On The Porch

Published 2:58 pm Thursday, June 30, 2011

Porches are making a comeback – and not a moment too soon!

I admit that I come from a long line of porch sitters, and it's been sad for me to see the demise of that old-fashioned summer pastime. Fifty years ago, a house without a porch was like a ten-story building without an elevator. You might want to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

In those days, in other words, every house had a porch.

I've always wanted a porch, so when we built our house at Elam we did the next best thing and added two decks in the front. It immediately became obvious that we weren't the only ones hoping to sit outside and enjoy the scenery. We were bugged -summer, spring, and fall – by an assortment of gnats, mosquitoes, and biting flies. In the winter when it was too cold for the bugs it was too cold for us, too.

So we sat inside, attempting to enjoy the view from afar.

This spring I convinced my spouse that we needed a sunroom, the modern equivalent of a porch. A three-season room, (actually four-season with the addition of a small space heater) our “porch” provides a bug-free haven with a spectacular view of the surrounding woods and the creatures that inhabit it.

We've already named most of our nightly visitors.

“Bullwinkle's here,” my spouse nodded toward the apple trees where a young buck sporting a fuzzy set of antlers was stepping out of woods. Further down the hill toward the creek a mother deer, Bambi, kept a watchful eye on two babies frolicking as evening settled in.

As darkness deepened, an owl stretched its wings and glided silently through the shadows, while just over the hill a family of foxes set off for a night of hunting. Their yipping barks, echoing through the still evening air, were no cause for alarm since the hens were safely tucked in for the night.

Inside the porch the animal population was also stirring. A row of housecats, tails twitching their approval, lined the glass panels that surround the porch from floor to ceiling. Their world, like ours, had definitely expanded.

Sipping our coffee as the sun sank below the trees, my spouse and I felt the rhythm of the day winding down.

As I opened the glass panels on each side of the room, a breath of cool air drifted through the screens (sans bugs, thank goodness) along with a variety of scents that set the cats' whiskers to twitching.

“My grandmother would have loved this porch,” I told my spouse.

As conversation ebbed into companionable silence, I slipped into the past with its host of porch-sitting memories.

Our porch, like many of the era, was designed for practical purposes. In the days before air conditioning it was a place to escape the heat of a steamy kitchen when canning season was in full swing. On many a summer afternoon when heat shimmered across the fields and clung to the skin like a wet flannel sheet, the porch was the only place to be. As my grandmother often observed, it always seemed cooler on the porch.
No matter what the chore of the day might be, working on the porch kept us in tune with the rhythm of the day. As we readied garden beans, peas, or corn for the canner, fingers snapped, shelled, or shucked to the putt-putt beat of a tractor working the back field, the symphony of hens clucking in the hen house, or the throaty bleat of a mother cow warning her offspring of some imminent bovine danger.

The porch brought the world of nature up close and personal – and we had front row seats.

On misty summer mornings, the porch might be studded with diamonds that sparkled on the screen and the web of a resident porch spider as the sun made its way higher in the sky. On clear summer mornings, we watched the clouds join ranks and march across the sky with the joyful precision of a circus parade. Now and then a rainy day (which meant less pre-porch picking) brought gray-bottomed clouds that clustered on the horizon like dirty white hens scurrying for shelter before the storm.

No matter what the day brought, we were there to see it.

Once, after a summer storm, a brilliant rainbow flashed across the sky.

“How do you find the rainbow's end?” I remember asking my grandmother.

“You'll know it when you find it,” she said as she turned back to her basket of beans.

I didn't understand, but nodded anyway.

Now, older and wiser, I know what my grandmother was trying to tell me on those summer afternoons on the porch. Life's treasurers, like that pot of gold at the rainbow's end, tend to come on the installment plan. Moment by golden moment, the memories of each passing season add to the balance of a lifetime.

And what better place to observe life's golden moments than on a porch?

As I said, I come from a long line of porch sitters.

It's good to be back.