One of the signature features of newish American homes is the deck—a broad sweep of wood on which one can slap mosquitoes, dodge wasps, burn slabs of animal flesh over a grill, and wreck one’s skin. From which description you may correctly deduce that I’m not a big fan of decks. <g>
When I moved into this house 13 years ago, it was in possession of a small deck that was a very nice staging area for my pots and pots of flowers. I am by no means the gardener that Jo and Pat are, but I grew up on a farm and I take deep, rather mindless pleasure in watering my flowers and pinching off the dead blossoms and generally maintaining at least a minimal connection with nature.
But in twelve years, I never, ever, actually sat on that deck. Being right by trees, it had way too many bugs, and since I’m a pasty Anglo-Saxon who hates sitting in the sun, it was too hot for most of the summer. (I have now reached the age where all that youthful sun-avoidance is paying off. Who knew that not playing the “my tan is darker than your tan” game would have such benefits? <g>)
Since the original deck was in the process of slowly falling to pieces, I spent years trying to decide what to do about it. A screened porch would be lovely—I adore sitting on a friend’s screened porch and admiring the squirrels and relaxing without bugs or sunburns. But a screened porch would eliminate my summer flowers and winter birdfeeders.
Last summer, I finally figured out how to improve and upgrade my connection to the great outdoors: make it bigger. Through pure luck, I found a fabulous remodeler who was looking for a smallish project to fill in some time, and he built me a small but beautiful screened porch with a narrow open deck extension just big enough for my flowers and birdfeeder. Plus, he installed a window in the dining room so I could see my birds and flowers. (What’s the point of flowers if you can’t see them???)
I adore my screened porch. I bought some ultra comfortable chairs and added good lighting and whenever feasible, I like to sit out there with my Dana (the slightly more sophisticated sibling of Susan Miranda’s Alphasmart) and write. Or maybe read research books after finishing the newspaper. Without much editing capacity, the Dana is great for generating first draft material because it’s a simple beast that offers no distractions. (E-mail is definitely the spawn of Satan in terms of distractions!)
The ideal is what the SO calls “Goldilocks weather”—not too hot, not too cold, but juuuuuust right. Naturally the weather doesn’t always cooperate, but with fleece throws stored in a porch cabinet and a ceiling fan, I can expand the acceptable temperature range quite a bit.
But my lovely porch is by no means free of distractions. My favorite are the rare hummingbirds who buzz by like hyperkinetic little green helicopters. Very fond they are of my red and purple flowers. Once I heard a slight sound and looked up to see a tiny goldfinch perched sideways on the screen about 18” above my head, its feathers lemon bright. Most of the other birds are what they call “common birds”—robins, sparrows, maybe a cardinal or nuthatch—but that’s okay, I’m pretty common, too, and I love watching them darting and chattering in the white pines that almost touch the porch.
The sliding door to the living room has to be kept open six inches no matter what the heat so the cats can come and go. Grady likes to sprawl on the table top, master of all he surveys. Lacey slinks out like a furry serpent, her green eyes darting in all directions as she looks for threats. They both go into a kind of holy trance when they see chipmunks, which the cats probably define as “lunch.” <g> They aren’t as interested in the squirrels, who must look too much like a fair fight.
Interestingly, since I acquired my screened porch last summer, I find that many, many people really love screened porches, but most of the time, they don’t have one. They have decks. <g> A friend said she’d love a screened porch, but screening in part of her deck wouldn’t look good, so she’ll stick with her deck, which she never uses. Me, I’ll go for comfort every time.
The writing life has its downsides, as all jobs do. Cash flow can be grim, one works in a business that defines the term “thin ice,” and one spends most of one’s time either writing, thinking about writing, or feeling guilty about not writing. <g> But there are some really major pluses, too. And one of them is being able to work on one’s porch.
Mary Jo, who actually wrote this inside on her desktop because it’s HOT out there.