In the years of our working together, my friend David and I shared an office that overlooked the Mississippi River. Only after a long while did I discover that he kept a notebook in which he would record the names of passing tugboats.
A binocular rested near the office window and, for some time, a telescope, too.
We all kept busy with the work our bosses had assigned us, but the window, the viewing gear and the notebook pleasantly reminded David of a world beyond his desk.
A window on the river shaped the rest of us who worked in the office, too, though dry habit has a way of blinding us to wonder after awhile. There were many days — weeks or months, even — when I watched the river not at all.
But there were moments, on my way to the coffee pot or another assignment, when I’d glance out and notice the big Mississippi three floors down and across the road, its water as brown as gravy, its current as slow — or so it seemed — as a summer afternoon.
Each spring, as the weather warmed, our window sparked dreams of escape. Like creatures of Twain, we quietly fantasized about descending the elevator, crossing the road and riding the river to wherever it might take us.
David retired one day, taking with him the tugboat journal that his grandchildren might puzzle over some day as an unfathomable secret of his inner life. Our office moved from the river to a business district overlooking a shopping mall.
For the next decade, I watched a current of a different sort — long lines of cars filing into the mall, full of customers in search of tennis shoes, sporting goods, an evening gown, a new lawn mower. This was my perch on the national recession of 2008. From my window, reading the traffic like a ticker tape, I could gauge the health of local commerce.
I moved again last year, and there’s a window a few feet away that gives us a bird’s-eye view of a pond full of Canada geese. They’re beautiful black and white birds, their lines like a tuxedo, and they seem to know how smart they look. They glide along, beaks held high, as if posing for a postage stamp. At the end of the day, when the dying sun throws everything into silhouette, the geese resemble Viking ships, their heads the prow of a vessel headed to high adventure.
There’s a nutria in the pond, too, but he’s more elusive, so people still take note when they catch his dark little head combing the water. I spotted him the other evening on my way to the car, and he seemed to be revealing himself to me and me alone, my private Loch Ness.
Our pond is still new to us, but we’ll learn to ignore it, since that’s the only way to do what needs to be done. It is the genius of the human mind that it can teach itself to overlook such things, and also its biggest curse.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.