Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Indoor Fun

Now that’s December and I don’t have much to do in the garden any more, indoor activities assume greater deal of importance. For instance, one activity I’ve grown particularly fond of is asking myself why am I sitting at my desk so often staring absently at a screen.
Do I think my computer screen is a garden? Do I think it will start “blooming” if I look at it long enough?
Windows, I mean real ones, not the virtual/digital/computer meaning of “windows,” a term that encompasses the ever-increasing universe of “pictures” or “pages” or “screens” (or, redundantly, “windows”) which do in fact, in some sense, “bloom” on your computer once you start playing with it and saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” (click, click, click) to the options, opportunities and offers afforded to you by the determinedly (even ruthlessly) indoor world of the internet….
So, no, that’s not what I mean by windows…. Windows, the real ones, become increasingly important the more time we spend indoors.
But don’t you, btw, love the digital, virtual vocabulary that has grown in our Age of the Screen? “Virtual” (along with “windows”) may be the best and most searching of these new usages. We can now have virtual lives. Virtual used to mean “sort of the real thing” or “close to the real thing” or “you really can’t tell the difference, can you?” That’s what we mean when we say something is “virtually the same,” isn’t it? But when we take a “virtual tour” of some place where we’re thinking of staying, for example, is it really anything like the same?
I suspect many people in our increasingly indoor lives have already figured out how to ‘grow’ a virtual ‘garden’ on a screen – a notion that’s just occurred to me. I’m about to say how pictures are great, I take them all the time, but a picture of a garden, or a plant, is not virtually the real thing… (but I think I’ll stop right there).
As for the real garden, it’s a very quiet place these days; and too cold for someone of my delicate sensibilities to spend much time in these days. When it comes to cold, I wish I were made of sterner stuff. Instead…
Windows, as I started to say, those actual glass portals on the world beyond, have assumed a centrality to my days that goes beyond their many valuable uses such as letting in the light, and the solar heat (especially now). They also have the practical use of allowing me to spy on our neighborhood. I can put this more positively by saying “check up on” or “keep tabs on” the neighborhood, with the implication that somebody might some day need our help. But mostly we’re looking for stimulus, sensory information. I may not want to go out there right now, as I would have up to a month ago, but I sure as heck want to see those birds outside our kitchen window competing like mad for a peck at the bird feeder. (The squirrels? Not so much.)
Even when there’s “nothing going on” to our fight-or-flight programmed, motion-detection senses, the greater world outside our window companions us. The sun shines, and we miss it if it doesn’t. The wind chimes sing through the seasons – until the gusts of winter storms make us bring them indoors. The rain threatens; or lets up. The traffic bounces over the “sink hole” in front of the house caused by the last repaving.
And for the last three weeks or, one of our national energy monopolies has cooperated by staging a long-running performance of “Let’s dig up the streets and plant new gas lines!”… a traditional neighborhood favorite any time of year.
It’s a garden of machines.
So now when I step outdoors to take in the sunset, every December day’s greatest show, I can get a photo of “Twilight over the backhoe.” Or the dump truck. Or the dirt pile with funny orange cones. Or the little tent with the plastic roof cleverly erected to permit digging tie-ins on a rainy day.
Yes, the world beyond my window is virtually a garden of enchantments. It’s just not the same.