Sunday, September 14, 2014

Washing Windows

Anyone who was outside on Saturday afternoon would agree, it was a perfect day for washing windows.

The biggest challenge we face lies with the twelve-pane wooden storm window in the living room, which has been deteriorating little by little for decades. It’s a heavy window and it sits directly above a thick spreading yew that’s difficult to get behind. The saving grace is that once we’ve lifted the window out of its casing and off the sill, we can lower it and set it down on the bush. After we’ve made our way back out from behind the bush into the yard, we can then lift the window again and carry it over to the driveway to be cleaned.

The lower left corner of this massive storm window looked so shaky when we tried to lift it, I was afraid some of the panes were going to fall out. After lugging it across the yard and leaning it against the car, Hilary went inside to get some Gorilla Glue. 

After a few more trips inside to get a nail, then a pair of pliers, we finally succeeded in reaching some glue that hadn’t solidified in the bottle. I applied it to the loose sections of the corner using a toothpick, then squeezed about a tablespoon down into the seemingly hollow core of the pane. Then we carefully rotated the window ninety degrees so its weight would bear down forcibly on the newly repaired corner while the glue set.

My job would be to stand by the window, which is roughly five feet tall and seven feet wide, to make sure the wind didn’t blow it over. The glue would take an hour or more to set, so I had my work cut out for me.

I looked over at the globe cedar that needs sheering, and the zinnias that were laying on the ground, having been beaten down by the recent rains. A blue jay flew overhead, and then I saw some goldfinches across the roof of the house in the oak tree in the back yard.

The leaves of the oak have always been slightly yellow, due to the nutrients lacking in the clay soil hereabouts. I pondered whether it might be a good thing to lose that oak tree altogether. But its dead branches offers so many perches for the birds as they approach the feeders.

The sky was blue and there were isolated waves of wispy ice clouds here and there, like white cake decorations applied with a comb.

Hilary had gone inside to wash some other windows, and when she came back out I said, “How long have I been standing here?”

“About ten minutes.”

“Is that all?”

“Maybe fifteen.”

These are the critical minutes when the glue is setting, and I knew my continued patience would be rewarded. I’m unusually adept at staring off into space for extended periods when there’s work to be done. All the same,  I was getting bored, and a few minutes later we decided to lift the window again and move it between the two cars. There wasn’t much of a breeze anyway, and in that position a rising gust would hit the window harmlessly, face on, rather than waffling down its length.

For the next hour we washed pane after pane, using pages torn from old copies of The New York Review of Books. In one issue I spotted a three-year-old review by Philip Lopate of a book by Edward Hoagland that I purchased not long ago as a remainder, but didn’t like. I set those pages aside.

The glue set remarkably well, as it turns out. After washing the twelve panes on both sides we hoisted the massive storm window back up onto the yew, then scrambled behind the bush and set it carefully into place again. Magnificent.

A few minutes later, as I was settling in to read the review, I heard a loud thud. A bird had flown into the window. A thrush now lay motionless on the seat of a metal patio chair, his pale dotted breast exposed. At first I thought it was a veery—an elusive cinnamon-colored bird with an ethereal downward-looping flute-like song. But I later got to thinking it was a gray-cheeked thrush, due to the drab back and rather prominent spots.

One of the drawbacks of perfectly clean windows is that birds can’t see them. Sometimes they hit them. Often they revive; this one didn’t. Eventually I carried it down into the yard and set it in the shadows amid the ferns.

(Both veerys and gray-cheeked thrushes spend their winters in Venezuela and north-central Brazil. I wonder if Rima, the bird-spirit in W. H. Hudson’s once-famous South American novel, Green Mansions, was a veery, though I suppose there are plenty of other candidates in the southern hemisphere that I’ve never heard of.)
On a lighter note, when Hilary was wrestling one of the aluminum combination storms back into its track, she noticed a spindly insect climbing the outer pane. It was a grasshopper of some sort, though it was bright green, and looked like it was born yesterday. Its surface looked tender, like a spring leaf, and it was less compact than the standard, yellow-brown grasshoppers that leap off the trail in front of you in droves in late summer.

We watched it climb uncertainly up the glass, taking alternate steps with its four spindly front legs, two by two, while using the two long trailing legs for stability as needed. It continued up to the corner of the window, then proceeded slowly out of sight, up the painted clapboard wall of the house. 

Looking it up later, I determined that the creature was a katydid. (I’d never heard of such a thing.)

"That wasn't a grasshopper, that was a katydid," I shouted to Hilary in the next room.

"It'n not katydid," she shouted back, "It's KAY-tee-did."

Postscript: Sunday morning we stopped at the local bird store and picked up a set of window decals. The theory is that they reflect ultraviolet light, which the birds can see a lot better than we can. They see the leaves and avoid the glass, while we see nothing.

The truth of the matter is, I can see the leaves just fine. They don't entirely ruin the view, but once the fall migration is over ...

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