Sunday, January 20, 2008


The simplicity of resting—
there is much profoundness in that.

~Khandro Rinpoche

The Southern porch. There is such a marvel as the Southern porch. Most homes in other parts of the country only hint at the idea. Call it the stoop, the front steps, or the entryway, but don’t call it a porch until you’ve spent time down South. Southerners believe in the genteel architecture of the porch. Their homes are built around this institution. The Southern porch is more than just the outer part of a building attached to the front or back of a person’s home and its also a whole lot more than merely a place to wipe your feet and shake hands. That concept belongs to busy, city dwelling Northerners. The Southern porch is people, family and friends gathered round to enjoy lazy summer nights, slapping skeeters, listening to music and just letting the evening slide by. I might be making more of it than I should. There’s a lovely attitude among my Southern friends that seems to say, “Boy, don’t go and ruin the thing by over analyzin’ it. Jest sit down on the porch swing, watch them lightnin’ bugs do their little dance. I’ll be inside fixin’ us somethin’ cold to drink. Holler if you need anything.” With sweetened ice tea in hand, ice cubes clinking in the quiet evening, we sit there on the porch, listening to crickets and cicadas, take in a thunder and lightning show if one happens along, and soak in the cooling grace of the evening.

After six years of life in the South, we returned to the Pacific Northwest. We don’t have porches up where I come from. We have cedar decks. Our homes are made of wood because we live in the land of big timber. Why do we build roofless cedar decks in a rainy climate? It may be that we’re descendants of pioneers who came over the wide prairies, over the Rockies, down the mighty Columbia River and settled here 150 years ago or so. Our ancestors built log cabins with their own sweat, fashioning a new way of life for themselves without anyone telling them they couldn’t. That rugged pioneer spirit is still hanging around. A little rain seldom dampens the spirit of someone born and bred in the Pacific Northwest. As the Patagonia ad tells us, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing’. We believe it. So we build cedar decks. We light up the grill, invite over some friends and settle down on our cedar deck and enjoy sitting around on our decks doing as little as possible. Cedar decks have nothing to do with doing. They’re a place to be. In the Northwest, we love nothing more than to settle into a deck chair on a sunny summer evening and spend some time with friends. We like to hear the raspy call of the Stellar Jay, smell the pungent scent of the evergreen trees overhead, feel the texture of cedar boards under our feet, and experience the warmth of the summer sun mixing with the cool air coming off the Pacific. Like Southern porches, a cedar deck is a soul place, a place of returning and rest.

These resting places come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. We all have them: places where we go to care for our soul. We are often alone in such a place. Solitude seems to encourage such interior gardening. It doesn’t seem to matter if the place is next to a building or outside alongside a lake, under the canopy of the stars. Some are formal, some informal. They can be full of sensory delight or stripped of all sound and sight. What matters most is what happens there or perhaps more importantly, what does not happen there. In such places our souls are watered like thirsty gardens on a summer day. We cease striving and begin anew to bask and luxuriate like a cat sleeping in the sun. We stop and listen like a robin on a dew drenched lawn in early spring. Once you’ve traveled to such a soul place to drink water from that well of life, you want to return again and again. It is easy to forget to take time to get away, yet you find your imagination sneaking off on a daydream holiday to such a place while surrounded by the mundane tasks of daily living.

I suppose every culture and region has such a place, a place outdoors to go and do nothing. Balconies, lanais, gazebos, patios, verandas filled with Adirondack chairs. They all came from that same place within the human spirit, the place of doing nothing, the place of the soul, the place of grace.

1. Khandro Rinpoche, as quoted in Joyce Rupp, Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), 51.

1 comment:

Variations On A Theme said...

Such a lovely post. Sometimes my porch or deck is underwater. Swimming in the mornings brings me back to depth and solitude. I'm loving Thomas' photos.