I want to say that the invention of window glass has led to the domestication of vision. This may seem like so much hyperbole, but in fact, windows have proven just as lethal as most other efforts to make the great outdoors less threatening or more easily accessible. It’s estimated that at least 100 million wild birds are killed by collisions with windows and other human structures in North America every year. According to the Bird Conservation Network,
During daytime, birds often fly head-on into windows, confused by the reflection of trees or sky. This is a common occurrence even in suburbia at homes and glassy office campuses. All of these birds suffer head trauma and over half die.
There are various ways to try and combat this effect.
Recent research by ornithologists at the Field Museum of Natural History confirmed that simply turning off bright lights, closing blinds or pulling the drapes reduces bird deaths by 83%. Even not washing the windows during the migration months helps keep the reflective qualities low and, thus, can help reduce bird injury and death.
I haven’t washed my windows in years, and I feel damn good about that. I can look up from my computer in the late afternoon and enjoy the play of sun and shadows through the spicebush in my garden: shadows of clustered berries, shadows of wings.
The lone window on the northwest side of the barn is missing half its panes. I remember as a kid taking advantage of that fact more than once in my never-ending war against the woodchucks, resting the barrel of the .22 on the empty frame.
Here’s a view into the ground floor of the old chicken coop, where our chickens spent much of their time when the weather wasn’t conducive to foraging outside. The mixture of hay and chicken manure that remains can make a rich mulch, but I always have to sift it to remove the numerous shards of glass, all, I presume, the remains of previous windows.
I’m wondering whether the ability of windows to keep things in might confer certain environmental benefits to offset their hazards – for example, by making confinement more tolerable to otherwise rapacious domestic cats, not to mention by retaining heat. Maybe the shadow within the shadow knows. Or maybe I should just Ask Umbra.
One of the largest employers in the Tyrone area is a PPG (formerly known as Pittsburgh Plate Glass) factory specializing in the manufacture of the large back windows of automobiles. It’s amazing to me that engineers have figured out how to make curved glass that doesn’t distort one’s view out; a little over a hundred years ago, even flat window glass came out full of flaws and waviness. The glass castle that houses the PPG corporate headquarters – the most distinctive feature of the Pittsburgh skyline – symbolizes the dominance of glass in the Era of the Automobile. I look at the way the car window warps the house, the trees, the sky, and I think: this is what the angels must see of us – cocooned in our glass bubbles – if they exist.
The car is gone, the garage is empty. On days like this, one can envision what the end of cheap oil might mean: great societal upheavals and the loss of a dream of freedom based on personal mobility, yes, but also cleaner lungs and much clearer views. Forced to go about on foot, we might once again come to believe in the soul as the infinity that remains outside,* instead of some house-bound, transparent ghost.
All around me, as I snap this shot, white-throated sparrows are foraging and singing: Poor Sam Peabody, such a sweet and mournful tune. Play it again, Sam, I want to say. All those weeks of rain were easier than this painful blue.
*From a translation of a poem by the great Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez entitled “Yes, If I Could Only Smash.”