When I was in university, I lived in an 8-by-14-foot room that consisted of little more than a bed, a desk, and a tiny kitchen. I spent most of my time either in class or studying alone in my room, and during those long hours of studying, my constant companion was my room’s single window. From my window, I had a view of two parking lots, the roof of the science building, and much of the rest of the city. I could also see pine trees, wild shrubs and grasses, the river bending through the valley below, and rolling grass-covered hills. When I wanted to rest my eyes from staring at my notes or at the computer screen, I would stand and look out the window, tracing roads over the faraway hills and watching the shifting colours of the sky.
On the clearest days, I could see snow-capped mountains far to the north. On cloudy days, I watched weather systems move over the hills. From my window I saw sunsets, moon-rises, rainbows, and fog forming along the river. I watched flying V’s of geese pass overhead and looked in the eyes of magpies who perched on the railing. I saw great horned owls swooping over the roofs and Clark’s nutcrackers pulling seeds out of pine cones. I saw a monarch butterfly through binoculars and deer walking single-file through the empty, early-morning parking lot. And I watched people as well – the older man with his shopping cart filled with empty cans and bottles, the classes of children on their way to the pool, and my fellow students and their parents. Whatever the day, the view from my window was always changing, always interesting. It entertained me, inspired me, encouraged me. When hours of study wore me down, it reminded me of my connection to the larger, wilder world, and of the patterns and cycles within that world that would continue on, no matter what happened in my smaller human world.
Given all of that, I am often surprised by how many people never uncover their windows, leaving their houses closed off from the world. Take a walk around a residential neighbourhood, and notice how many covered windows you see. It may seem like a small detail, but I believe that keeping our windows clear and uncovered during the day is a simple action we can take to begin shifting our relationship with the rest of nature.
Most obviously, windows allow natural light into our homes. This means that during the day we don’t need to turn on as many artificial lights, helping to save electricity. And in winter, windows placed to capture the sunlight can help to warm our homes (this is known as passive solar heating). Natural light also helps us to feel healthier and more productive and allows us to keep house plants which can purify our air (in an earlier post, I discussed both house plants and window observation). In the warm months, we can even open our windows, allowing fresh air to circulate and move out the old stale air.
But most importantly, windows blur the boundaries between indoors and outdoors. They allow us to observe the world outside throughout the day – while washing dishes, eating lunch, looking up from our desk for inspiration, or simply pausing in the midst of a busy daily routine. It is a subtle way of reminding ourselves that – while we may have placed walls between ourselves and the more-than-human world – we are not really separate from that world and we are always deeply immersed within it, even when surrounded by our human-built environment.
Of course, curtains, blinds, and other window coverings are useful. They keep warmth in during cold winter nights and reflect back heat and sunlight during hot summer days – helping our homes to be more energy-efficient by reducing the need to heat or air-condition our homes.
Sometimes, though, we cover our windows because we believe that we need privacy or because we don’t want to look out on a scene we deem unpleasant. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a beautiful view outside their windows. Maybe your windows look out onto a neighbour’s house, a shopping mall, or a busy highway. My view at university included parking lots full of cars, the roofs of buildings, and a multi-storey student residence. And while I didn’t particularly enjoy looking at these things, I didn’t want to hide them away either. I think it’s important to acknowledge both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of our views; after all, they are both part of our world and we need to live with both of them. I also had to live with other students walking by my window all day long, mere feet away from me. When I first moved in, this felt awkward, but I had nothing to hide from anyone who was curious enough to look in (and most weren’t) and I soon grew used to it and came to view the passers-by as simply another part of my ever-changing view. I never felt that I needed to close my curtains for privacy. I wanted the natural light for my plants and I needed the view of the distant hills and the sky for my own sanity.
You may still decide that some of your windows are best left covered, but before you pull that curtain closed, ask yourself: What are you hiding from? What are you closing away? What might you miss out on by covering your windows? What is happening on the other side of the glass? And if you’ve been accustomed to living with your windows covered, try uncovering them for a while and see what that feels like. It may seem like a small issue, but I believe that even small actions have a meaning and can help to create change in our lives. So uncover your windows, and open your life to the rest of the world.