SouthWords

The In-Between Place

Our spirits swing softly on the porch

 

By Katherine Smith

It’s the first porch I’ve had since my parents sold the century-old Pinebluff bed-and-breakfast where our seven-person family grew up. Compared to that stately porch, complete with a swing, white columns and a hardwood floor painted eggshell blue every few years by my mother, my little porch isn’t much. Four-by-eight feet perched on cinderblocks, it swells in the humidity so my door sticks and stays open all day.

What is it about calling a few extra feet of raised platform your own? Where you roll out a rag rug and sit cross-legged under the eaves, listening to the rain? Where you’re home, but out of reach, a closed screen door between you and the phone, the laundry, and keeping things too tidy? The steps are perfect for practicing chords on the guitalele. The railing is perfect for the dreaming cat. Porches are the archetypes of observation, story, and song. Our spirits reach out, a little keener to embrace, when our bodies find themselves in certain home places — kitchens, gardens, porches.

In Alaska, where heavy freezes conflict with porches, I’d forgotten how much I’d missed them, especially this time of year. Now, most weekends, my car is the only one left in the driveway of the school I’m attending in the North Carolina mountains. I’m usually here on my porch, reading, looking and listening.

These Indian summer days are gauzy, beguiling. Like a good front porch, September is a place of in-betweens, and the nostalgia for those things that flee too quickly. The pear and fig trees in my Memaw’s yard are heavy with fruit. Wasps still hum for the mid-afternoon heat and the juice. But when I turn my head for just a moment, an apple-red crispness or oak leaf musk catches me, setting a chord quivering from my heart to the soles of my feet. Colder days are coming.

Summer is buttressed by non-summer. We live in the soft imprint of relinquishing and anticipating. The fireflies, bullfrogs and locusts quiet down; the poison ivy gives its bright red self away. Children turn pecan shells into tea sets; blankets into caves. We pull the kale and spinach from the garden and sow a fall crop. Dig our corduroys and sweaters from the attic, stumbling across an old box of photos and handmade ornaments, soon for the tree. Something about September, its color and feeling, grounds our hearts in the plain things, the old memories.

Like banjos, guitars and washboard basses gathered on porches for jam sessions in the country. Homemade ice cream and the laps of laughing aunts swinging beachward on a screen porch within earshot of the ocean. Spinning wind chimes and seconds counted between thunder and lightning so many evenings on the front porch of a childhood home. One-Mississippi; two-Mississippi; three.

While summer slows us out of necessity and we move to the pace of its heat, in September we slow a bit more intentionally. Losing the light day by day, minute by minute wraps us in a certain prolonging. The last of the fireflies; the first day of school. The last of the heat lightning; the first harvest moon. From the porch, the literal place between worlds, we revisit these moments that make us, ever reshaping.  PS

Katherine Smith is a wild-prone witness who grew up swinging from ivy vines and hunting water lilies in Pinebluff, North Carolina. She has returned to her home state to study clinical herbalism at the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine in Lowgap, calling Ireland and Alaska home in the interim.

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