a branch and around the trunk. Several rests were necessary before he finally came around to a branch parallel to me, where he sat and then proceeded to eat his hedgeapple: chomp, chomp, chomp, littering the ground with seeds. Friend squirrel
likes this particular branch about 15 feet from my window. Today he snoozed a while, tail curled across his back, sitting in the angle of the limb and trunk, protected from the wind.
I write in my sunroom, an enclosed porch with windows on three sides. Seated at my computer, I face north, looking into the pine tree and walnut tree just outside the window. A swathe of sky is visible if I raise my eyes slightly. To my left is the back yard which slopes 100 yards or so down to Brock Creek, a typical rock-strewn, tree-arched Indiana creek about ten feet wide and one-two feet deep. Four magnificent old silver maple trees, 30 feet from the house, form a semi-circle around the back of the house. In the summer, the branches of the two inner trees create a majestic green cathedral in the yard. When the wind blows hard or when storms come, I stand at the windows and speak to the trees: “Stay with me old friends. It is not time to go.” A large sugar maple sits in the center of the yard 30 feet farther, halfway to the creek. Beyond it are four large rocks–small boulders–which were dug up when the 18 foot deep water line was dug through the yard. A workman kindly asked if I would like the stones arranged in the yard and then moved them with his crane. A tall old evergreen–50-60 feet–sits off-center at the bottom of the yard, along with two smaller pines which Max and I planted 15 years ago.
Our house is situated half way up a small ridge. The creek flows at the bottom of our yard, on the west side of the house. The school’s football field and practice fields lie along the creek. The middle school sits partly up the next ridge with the high school and hospital in a line along that ridge. Along the creek are sycamores, the hedgeapple tree, a locust tree, and several unknown berry trees, among others. The creek is straight along our yard, but curves around our neighbors’ yards to the north. I wonder if Indians used to camp in the bend. Directly across the creek is the football practice field and beyond that is the elementary school. I hear the class bells ring and the shrieks of the children at recess. In the fall and spring, I hear the band practicing, particularly the drums. As the team drills, the smack of helmets and the coaches’ instructions echo
across the creek. If I turn and look slightly left, I see, across the creek, the middle school to the south of the elementary school and the roof of the local hospital. Helicopters arriving at the hospital usually circle to the north of me and land noisily on the pad. Farther beyond, out of sight behind the middle school is Salem High School, where I spent 28 years teaching Senior English, as well as some Junior English classes most years, and one year each of some sophomore and freshman English classes.
Reading and writing at my computer, I watch the creek and yard. The other day a ground hog made a stealthy tour of the yard before disappearing into the bank of the creek. Some days a heron-like bird, bluish gray, walks in the creek. The squirrels chase each other around the yard and trees, often coming up on the deck. On lucky days, cardinals land in the bushes or a woodpecker climbs the trunk of the tree. Small flocks of birds feed in the lawn and a few times I have seen a hawk swooping through the trees. This morning, five turkey vultures were circling the trees, two houses north. The neighborhood cats cross the yard on trips. Max has seen deer on several occasions, but I have not. We live on the edge of town and before the school bought the farm land behind us a couple of years ago, we could see cows in the field. I miss the cows.
I like to watch the rain and snow. My students used to sit in the classroom, starring at the rain or snow. Why, I wonder, do we watch so intently? I also like to watch the sky and clouds. I find myself listening to the rain or wind, and am irked when I hear the trucks gearing down on the highway a block away to the east. No matter what time of year, the sunsets are lovely, though the winter ones with pink and golden clouds seen through the stark black branches of the trees are the most beautiful. In the summer,
Max sits for hours on the deck or under the trees, surrounded by the holy space, soaking in the peaceful scene.