“Sitting on your front porch connects you in a simple yet profound way to your neighbourhood community.”
I’m writing this in the last full month of summer. By the time it makes it to print, we will be eating this year’s crop of apples, the maple trees will be hunting in the root cellar for the paint cans, and the back-to-school displays will be picked over like a salad bar at closing time.
Summer always goes by too fast on my calendar. I have a respectable tan on my arms and face to remember it by (a run-in with basal cell carcinoma finally convinced me of the need for sunscreen). And the following ruminations have sprouted in my brain over the summer. They may or may not be ripe enough for consumption, but I need the space they’re taking up. So here are some summer pickings.
Our house sits on a quarter acre of land. We’d have just enough room to graze a goat if the city bylaws allowed it. Our yards, front and back, have hosted lots of life over the span of 34 years. The spacious backyard has been home to skating rinks, horseshoe pits, sandboxes, a yellow lab named Luci, vegetable gardens, flower gardens, and even a couple of weddings. A porch swing sits on the flagstone patio, shaded by a well-aged lilac bush. An American linden tree stands sentry over the back section of the yard and holds up one end of my hammock. Off the back of the house is a deck, one half of which is under the lacy canopy of a sunburst honey locust tree. The upper level supports a pergola that is being gradually entwined with bittersweet vine.
Sound inviting? It is. Our backyard has been a haven for us for many years.
But this summer we’ve been front porch people. Aside from the obvious matter of location, I’ve noticed some distinct differences between the backyard with its deck and the front yard porch. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
You see your neighbours when you sit on your front porch. It can be as simple as a wave across the street when they pull into their lane. Some waves turn into short, shouted conversations carried on between passing cars. You meet the neighbourhood dog owners because dogs like to walk their owners. If you’re lucky enough to have a tree out by the sidewalk, as we do, you can even learn the dog’s name and breed. When you sit on your front porch, a passing neighbour can cross the lawn, put a foot up on the first step, lean on the railing, and have a chat. I’m currently in the market for two more porch chairs so I can invite them up to sit a spell.
Unless a person knows you well or has a reason to hunt you down, they normally won’t venture into your backyard space. Front porches, on the other hand, are an invitation for social interaction with any and all passersby. Sitting on your front porch connects you in a simple yet profound way to your neighbourhood community. I highly recommend you give it a try. If you don’t have one on your house, drop by next summer and give mine a try. By then I’ll have an extra chair for you to sit in.
Sometimes I Just Need to Go Fishing
I know I’ve mentioned it before, maybe more than once, but I live one narrow block away from the river that runs through the heart of our city. Better yet, I have a friend whose house rests on the banks of that river. Best yet, he has a dock where he lets me tie up my 14-foot aluminium fishing boat. So if the mood hits and my schedule is clear¾or if the mood hits and I clear my schedule¾I can be out my front door and fishing in a matter of minutes. I try to make that happen at least twice a week during bass season.
In his book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Henry David Thoreau says of an old fisherman he met:“His fishing was not a sport, nor solely a means of subsistence, but a sort of solemn sacrament and withdrawal from the world, just as the aged read their Bibles.”When I read that description, I smiled. Thoreau named it for me, this connection I’ve struggled to explain to non-fishing persons. His description also brought to mind a Bible story.
If I were pushed to choose one narrative from Scripture and call it my favourite, it would be the story with which John closes out his Gospel. I have sat with this story so often it feels more like a memory than a piece of ancient history. It’s the opening lines of dialogue that came to mind when I read Thoreau’s words.
“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter says to six of his friends. “We’ll go with you,” they answer, with no apparent hesitation, and the next thing we’re told is that they’re in the boat and fishing (John 21:3). Now, I’ve heard preachers be critical of Peter and the boys, suggesting they were trying to go back to their old life. I’m more of the mind that they just needed to go fishing.
Last week the phone rang, and the voice on the line was heavy with news that added hurt to my heart. I say “added hurt” because my heart was already bruised by the weight of two other hard stories I’d heard that day—stories of friends going through deep, deep waters. When I said to my wife, “I need to go fishing,” she responded with a gentle smile and a knowing look. It’s one of the reasons I love her so much. She knows there are times when I just need to go fishing.
. Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (New York: Penguin Classics, 1998), 22.
This article appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.