Saturday, July 14, 2012

Verandah Nothingness

Summers at my parents' house were the best.  Up until a few years ago, when I officially became an 'adult', stopped relocating to Fenelon Falls for four months, and worked through summers (which sucks big time), I used to occupy my childhood bedroom in a big victorian home built by my great great grandfather back in the late 1800's, which is blessed with a large verandah on two sides and a deck at the back.  Mature trees sprout up at all corners, and one portion of the verandah is screened in so that it can be enjoyed at all times, regardless of the numbers or size of blood-thirsty bugs that would like human for dinner.
Our house, in October, taken by Emma the year I
was in Scotland for Thanksgiving. Note the large verandah.
I would have summer jobs at home, usually as a waiter/bartender, but this just interrupted my real reason for being there:  the verandah.  All of my days off, breaks between shifts, mornings, and evenings were spent on some portion of the verandah or the deck.  Each summer the outdoor space of the house became the living space, the actual living room abandoned for cooler October days.  We didn't even watch t.v. in the summer - there's nothing good on anyway - so the family would gather on the porch, one by one, with books or nail polish or friends to watch the street and sit.  I demolished entire lazy hot afternoons in a well-padded wicker rocking chair on the porch that my dad was particularly good at falling asleep in.  I read countless books sprawled out on cushioned furniture or muskoka chairs, with iced tea sweating in the glass beside me.  My sister and I would work on our tans on the deck until we couldn't stand the heat any more, and would go to the lake to swim and cool off.  All of our meals were eaten on the verandah; morning coffee on the side porch, east-facing, was my favourite part of the day.  I would walk along the edge and inspect the garden from above. As Drew knows and constantly has to deal with, eating outdoors is one of my passions so we're constantly carting our meals to the roof.  Our rooftop patio is the thing that keeps me sane in the summer, because without outdoor space to drink coffee on in warm summer mornings I would actually lose my mind.

With the first few days of heat each summer I'm transported back to the verandah.  It was so much a part of my life in the summer that the heat is now inseparable from the lazy, relaxed torpor of porch-sitting.  I watched entire stories of the street evolve and change from my perch on the porch, catching all the gossip, watching the goings on, looking at the people from the city who parked their cars across the street.  The outdoor/indoor dichotomy was broken for one sweet season and everything inside was turned out.  Neighbours, on their porches, would chat with us across lawns, or spy on us as we were spying on them.

Emma and one of our doggies, Duchess,
sharing a hug on the porch
When I think about the verandah times and how I miss them, I realise that the thing I also miss, or maybe the thing that is the root of missing the verandah, is the time.  The time I had, hours stretching upon hot lazy hours, to do nothing.  The time was sprawling and unfilled, partly because it was too hot to go and do the things there were to do, and partly because there was nothing I wanted to do more than to sit on the porch, and there it was: empty time.  Empty time to sit, think, read, get bored, stare at neighbours, create elaborate stories about what they were doing, drink iced tea, watch the people, nap, pat the dogs, watch the sun glitter through the leaves of the trees, observe families of skunks hop through grass, count the stars, listen to coyotes, wonder about the universe and life.

I never seem to have this kind of time anymore.  I don't know why this is.  I wonder if it's because there's so much to do in a city that I want to do, that I just end up constantly doing something.  Or it could be that I end up planning more (endless planning) because friends don't just swing by to sit on the porch with me now - we meet for breakfasts or drinks or dinners or movies, but we never meet to do nothing.  To meet to do nothing in the city would be unthinkable; the first question asked would be "so what should we do?"  This question was never asked on the verandah because the answer was so clear: nothing; we should just sit here.  Which is, of course, doing something, but requires no spending of money or energy.  In fact, it conserves both, and fulfills the deep need of the spirit to rest and meditate while the brain focuses on mundane things like whether or not the neighbour's flowers were a poor choice for their garden plot.

Me and my Besties on the porch - these
girls got the verandah nothingness
I want to try to bring the verandah back into my life, with its concurrent nothing-doing-ness.  It's hard to imagine adopting the verandah lifestyle in the city because I think I'd end up just never seeing my friends, and I like my friends.  Could they adopt the verandah too?  I think some of them would really appreciate it and understand where it's coming from.  Others would be confused, so busy are they with the business of distracting themselves from the problems and tough questions of their lives that they never have a free evening.  I have been feeling for a while now that I don't have enough time anymore to do nothing, and so I'm going to bring Operation Verandah into full effect immediately.  I have some things planned for the coming week, but I'm going to see if I can keep three of my weeknights free the week after to do nothing.

To do nothing at all, but to sit on the roof, and think, dream, listen to streetcars, look at the plants, watch the neighbours' raccoon, talk with Drew, eavesdrop on street-level conversations or the couple below us, gossip about the city, meditate on the future, rest, heal, and love.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this post and the picture of your Verandah with us Katems. I can't wait to share this with my girlfriend, she loves reading blogs like this. I'm definitely going to subscribe to your blog so I can read more of your posts and stay up to date with you.

  2. that's a really nice comment! thanks Mike!