Look out the back. What do you see?
I see a tree. A tree and a fence and the backs of houses on the next street.
Now sit at that back window for years and years while you’re mulling over the book you’re so keen to write. (Which takes you years and years to finish…)
That’s the way it is sometimes.
And as you’re sitting there at the back window, looking out, keep staring at the fence and the tree and the houses beyond. Stare at them till you don’t really see them anymore, because you’re back in the past.
My own past? Or the past here, in
Brooklyn? I have to ask, because one day as I was sitting at my back window, staring out, the scene suddenly changed. Gone were the backs of those houses across the way. Gone was the high wooden fence hiding their back gardens from view. And in its place was a country scene. There was a house, a cabin, all by itself in the clearing. The only thing I recognized was the tree. And yet there was something familiar about the scene, as if I’d seen it before, or I knew this house, somehow.
Once I saw it, I couldn’t un-see it. Whenever I looked out the window I saw two scenes, the one from the present, and this other one, so obviously from the past. From Brooklyn as it once was. Maybe as long ago as 300 hundred years when it was Breuckelen, though the Dutch settlements were further north in the area that is now Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO. According to Wikipedia, the earliest known mention of Breuckelen in the New World was a contract dating from 1646 to do with an order of timber.
I don’t know when that cabin might have been in the clearing behind my house in Park Slope before there was a Park Slope, or even this neighborhood that once was a suburb of New York City. It may not have been in Brooklyn (or Breuckelen) at all. For as I have sat in this room, not only at the window looking out, but at my desk looking out, I have thought about the women who once inhabited this room. It’s the maid’s room, you see. Located behind the kitchen at the end of the long and not very wide apartment on the ground floor of a four-story building from about 1900.
I’ve thought about the various maids that might have worked for the families who lived here, picturing them young, perhaps foreign born. Perhaps from Ireland, as the neighborhood used to have a large Irish population. And I imagine one of these young maids, taking a breather from her chores, maybe needing a bit of fresh air, sat by the window and looked out.
What do you imagine she saw?
I’m certain she saw the big tree the same as I do now, and the backs of those houses which are surely as old as the one I live in. Probably the fence too, as people wanting privacy in their back gardens is nothing new. And maybe, just maybe, her thoughts wandered back home to the place where she came from. Maybe she looked out the window and saw the house she grew up in, the place where her family lives, far away. The image came to her because she was homesick, and the picture stayed in her mind…and stayed in the room long after she was gone. The maid’s room, where I now sit at my desk, looking out the window at the fence and the tree and the houses beyond. And because I’m a writer who lets her mind wonder, I’ve picked it up from the room or the ether or the light from outside.
Because I see the cabin in the light. I know it is there, that cabin in the clearing. It is hidden in the light. In the form that her thought took—which was a picture. A picture in the mind of a homesick young maid thinking about her past. Thoughts do take on form…
Which is why we have to be careful what we’re thinking.
Or maybe what I’m seeing has nothing to do with the maid, and it really is a little house that once stood in or around that very spot, long ago. It’s hard to tell, and impossible to know for sure. But it’s there. I see it in the clearing beyond ~~~
Yes. I see it too…