By Billy Smith
“British porch is a musty, forbidding non-room in which to fling a sodden umbrella or muddy pair of boots; a guard against the elements and strangers. By contract the good ol’ American front porch seems to stand for positivity and openness; a platform from which to welcome or wave farewell; a place where things of significance could happen.” –Dan Stevens
Aside from a few misspent years in college, the places where Ms. Mindy and I raised our family have never been without a porch. Porches are actually my calm form of social rebellion, a complete repudiation of a leisure world lived indoors in front of a television monitor.
To me, it’s ghastly to see television monitors where they can be viewed from the porch. It’s akin to a well-done steak—it’s at cross purposes to the intention of a perfectly butchered bone-in ribeye that should be cooked no more than medium. Even medium is a bit like putting a radio on your porch … dangerously close to violating the whole point. The porch should be experienced in nature, unscathed by human interruptions. A steak should be consumed in as close to its natural state as possible: rare.
My earliest acquaintance with porches was like opening an encyclopedia, although I often find myself working from my computer on the porch. As long as the sound is turned off, computers on the porch are acceptable distractions. They are mobile. Mounted monitors are permanent distractions to the goings on outside.
The mysteries of the porch were clarified by my grandmother, who laid down the edict that sweaty boys fresh from farm chores had to destinkify on the porch before they were allowed to enter her home. One step off of the porch was an outdoor shower where one could wash off the mud and dirt from irrigation pipe-moving. Even though neighbors were miles away, the thought of stripping in the open was terrifying. Letting the sweat dry from the porch seemed more humane and modest, and thus the fascination with the porch took hold.
Sometime later, but still from the sanctum of the porch, I learned to distinguish thered-tailed hawk from a red-shoulder hawk but marveled at both raptor’s ability to quickly learn that a tractor in the field greatly enhanced their chances of a meal. It’s where I watched my grandfather sculpt masterpieces of pine-wood creations in the palm of his hand. For him, the porch and whittling were as synonymous and sacrosanct as a sharp knife.
Having grown up where trees are rare and skies are huge, sometimes the best viewing is on the ground. Maybe that’s why Northern Flickers and Killdeers are my favorite birds. The ground is their treasure chest, and they are easily viewed from a porch.
It’s pretty common in the horse world to hear know-it-alls scoff at the notion of a “pasture–ornament” horse. Maybe they’ve never appreciated the subtle movementof horses grazing in the pasture. I’ve learned a lot about the magnificently designed curvatures of horses just by watching them from the porch. The whole pecking order thing comes to life in clear, but small gestures. The pulsating, grass-clipping throat-latch mechanics is hypnotic and meaningful. For the most part, porches are an American institution, never fully appreciated in the rest of the world.
Life lived indoors is hardly worth the living; a few hours on a porch can wash away the shame of a lifetime behind a desk. The porch is the grandest of therapies.The least misspent times of my life have been spent alone and on a porch, watching the Kildeers, Northern Flickers, red-tail and red-shoulder hawks and paying attention to the sacrosanct.