There are a few aspects of southern style that have found a soft spot in my Yankee heart. Gradually, my once-standard northerner group greeting “Hey you guys!” has been replaced with the more genteel “All y’all…” Then, there is the perfectly drawled, “Bless your heart” which, properly delivered, can be saccharine sweet and sarcastically biting all in one breath. I have learned to appreciate that I must order my tea “unsweetened” deliberately, with a touch of apology. I need not apologize for my love of magnolia trees, nor for the beauty of wild growing wisteria that has wound around my heart. But, one less spoken of…yet delightful…aspect of traditional southern living is the sleeping porch. Even as I type, I am enjoying its ambiance.
I was raised in a climate where winter extended from October through April. Porches were only in front, or on the side, and I hoped it would get warm enough to sit on the porch for months at a time. Living in Buffalo, there was little need for central air conditioning, and my version of a “window unit” was a double-faced window fan that could circulate cool air on a warm night. I might have called those Buffalo nights “hot” at one point in my life. Bless my heart….
Here in Virginia, the climate is moderate and pleasant, except when it isn’t. When it isn’t, it can feel like a wall of heat has engulfed the region. More specifically, I feel like a potato stuck in an oven set on “roast.”. We moved here several years ago in July, just in time for a record-breaking string of days above 100F. Great timing. We had two window units, and no central air. The daytime was brutal, and the night wasn’t much better. Until, that is, we discovered why the tiny spare bedroom upstairs had an outdoor porch that extended the length of the house. Before there was air conditioning, there was the sleeping porch. In Virginia, it has year-round use.
Our house (and its porch) pre-dated air conditioning. A mixture of cheapness, stubbornness, and a desire to keep a low carbon footprint has kept us from installing central A/C. We have small units for a few specific rooms, and otherwise we live like earlier generations of residents. We have learned to love the night air, most especially on the upper back porch. We have porch blankets for cooler nights, the ceiling fan cranked for hotter nights, and many enjoyed just sitting exactly as it is.
I am in awe of the brilliance of an elevated porch where breezes can circulate. We added soft mesh curtains to keep the sun from heating up the brick exterior of the house; we installed a ceiling fan, bought a double chaise lounge, and scattered candles to softly light the night air. We declared this the grown-up porch and created a space where no toys dared to tread. Even now, only boring grown-up music plays up here, and no streaming netflix videos are allowed. I have sat on this porch in the rain, even a few times in the snow. I have felt the luminous moon casting light over my shoulder, and watched the breeze blow the tree limbs as it wraps around my own body, as if in familiar greeting. The sleeping porch is a sanctuary of calmness, and a place where night air soothes the work-day soul.
Tonight, I pause to breathe the night air….
It is delightfully cool for mid-September. A blanket throw covers my toes and Mary Chapin Carpenter plays on the soundtrack of this evening. Candles glow and flicker. I wonder how many nights were spent in this place, sheltered not quite beneath the stars but seemingly within their reach. My spouse drifts off on the other side of the chaise lounge, in the midst of music and coolness. The glow of my iPad is the only other light and soon, I will close its cover and enjoy the flicker of candles and stars in the night air. Like many nights, this will be the place for my night prayers, the time when my conscious thoughts take rest, and open the doorway to dreams from within and wisdom beyond. The words of compline will find me in this space, elevated between earth and sky.
Night air and night prayer…small points of light in the vastness that surrounds and enfolds me.
My heart, indeed, is blessed.
Sleep, O sleep in the calm of each calm.
Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of all guidance.
Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves.
Sleep, O beloved, in the Lord of life.
Sleep, O beloved, in the God of life.
(Excerpt from Compline, http://www.northumbriacommunity.org)