One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Landscape of My Kitchen Window

One of the writing exercises I use to get to know my characters and give to my writing students when we’re working on character development, is an interview where you ask your character all sorts of nosey questions, but my favorite question is “what’s in your pocket?” It can also be framed as: what’s in your backpack, what’s in your purse, what’s in that cigar box under your bed, or what’s on your windowsill? I find this a very telling investigation. I think you can guess a lot about a person, a character, yourself, by not only the practical things carried or stored, but by the less ‘useful’ items chosen to keep close.

Even as an urban dweller, my pockets always have pebbles, seashells, seed pods, feathers—treasures from nature that ground me and remind me who I am, where I’ve been and some of what I love. From time to time, my purse gets so heavy, it feels like it’s full of stones—because it is. When the weight becomes unbearable, I sort through, chose one or two to keep and return the others to the park, the beach, a garden. The keepers go in a pot on my kitchen windowsill along with the other items that have earned this distinguished place of honor. Besides my writing desk, my little kitchen window gets more face time than nearly any other interior view—it’s where I stand to wash and slice fruits and vegetables, fill the tea kettle, trim and feed house plants, sip a cool glass of water after a long walk.

Outside the window, I look at the paper bark trees that line the street, then into my neighbor’s garden, and behind, up to Russian Hill, to buildings beyond buildings. A flock of parrots comes screeching by like a gang of squeaky-break bicycles as a hawk slowly circles above considering its next meal. These are all pieces of my daily exterior landscape.

But inside, the things that line my sill are intimate reminders of parts of me I do not want to lose: a jar of shells and stones; a vase my sister brought me from Czechoslovakia decades ago, since cracked, now filled with feathers, my water color brushes and wish bones (saved up for the day I really need them); a fragment of pottery I found in the gutted foundation of the house my great grandparents built on their homestead in Montana in a previous century; sand dollars from the Washington coast; hand carved spoons (because my husband knows I love spoons); a scrawny aloe vera plant (for kitchen cuts and burns); a candle in a slipper (a fairytale token); a small icon of an angel (because everyone needs an angel watching over them); a rubber stamp of a luna moth (because a real luna moth is too fragile to keep on a window sill). Somehow these things help define me; they are symbols, metaphors, talismans. And like the pebbles in my pocket, they keep me, everyday, from floating away.

So, what I’d like to know (because I’m nosey and because I’d like to know you better) is: what’s in your pocket? Or on your windowsill? And why do you have them there?

Take Good Care, 



  1. Two tiny perfectly round gray pebbles from a beach in Maine

    Two white cone shaped shells from a beach in Anguilla

    A miniature carved glass perfume bottle that belonged to my grandmother, with the tiniest drop of amber perfume still inside.

    I'm not sure why I keep them. Sometimes I think of tucking them in a drawer when I clean the dust and stickiness off the window ledge, but then I always return them to their spots!

  2. A kindred spirit...I've had a small bottle of my grandmother's White Shoulders perfume on my dresser for twenty years.

    Thank you Cathy for sharing this lovely image.

  3. I have a piece of bark that a three-year-old told me was dragon skin. I also have plants that are cheerful and alive, and lots of small tokens from travels I've gone on or treasures my loved ones have brought back for me. Thanks, Sharry!

  4. Oh! I love the dragon skin bark! I'm going to have to go searching for some!

  5. I have some pebbles and piece of a bark with some plants.
    Thanks for sharing

  6. Hi There, I just spent a little time reading through your posts, which I found entirely by mistake whilst researching one of my projects. Please continue to write more because it’s unusual that someone has something interesting to say about this. Will be waiting for more!

  7. Nice post. A garden window is a window that juts out or projects slightly from a wall, in order to capture more sunlight and make a room look larger. Garden windows have glass on all sides, except for the bottom. Thank You!

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  9. Where your window is positioned is absolutely perfect. Great view from the outside! By the way, I admire how you designed your windowsill. I also love to have something in my windowsill, and I have there my angel figurines.

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