Lately I’ve been trying to think like a porch. Trying to think between the natural and the human.-Charlie Hailey
Last week I skipped one of my evening meetings. I had gotten home from work later than usual and the challenges of the day still swirled around in my head. My evening meeting was virtual, and as I thought about another hour looking at a screen my eyes began to ache. So in a moment of clarity and self-compassion, I opted out of that meeting and headed to the porch.
It was a warm night, and the wind was blowing up from the south. The breeze ran through the trees gently nudging them back and forth. Mary Katherine, our little rescue pitbull, was laying on her bed enjoying the evening sky. I sat down next to her and we listened to the wind.
As the clouds rolled across the sky, a sense of calm returned. The stress of the day started to lift away. The tension in my shoulders released as the air moved around my body. The ache in my eyes receded as the sun began to set on the horizon. On that night the porch became a place of personal healing.
Shortly after this experience I came across Charlie Hailey’s essay “A Case for the Porch”, which was printed in Orion Magazine. Hailey is an architect, professor, a Fulbright Scholar, and author of several books. This essay, which is taken from his most recent book The Porch: Meditations on the Edge of Nature, is an exploration into how the porch can provide a linkage between us, the natural world, and a new way of thinking.
Hailey explains that many creative people have found their inspiration on a porch. Musician Charles Mingus is said to have written songs on his porch, and author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote her novels on a porch in Florida. Similarly, scientist Rachel Carson used the porch as a starting point for her natural explorations. And more recently, whole communities have used their porches as a place to celebrate the front-line workers who have given so much during the global pandemic.
Hailey also suggests that porches can help us become more aware of our impact on the environment. Hailey states:
“To think like a porch is to witness and to change our point of view. We don’t have to go far because stepping out on a porch brings climate change to us. . . .A porch is that place where we can stop thinking of nature from our perspective alone, but instead turn the camera on ourselves. . . . To think like a porch is to begin repairing our relationship with nature..”
The porch is this amazing human creation that allows us to be outside, yet maintain the safety of the indoors. We can have porch furniture, porch swings, and porch screens to keep us comfortable. We can also notice the wind, the rain, the sun, and the snow on a porch. We can track the changes in seasons, and we can watch the squirrels and the crows. We can sit and listen to the geese fly overhead, or see the fireflies dance across the yard. The porch can provide that magical space from which we can explore the natural world. A porch has that ability to shift the way we see things.
However, a porch is not always accessible to everyone. Hailey mentions that those in the construction trade report an increase in homes built with porches, and that over 75% of millennials report that a home with a porch is ‘desirable’. Even with this increase in porch production, it still isn’t something that everyone has available. That is perhaps where artists Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris can come into play.
These two artists shot a 20-minute video in and around W.S Merwin’s sitting room in the middle of a palm garden. This immersive experience brings you into Merwin’s hand-built dojo that provided inspiration for many of his poems and writing.
I like to think that Merwin wrote verses like these from his poem “Sight” at this very spot.
when I was a bird I could see where the stars had turned and I set out on my journey high in the head of a mountain goat I could see across a valley under the shining trees something moving (Excerpt from “Sight” from his book The Rain in the Trees)
Perhaps sitting on the “porch” enabled him to see things from a bird’s perspective. Or, from this spot he was able to view the world like a mountain goat. I like to think that it was from this sitting room he was able to change his view of the world and create a better relationship with nature.
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