Monday, November 2, 2009

On The Porch

Beautiful morning, blue skies with a few gleaming clouds. I'm so grateful for days that the sun's out - it makes all the difference as to how I feel, my frame of mind. I sit out on the porch. Chimes sound in the soft breeze. I hear a cricket chirp - perhaps it's the very one I carried out of doors from the bath this morning. My hair dries in the sun, along with laundry on the line. A bird trills, then trills again. My hot tea is restorative. I bask in the sun like an invalid at a sanitorium. The grass is bright green though the leaves are off the trees. There is a lot of other green besides around the garden, what with arborvitae hedges, Colorado spruces, Norway pines, and junipers. The chimes sound more insistently now, though I'm not aware of a stronger breeze.

I saw the loveliest house yesterday, a picturesque cottage at the end of a country lane, situated on a wooded property that overlooks an audibly rushing creek. The house, modest in size and unpretentious in character - in whose very qualities charm resides, has been beautifully restored by its current owner. The exterior is done in a muted palette, wood trim and decorative cornices picked out in complementary pastels and grey. Old-fashioned mixed borders with now-blackened sedum and a bright euonymous lead to the steps of a welcoming front porch.

I was there to help my husband deliver a cabinet he had designed and built on commission. It was a fine day and we stood out on the porch, chatting with the owner and admiring the cottage as well as the view of the fastmoving rapids below, which caused a constant sonic backdrop in the air, a constant roar. Conversation turned to aspects of the house. "You should see the side porch," my husband said to me. I turned to take a look. It was obscured from view except for a tantalizing glimpse. "Would you mind if I take a peek?," I asked the owner, thinking I might step around the house and view it from the lawn. She replied, "Why don't you come in instead?"

We followed her into the house and into the kitchen. She opened a glassfronted door that opened directly onto the porch, and we stepped through. It was a large, airy space, screened from planked floor to boarded ceiling on three open sides. At one end wicker seating was arranged to face the creek, and the room was veritably muraled with the immediate surrounding rustic views.

The screened porch was utterly enchanting to me. My husband remarked that it had been designed by an architect, and the owner pointed out cornices that the architect had incorporated into the framing structure to repeat those found in the original areas of the house.

I was very happy to have glimpsed the house, the idyllic property and the lovely porch space. My husband dropped me off and went back to do a last bit of touch-up paint work on the cabinet.

Once home I felt that my mood had changed. My husband and I had spent a cheerful afternoon taking a drive in the country and then running this little errand to his client. I felt out of sorts, a little agitated. I couldn't place why, and it took me a moment to recognize the soured cast of my mood for what it was.

I had been charmed by the house - in particular the screened porch and timeless views - to the point of envy. I so rarely experience envy (at least in such a palpable way, I feel fortunate to say) that my unpleasant state of mind felt unfamiliar to me and so I was surprised to identify the culprit. Envy is an emotion that I particularly detest, especially if encountered in myself.

At first I tried to ignore my feeling, or to move past it, so I resolved to concentrate on the here and now of kitchen tasks. I sliced bananas, tangerines, and apple for fruit salad, snapped woody ends off asparagus, and chopped onion, almonds, and dried apricots for couscous. I poured a glass of wine, moved around the kitchen, and kept my hands busy.

After an hour I had a lot of lovely prepared food but the dyspeptic envy persisted, within a slurry of confusing emotions. I had enjoyed meeting the owner of the house - she seemed gracious, spirited, and unfussy - charming qualities that mirrored those of the house. So if I was covetous in some way it wasn't because I felt that I wanted to take it from her, or that she shouldn't have it. On the contrary, I was glad that someone of her sensibility did. I was glad for the fact of the house, the view, and the porch, and that such a place exists at all.

I also felt guilt for being insufficiently grateful - at that particular vexed moment - for what I do have, which by many people's standards - my own included - is plenty delightful. I looked about my comfortable kitchen and at the sunroom that adjoins it. I have always taken pleasure in these spaces. They feel like home to me.

I couldn't seem to get rid of my minor torment - but I'd had enough. I tried a different strategy. I decided to swim out to it instead, to acknowledge it, confront it, own it. I had found the screened porch so enchanting, and now I felt agitated. I wanted that porch to be my own. Why did that make me feel so bad? Conversely, what did Envy want from me?

I want something and I can't have it. End of story. Or is it? I want to make the porch my own. And then I realized that I could: in my imagination, I mean.

The porch reminds me of a stage set. It could be a stage set. I thought, rather ambitiously, I'd love to write a play and scenes could be set there, at least in my head.

Lights dim, and last bit of rustling and coughing done, the audience attends the stage. I picture the opening scene. A lithe, slender woman steps soundlessly onto the porch. The evening is mild and a pale moon illumines the bare wood floor and the set of wicker furniture to one side. The woman places a pot on the floor in the middle of the room. She kneels and crumples papers and envelopes from a thick stack placed next to her on the floor. She tears them into bits and throws them in the pot. She lights a match which illumines her face for a moment. She sets the match to the papers in the pot. The scraps catch fire, burn, and light. The woman watches the charred, curling edges, transfixed.

A boy wakes in the night, comes downstairs, and steps onto the porch. He watches for a moment before asking, what are you doing? His voice is full of curiosity, sleep, and wonder. The woman raises her head and gazes at him. Burning love letters, she replies. The boy is too young to understand but old enough to be impressed. He says, Oh. The woman continues to add torn scraps to the pot. The boy stays with her, and both gaze at the glow of firelight as the papers burn...

On the Porch, circa 1948, by Fairfield Porter
The Parrish Art Museum, Southhampton, NY, Gift of the Estate of Fairfield Porter

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