Yes, I can write about this emptiness. It’s not different from any other. Oh yes, I dare to compare it to emptinesses of other times. But that’s just my attempt to escape emptiness, isn’t it? I find my friendliest rendezvous with emptiness at kitchen windows for some reason.
At any kitchen window, I never feel alone. Some companion of truth confronts me there every time. There have been so many kitchens. Should I count? Two in the county, one in the city, none in the country, and so many more scattered across the nation: Anchorage Fairbanks, San Francisco, Florida, Sacramento, Oklahoma, Delaware. Even a microwave, a bottle of Tabasco sauce, and a case of Ramen Noodle cups you could call a kitchen: in the Avawatz Mountains, one range to the southwest of Death Valley at 3 thousand feet. And I will, I do. That was a kitchen. A warm cup full of ersatz nutrition counts as a meal when you are alone in the cold of the desert; trust me the High Desert does get cold in January.
So many kitchens alone, looking out a window, finding emptiness to be a very good companion. Emptiness sparks reflections on how our solitude sparks some keen fire deep within us. A fire that won’t let go, go out, or cease to burn from the inside. The warmth of that kitchen can fade, oh yes, like any other stoked oven, but the memory of it will always kindle something.
Try it. Look out a window and try to pretend that you don’t find something that is not there. I have two very different windows right now. One looks out, as it so happens, the kitchen window into a sort of bonsai form of wilderness. A copse of trees trailing off to the west, seeking to expand, only to be cut off by a main thoroughfare a quarter mile from here. Google Maps is more generous than I. This shredding ribbons of trees, trail in every direction this side of the main highway. The canopy just tells you “a never mind” to all these houses in all these developments.
We are at a bit of a dead end winnowing of this trail of living woods, at the southeast end of it. And again, I am so much more informed by looking, as if a Google bird, at how this temporary hiatus lapses into a garbage strewn urban crick that only starts 3 miles upstream from me. The trees don’t care. Neither do the squirrels, foxes, rabbits, woodchucks, and the rare raccoons I can see from this kitchen window. One afternoon, standing on the iron bridge (must have been WPA; so much generosity of thick strong iron) over that hapless creek, looking like a homeless riparian with all its submerged road signs and shopping carts, I saw a mature, no a whopper, of a snapping turtle swimming upstream. A sight that was a gift from, we’ll say, the Permian Age, 250 million years ago, and my goodness he certainly looked it, armored like a triceratops with a tail to match. So spiky with orange golden brown you might want him for a Christmas tree ornament, even if motionless, his ponderous weight would pull over the tree.
Life doesn’t mind the garbage we ornament it with, at least in the short run. I’ve raised colorful little fish at great length in those window boxes we call aquariums. I am keenly aware as to how any environmental pollutant, especially metals, pushes them from life to death in a snap. But that snapping turtle was no doubt chasing the little fishes that live in that stream, gliding blithely over all the human refuse.
But that canopy. All those treetops at the butt ends of our developments, and as close confidential friends of the stream, riding along its banks like a police escort or a crime scene perimeter. The crimes, of course, outside their perimeter, not within it. The birds, that’s what they see. They see the feeders too, that many homes, including ours, stake into the ground as our investment into the future. “I declare this land in the name of feathery hope,” we might say mocking and imitating Columbus. I see so many kinds of birds out that window: jays, chickadees, juncos, a laundry list of sparrow types, woodpeckers, goldfinch, house finch, and rarer birds I will civilly leave to their anonymity.
The other window, the front one, the one I’ve avoided speaking about. It looks out into the crime scene, all those lawns and their owners’ strategies to keep the crimes going. I look out and know the nature of lies. Emptiness always has two sides.