As the snow falls on the mulched garden beds and I tidy up the back porch for the oncoming winter, I reflect on eleven springs, summers, and autumns spent lounging there. It’s a screened-in affair with enough space for a couch and two chairs and a couple of end tables. My back porch is almost bigger than my living room, and it gets more use during those warm seasons because it faces a magical expanse of woods. This affords me almost endless hours of tree-gazing, day and night. And for this, I am grateful.
After my husband retired and we bought this small house in the Catskills, we figured it would be our fixer-upper, one which we’d flip as soon as it was renovated enough to make a few bucks and move on to the next venture. But something happened. I started hanging out on the back porch, watching the birds and critters, smelling the fresh air without the annoyance of mosquitoes buzzing around my face, daydreaming and writing. Morning coffee and afternoon wine take on an air of luxury out there, even if I’m scuffling around in PJs or dirt-clad garden shorts.
And those storms that roll in on hot summer evenings are endlessly, dramatically entertaining. Sometimes a tree crashes to the ground. We hear them. Occasionally we see one go down, and I mourn the loss. Every year a family of phoebes nests on a window frame where we can catch the progress of their two or three broods of babies.Once an injured fawn crawled into a flower bed next to the house and died there. Last summer—for the first time in a decade of living amongst wild animals—I stood gaping as a black bear sauntered out of the woods and sniffed around my compost pile.
It is a privilege, I realize, to witness this small plot of nature up close in all the life and death drama that takes place around us. But having a back porch has practical value, too. When the temperature drops, it becomes a cold storage facility. Pots of soup too big for the refrigerator can be held overnight on a cold bluestone shelf. Root veggies and hardy greens can be stored in a mouse-proof wooden box. Today, I’m picking up a turkey and, with no room in the refrigerator to hold it over until roasting time, it will sit on the back porch. I’ll prop it in an easy chair and pour it a glass of sherry. I’ll toast my good fortune and wish the same to one and all. Everyone should enjoy such luxury.