As many of you undoubtedly know, I am a card-carrying citizen of my front porch. In the morning, it’s where I sniff the breeze and take that all-important first sip of coffee which is likely to define the day. At cocktail hour, it’s the place I go to relax and review the events of that same day. Before bed, it might be the appropriate venue for a wee dram or a shadowed space to just enjoy the peaceful stillness of a small town evening.
But rarely is my time on the porch solitary. A car drives by and a friend waves. Or maybe I’m joined on the porch by a neighbor out walking his dog who decides to stop for a chat—the manna of life in a town like ours. Or maybe it’s a first-time visitor to town who strolls by, fresh off her boat moored down in our new marina who stops to inquire about shopping possibilities or a place to get a bite to eat. This is the moment my wife likes to hop off her swing, gracefully taking it upon herself to be the town’s Welcome Center and Chamber of Commerce, all rolled into one tiny ball of blond energy. The nice folk she meets this way always seem to be charmed by this place—its atmosphere and amenities, its friendliness, its quaint quirkiness.
Honestly, I like the interaction of porch and street. The truth is that we’re strategically positioned: the Wine and Cheese Shop is directly across the street and we are often the beneficiaries of its custom. I wouldn’t trade our location for another, even though the porch has been known to attract a crowd morning, noon, or night, especially on a First Friday. Amid such a throng, I can take the pulse of the town without moving off my rocker, although I’m often accused of being just the opposite.
There is a rotating range of topics that gets covered on the front porch: the never-ending saga of the hospital; the new marina; the state of the menu at 98 Cannon; the town’s bandwidth—or lack thereof; town-gown relations. Is Zelda’s ever going to open? What in-the-hell is the Eastern Shore Food Lab anyway? And, by the way, what is going on behind the duck blind that’s now in front of what used to be Stam’s Drug Store? Ah, the highs and lows and mysteries of small town living.
But, as much as I like the porch, I will admit to you now that there are times when I crave some privacy, some peace and quiet, a hushed space away from the hurly-burly of the street. Fortunately, when that moment comes knocking on my front door, I have only to retreat to the backyard where, in the comfort of my linen-rope hammock, I can admire the lilies and hydrangea of this spectacular summer. Lately, I’ve been joined in my retreat by a young rabbit that seems to have adopted us recently and by a tiny hummingbird that doesn’t seem at all embarrassed to be sipping the blossoms of our garden labor. These intruders don’t bother me in the slightest: they’re entertaining, polite, quiet. They don’t seem to mind me any more than I mind them. Plus, other than a carrot or two or some sugar-water, they’re not eating and drinking me out of house and home like my porch people. (OK; that’s over the top. By now, you all know I’m happy to replenish my stock anytime. After all, I only have to walk across the street!)
But here’s something to consider: we all have our public facades and our private spaces. Sometimes we are the people we want others to see and sometimes we just want to retreat into ourselves and drift away. There is that yin and yang in each of us, a personable front porch dweller as well as a seeker of solitude in the peaceful oasis out back. To truly enjoy the one, we need the other.
You all agree, don’t you? If not, we can talk about it on the porch sometime.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com