John Jeremiah Sullivan, Wilmington, NC


Windows on the World

A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.This is the back view from my office. It’s raining. You can see a wall of the old garage (which still has a deep oil pit inside, from when more people worked on their own cars). The magnolia that hangs over the backyard is blooming. When it does, we open the door to the sleeping porch upstairs, and the whole house fills with the smell. My wife will cut one of the flowers and let it float in a bowl of water on the kitchen table. Magnolias drop hundreds of large seed pods once a year—they come crashing down from the tree. I’m always worried one of them is going to land on somebody’s head (they’re heavy enough to hurt). We spend about a month just picking them up. They look like brown-green grenades but are bursting all over with bright red seeds. The leaves, when they turn brown and fall, are hard and brittle. That’s a problem down here, because tiny pools of water form on them, and the mosquitoes lay eggs there. You have to pick them up fast. In short, a big magnolia is a lot of work, but I would never get rid of this one. The week or so of blossoming is worth everything. Also, the branches cover the whole brick path from the back door to the driveway. Even in a heavy storm, you can just walk along dry. Sometimes I pat the tree’s trunk and thank it for that, or just to say hello. Once, when we first got home from a trip of two months, my daughter—who was four at the time—hugged the tree long and fiercely, saying nothing, before she ran inside. I think it’s sort of the guardian of the house.
—John Jeremiah Sullivan