One Square Yard of the Yard
During the first couple of weeks of the pandemic, my wife and I turned to each other about five times a day and one of us would say, “At least this isn’t happening in December,” and the other would add, “During an inversion.”
Have I ever appreciated a Boise spring so much? In April, May, and June of last year, according to my little diary, I spent a total of twenty-three nights in the United States. In April, May, and June of this year? I’m not going anywhere.
And while I’m sure I’ll get antsy one of these days, for now there is so much action right outside our sliding door: rain, clouds, rainbows, hawks, robin-battles, a super moon; this morning the forsythia flowers glow an eye-popping yellow, and the kestrels are going killy killy killy in the elm tree, and the first moth of the season just floated past the page. Last Saturday the sky at 9 a.m. was so supernaturally blue that it made my jaw ache, and as I walked the dogs, staring up into it, a string of snow geese sailed right through my field of vision, a quarter-mile up, forming and reforming little hieroglyphics in the sky until they disappeared past Simplot Hill.
We email with friends in Rome who need a stamped affidavit just to leave their apartment. A friend in Brooklyn tells me she hears sirens going past her window twenty four hours a day, ambulances on the way to Brooklyn Hospital, and we try to be grateful for our million blessings.
And yet, even while I try to appreciate it, spring slips past so quickly, roaring quietly past while I sleep and work and try to help with our kids, our parents, the low-level exhaustion of trying to keep groceries in the fridge and the virus out of the house.
So here’s something I’m trying. With sticks and yarn, I’ve fenced off one square yard of the yard. And this spring I’m going to try to pay attention to it.
By pay attention, I don’t mean anything fancy. I just intend to sit beside it for a few minutes when I can with a notebook and write a few lousy sentences about whatever I see, hear, and smell in that square yard. They can be ugly and uninformed sentences; they don’t even have to be sentences at all. If I don’t know the name of an ant or a butterfly or the gorgeous, lacy-leafed little weeds that starting putting out little purple flowers yesterday? Who cares!
What matters is to try to take a moment to step out of yourself, to bear witness on a manageable scale to the seasonal flood of life into the high desert, and to try to translate that flood into human language. If you don’t have a square yard of yard, maybe you can set a tray of soil on your balcony. If you don’t have a balcony, maybe you can just walk to the same spot in a park, or the same patch of foothill, and sit beside it, and watch. And hopefully, along the way, in our best moments, we can remind ourselves that we don’t have to leave home to ‘see the world,’ that sometimes you can travel the farthest by staying in one place.
Reading recommendation? Watch this video Tony & Owen made for Rediscovered Books!
Anthony Doerr was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the author of the story collections The Shell Collector and Memory Wall, the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, and the novels About Grace and All the Light We Cannot See, which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. He served as guest editor for the 2019 Best American Short Stories, which will be released in October.
Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two sons. A number of media interviews with him are collected here. Though he is often asked, as far as he knows he is not related to the late writer Harriet Doerr.