Yesterday was the perfect summer’s day. Bright sunshine, cooling breezes, and a sky adorned in the most glorious shade of blue. Here in the Shenandoah Valley, our mid-Atlantic weather can turn quite hot and very humid at this time of year, so this was a special treat for me.
It hearkened to the summers of my youth, deep in the forests of New York’s Catskill Mountains. To those languid days beneath towering trees in dappled sunshine, all alone, and quite content to spend hours stone-hopping up and down crystal clear, ice cold brooks, making Indian paint, and searching for salamanders or crayfish. The air was most often dry and crisp under a bright sun that sparkled across an expanse of violet-blue sky, interrupted only by white puffball clouds floating on a current of cool winds.
Days like this always make me a little homesick for those ancient hills. It’s like Appalachia is calling me home, lest I forget the magic, the connection we shared for so many years.
I soon became lost in the pleasure of the day. I am long since a child and there are no babbling brooks here, but my covered front porch is a paradise all in its self.
I lay on my porch swing for hours in joyful observation of the world around me. My husband, Doug, sat beside me in companionable silence, pushing my swing in such comfortable rhythm that I felt like a babe in its cradle, being rocked gently to sleep.
Our peace was so perfect, our pleasure so complete, I started thinking of other bygone days, when this was the norm for Sunday afternoons and after dinner at eventide. Once upon a time, people who lived in small towns and rural areas all across America spent a lot of time on their front porches.
I thought about the shows of my youth – very unlike the sitcoms of today – that showcased quite a different life-style. In particular – I remembered Mayberry and Sheriff Taylor (Andy Griffith) on his covered front porch. There was many an episode that featured a restful summer evening, with Andy quietly strumming a guitar, Aunt Bea knitting or reading, and Opie playing with toys at their feet. They would occasionally talk, or discuss things on their mind, but most often they sat in quietude, enjoying each other’s company against the backdrop of cool, evening breezes.
Of course those were also the days before the existence of central air, and I’m sure that summer evenings on the front porch was a cool respite from the stuffy heat of the day. But it begs the question.
Has progress really improved our lives?
Well, yes! But I believe we’ve also lost some important things along the way. In essence, we’ve thrown “the baby out with the bath water”.
I pictured scenes from stories about the deep South and wide covered porches – or verandas – peopled with families and friends, cloth covered tables laden with delectable treats and pitchers of iced lemonade, children playing underfoot, and grandpa reading the paper or whittling a new toy for his favorite grandson.
A romantic notion, perhaps. But even the poor enjoyed front porch time with music, refreshment, or just relaxation in a favorite rocking chair.
Science and technology have definitely enriched our lives, ten-fold. We can all be thankful for the prosperous and luxurious lives we lead – in comparison to even that of our grand parents. But we should be mindful to not lose the lessons from our past, by judging them with modern eyes.
I propose that we keep the best from both. Modern conveniences – but shared family obligation. Information and social media – tempered with quiet time for reflection and chatting with the neighbors.
Could – Should – Would …
I know how easy it is to let our 21st century blinders slip into place. We’re all so busy. The world has become a small place yet we seem to be lost in the crowd, assaulted with information from every angle until we can’t hear our own thoughts.
This is the insight I received while I observed the birds, and white clouds drifting in a sea of blue. Perhaps I have the advantages of reaching middle age in comparative comfort, which allows me the luxury of time for such contemplation and rediscovery.
All I can say is this.
If you have the means and a porch of any kind, a shady tree, or even a garden bench – then it’s worth your time to just sit and do nothing. Watch the clouds, the birds, the wind teasing treetops. Our ancestors, for whatever reasons, knew this simple joy. Why shouldn’t we?