When my husband and I built our house, we included a screened-in porch. We knew that we'd be living without electricity for several years, and the front porch would provide respite from the heat of our wood cook stove. It would be a welcome place to collapse in a rocking chair or a swing on sultry July evenings.
That first summer in our home, I also moved a small wooden table onto the porch. It was a perfect setting for peeling peaches, writing a letter, and, most of all, for eating meals. From our perch, my husband and I watched sunrises while drenching our waffles in maple syrup, or we counted how many times the kingfisher skimmed the pond as we finished the last bites of souffl. We savored such meals until golden sassafras leaves fluttered against the screens and we had to move back inside.
But with the advent of booster seats and a highchair, we abandoned sharing our meals on the front porch. It wasn't wide enough to accommodate the cumbersome seating our young children required. Baskets of shovels and tractors reserved for the sand pile, rows of boots and shoes, they all migrated to the front porch, along with a large box in which my husband raised worms. While the indoor mealtime antics of our sons amused us, we lost the point of view that our porch offered.
One warm May afternoon last year, I surveyed the jumble on our front porch and lamented the peaceful meals of the past. While the porch swing was still a favorite place to read or eat ice-cream cones, the clutter had drifted across our porch like the windblown grains of a sand dune. I was determined to rectify the situation. I conscripted my sons to help me.
First, the worm box was carried to the loft of the barn. The geraniums that had sat upon it were moved to the windowsill. Long-handled blueberry pruners, chore boots, ski wax, and flowerpots were transported to various sheds and shelves until we had created a space large enough for a table and four folding chairs. My sons teased that we'd still be hard pressed to fit everyone's adult bodies around my narrow board, but the first alfresco lunch banished their skepticism.
This summer we returned to outdoor dining, and as each day passes we note how high the cup-and-saucer vines have grown in the last 24 hours. We linger over lunch and listen to the whir of the hummingbird's wings as he darts from hollyhock to hollyhock. In the evening, when hordes of mosquitoes drift up from the pond, we lean back in our chairs and dine without being tormented.
OFTEN I finish eating before the men in my family. I fold up my chair and retreat to the swing, allowing room for their elbows on the table. A bass jumps after a fly, and someone suggests an evening of fishing. I swing back and forth and listen to a wren trill. The notes of the bird weave through the conversation like a strand of a fugue.
I know that soon our family's center of gravity will shift toward the heat of our cook stove. Already the afternoon shadows grow longer and the asters are budding. But tonight I inhale the scent of the clematis, and when I wipe the crumbs off the table, I give thanks for this space that projects me into the subtleties of summer.