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The front porch: Self-isolating in the springtime

As far as self-isolation goes, there’s no better place to practice it than a front porch in springtime. The few I frequent have had more use in the past couple of weeks than all four seasons combined.

With proper spacing, a porch has allowed me to stay connected to my 88-year-old parents. They sit in rockers at one end, while I swing down at the other. That’s because they’ve been sheltering in place (with everyone else out of their place) for a while now. Long enough for the azaleas off to the left to burst into fuchsia glory and the wild dogwood along the creek to turn white. Long enough for the yellow jasmine to fade away along with March. 

Sometimes when I’m making porch drops, my dad forgets. He wants to hustle me and their lasagna through the front door before the moths circling the porch light kamikaze into their den. Instead, we do a 3-steps-forward, 3-steps-back distance dance, with Mom standing in the shadows, making jokes about “breaking out of this joint.”

On sunny afternoons, I bring them news from the world beyond, then we FaceTime descendants whose loudest attempts cannot compensate for failing hearing aids. Dad sips his sweet tea. Mom points out her blooming calla lily and a set of windchimes my brother gave her. It’s almost like a scene from Mayberry, only Andy isn’t strumming his guitar, and Aunt Bea isn’t snapping beans. 

And maybe it is a scene, because a porch is as much a notion as a location. Just saying the word can prove relaxing.

We’ll be out on the porch.

Come sit a spell on the porch. 

I’ll leave the porch light on.

So we prune its borders and sweep its stage. Pair the rockers. Water the ferns. Paint the swing and plump its pillows. 

Ah, the front porch.

My own looks out on a stand of pines and a gravel driveway that’s seen its share of taillights go their own way. We’ve watched an eclipse from under the eaves, as well as a shooting star or two. One dry June I made myself stop being a Martha long enough to wonder over a gutter gushing with thunderstorms. Sometimes wildlife surprises and we stand on a corner, still, and send a video to that hunter firstborn of ours.

Last week I found my husband on the front porch rocking and sipping coffee. He was wearing Saturday morning on his face, relaxed to the core.   

“Just missed it,” he stated.

“It?” I asked.

For the past 15 minutes, he’d been watching a gray fox dig at something in the ground. Just watching. Enjoying.

Urban sprawl means most folks won’t see gray foxes from their porches, but the old ways are spilling into the modern world. A couple of years ago, I interviewed a lady who landed Instagram insta-fame by posting photos of her front porch swing. It was a custom-constructed beauty made from an antique door and hung by 3-inch thick twisted manilla rope. Almost overnight, she gained 100,000 followers. Fans from Italy to Brazil asked questions about the swing.

“They don’t know the Southern way,” she told me. “They’re fascinated by our porches and the views.”   

Still, average housing developments these days are more likely to features homes with garages than porches. Even when a porch does come along with a mortgage, the climate-controlled, TV-centric family room is a hard competitor. Sitting on a porch has become an intentional act. 

Or a “porchtrait” opportunity.

In the wake of COVID-19, a pair of photographers launched The Front Steps Project. Every day, they travel from home to home in Needham, Massachusetts, to photograph families on their front steps. Some homeowners wear matching pajamas, others sport their favorite hockey jerseys. Many hug their family pet or pose with props that represent their work.

The photos are fun to look at, but they represent something larger. The Front Steps Project is an effort to document this unprecedented moment in history we’re all living through.

So now more than ever, a porch is something besides a covered entry. It’s a safe-distance connection to the world. But you don’t even have to possess one to have a porch state of mind. Just pull out some lawn chairs. Wave to the mailman. Call out to your neighbor.

Come sit a spell.    

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.