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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I grew up in a farmhouse that had an enclosed front porch, so it doesn’t really count, although the house had a back porch step on which I spent a lot of time over the years, playing with the dogs and cats or just thinking. I miss that back porch step. Like your essay describes, we really do see the world differently when we’re on the verge between our human world and nature. BTW, Merwin’s poem is pretty amazing. Thanks for introducing him to me. As always, wonderfully written and deeply thoughtful work, Mark. 🙂
Hi Mike, Thanks for the comment and kind words. Make sure you check out the Merwin website. You can read a bunch of his poems and learn all about palm plants. It is pretty fascinating. Talk soon,
I’m glad you afforded yourself some self-compassion to experience the peace of the porch with Mary Katherine. What a gorgeous name for your dog!
I think there’s something special about having a porch. Like you say, we can enjoy the outdoors without having to go far. In our last house, I used to love sitting there during the night and become awed by the brightness of the stars on a clear night.
Hi Lesley, thanks for sharing your memories from your porch. There is nothing better than watching the stars from a comfortable porch seat!
On a cloudless night, the sky is awesome! I lose track of time. 🙂
And the self care piece is definitely a focus of mine lately. I often need the break from the technology.
Me too. 😀
Yes, a thousand times yes! I love the quote you shared that a porch provides a link between us a nature and thus can help give us a new perspective. Porch, front steps, balcony, a rooftop…those have always been my favorite places as well. To reflect and unwind. Your porch looks so nice and calming.I noticed we have similar wind chimes!
Hi Lizi, I haven’t sat on a rooftop in years. But you are right, that is an amazing location for a new view on life. So funny about the wind chimes. We have had those for years and have really enjoyed the chimes during a light wind. Thanks for the comment! Be well!
Thanks for reminding me to appreciate my porch more!
Oh, how I wish we had a porch, a bigger garden as well! When we bought this bungalow we thought it would probably be our last house, having already lived in 9 other houses and different locations, so a small outside space with low maintenance was just right. Sometimes I sit on the back step which is north facing but that is no place to linger in the winter!
I’m a great fan of the author, Jim Crumley, a Scottish nature writer of about 40 books. His preferred method of observing is simply to settle down, with his back to a rock or tree trunk and wait for nature, near and far, to reveal itself. I think it is probably very close to being meditation, but he has his notebook and pen, binoculars, his lunch and a flask! This method of Jim Crumley’s is probably the closest I also get to finding inspiration for my own writing.
Thanks, Mark, for this thoughtful and thought-filled post.
Hi Ashley, I like Crumley’s process. Nothing better than sitting in the woods for long enough until inspiration strikes. It seems like a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
I am glad you enjoyed the post and get to sit out on the back step before it gets too cold. Talk soon,
I so agree. Nature is healing, rejuvenating, and the porch offers a gentle transition from home/work to the peace of God’s creation.
Hi Mary, thanks for adding to the conversation. As I continue to talk about this, I am truly amazed at how many connections people have with their porches.
I have a balcony for my garden condo. I get the view of the squirrels in the oak trees.
Sometimes the balcony’s is the best option. You get to be outside and have an elevated view of things. Thanks for adding to the conversation!
Mark, this post was like a balm for my soul. I applaud your self-compassion in opting out of another virtual meeting. I don’t have a porch but do enjoy my patio that is bordered by out-of-control perennials, bird bath, and feeders. Thank you for this beautiful and thought-provoking piece.
Hi Tracy, thanks for sharing your thoughts. The patio sounds like a perfect spot for contemplation about life. Glad you enjoyed the post. Talk soon,
another vivid and rich contemplation of real life, Mark. it reads completely authentic as well. Thank you.
Hi Barbara, I appreciate your comments. Thank you and I am glad you liked it! Be well.
Really interesting ! I never thought of porches like that. They really give many people the chance to observe nature and be apart of the community.
Yes, definitely. They have that ability to make the natural world a little more accessible. Thanks for the comment
wonderful inspiring thoughts Mark and love your poetry as well.💖
Hi CIndy, Thanks so much for the support! I am glad that you enjoyed this piece. Have a great weekend.
It was wonderful and you’re so welcome. Ok course… you too. after all it’s FriYay! hahahhaah we don’t have a choice.. 🤣🤣🤣❤️
I love this post! The porch is such an iconic place in my life. We had a big one on the front and on the back. Now houses barely have a stoop to step onto! The faster pace of life has caused us to miss out on some wonderful experiences. I am glad you took time to sit on your porch and get your self calm and centered again!
Hi Dwight, I was just thinking as I was reading your comment about how I should really spend more time on that porch. It will soon be covered in snow and a little too cold to sit comfortable. I may have to head out there now!
Yes, that is a great idea. These comments will wait.
I agree, there’s something about a porch that invites a pensive mood. I like how you describe it as a place of personal healing, and that you sat there with your dog just listening to the wind. I don’t have a porch, however! But if I did, I’d sit there reading poetry. My mind automatically conjures a scene of some guy playing the blues in his porch as in countless films (which kind of illustrates it as a place of healing?)
Hi Sunra, if I could play an instrument, I would want to be that guy! Playing the guitar with my dog on the porch, that sounds like an ideal scenario. Thanks again for adding to the conversation!
Ha ha ha! I think you only need two or three chords. You don’t even have to have all the strings! Dog is mandatory though for the singing LOL. Have a lovely weekend! 🙂
Thanks Sunra! Be Well.