The Lands That We Live
Today is, of course, the day we celebrate the birthday of America, land that we love–or, at least, land that we live. As our writing explores each week, it’s a colorful and diverse place, filled with stories and ideas.
In honor of that birthday, we decided this week to give you a snapshot of just what (and where) we’re celebrating. We asked each of our contributors to give us a picture out their window and to reflect, briefly, about the place outside it. So, without further ado, here are the lands that we live.
Happy 4th of July!
New York, New York
I moved to New York on my bike a month ago, but I didn’t move in anywhere. Friends’ futons, couches, and floors across the city are carrying me through an unpaid summer. One special lady lends a bed, and this is the view from her third floor apartment in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights. Looking out reminds me how adrift I am in the stream of people that pass en route to the subway or the park around the corner. What I see when I turn from the window is all the more comforting then – a cozy kitchen, a smile, and a glimmer of home.
West Dean, England
Every morning I walk to the house, which you would probably call a castle and everyone here calls the college. This is the view looking out from the front door – chosen, I suspect, for its singular trancelike distance.
There are seagulls out there, tiny white specks, and the sheep herd. There is a large chalk boulder made by Andy Goldsworthy that was supposed to melt away to nothing but stubbornly holds on. Every evening I walk out of these doors exhausted and am presented with this view, whether I see it or not. Recently the honeysuckle has bloomed to either side of the door, and every evening I am shocked by a scent inextricably linked to another place: to Kentucky, to home. And I am reminded for the hundredth time that day, as every day for the past two years, how I am so very far from home.
When I moved into my apartment one month ago, this school rang with the sounds of children playing all day long. Every day. When school hours ended the children would drift into this alley, riding their bicycles along and shouting to and at each other into the evening, which came later and later every day.
Their parents would sit outside until dark, playing music on their portable stereos and cooking their dinners on small charcoal pits, while their very young friends played games around them, spilling out into the surrounding streets.
Then one day this street quieted. It took me a while to notice. After too long a time wondering, I realized that of course the school had let out for the summer.
I still haven’t figured out where the evening children went, nor why their parents no longer eat out of doors.
Oxford, United Kingdom
Out my window, across a cricket pitch, rise the grandstands of Iffley Road Track, where Roger Bannister ran the first sub-4:00 mile in 1954. For distance runners, it’s hallowed ground, our Lambeau Field, Centre Court, Augusta National. I have a two-sided relationship to the stadium. Sixty years of history mediates us: this place symbolizes grand things like effort and shattering barriers. And yet when my bare feet strain against the infield grass in one last sprint, training to break my own barriers, the stadium and I are pretty immediately together.
I wanted this tree outside my window. As a kid, I could see my favorite climbing tree from my bedroom, and when we moved, I got a taller one to stare at as I flopped face-first onto my comforter. It punctuated the mix-tape years with greens and oranges and empty twigs. This tree is my first city tree. It can’t hide its electric wires or yellowing streetlamp, and it stands right next to a telephone pole, much straighter, probably stronger. But if my apartment ever catches fire and I have to leap from my second story window, I’ve already decided, I’m shimmying down the tree. More places to rest, you know?
Whaleback Point, Moultonborough, New Hampshire
About five years ago, our old metal flagpole reached the end of its life and I set out to build a new one. I dug out the old base that had been set in the Point, snugged up a new pipe with stones, and cemented the foundation into place. Then I cut down the straightest young maple I could find, limbed it, stripped its bark, and applied a coat of urethane. I found an old bronze eagle to crown the new pole. The pole fit nicely into the pipe and I hoisted the flag for Fourth of July. Now it’s another summer, another Fourth—the flag still waves and the Point still bears the imprint of my labor.
–Garrett Dash Nelson
There used to be a baseball diamond in these fields. My landlord’s father, who built this house here seventy-five years ago, was known as a great ball player. There are just horses now, and 1500 acres of farm. At night it’s completely black; we’re the only house for a mile. There’s a note in my bedroom closet that says there are ghosts, too. They’re nice ghosts, it says, and I should talk to them. I’ve been here for a week, but I haven’t heard them yet.
We looked for our first house for nearly a year. As an adult, I’d never stayed in one place long, and the idea of putting down roots both thrilled and terrified me. When we first walked into this sunroom and looked out at the backyard, with its stately trees and overgrown garden, we knew it would be ours. Now, months later, the roof has leaked and the plumbing has broken and homeownership is always harder than you expect. But every time I look at the window, I know I am home.
Dogwoods, lindens, Japanese maples, sycamores — that’s pretty much all I can see from the front window of 16 van Buren St. Hidden under all that foliage is a brick-cobbled street and little gardens tended by people who didn’t grow up here. Mornings in the springtime turn up uncomfortably dressed teenagers trailed by parents and young women toting fold-up reflectors for photographers from the portrait studio around the corner. And at noon on July 4th, a five-minute-long parade will trickle by with one fire truck, kids pulled in wagons, some old guy in some old car, and a whoever-shows-up band. In front of the vaguely Latinate house on the corner and its wrought iron balcony railings, New Orleans flickers in the music for a few strange seconds.