FROM WHERE I SIT
By MICHAEL PERKINS
SMALL TOWNS ACROSS AMERICA STILL PRACTICE a way of observing life that many of us have more or less abandoned, the idea of our homes as reviewing stands for humanity’s passing parade. Porches, as we built them in our smaller, slower days, were more than mere entrances into our homes: they were places to visit, observe, and comment. The wraparound verandas and shaded repose that we designed into our houses were like a buffer layer between the raw world out there and the warm world beyond our thresholds. Porches, in the days before the stubby stoops and short step-ups we feature today, were for something.
Visit someplace that has been lucky enough to survive the transition from village life to city life and you will find these places still personalized and painted, still decked with mini-gardens, flags, and seasonal decor, still serving as a distinct middle world between inside and outside. The idea of the street as a kind of low-impact entertainment, with neighbors and newcomers alike filing past, some to be actively engaged with, some just serving as moving scenery, has a slow, simple appeal in an age dominated by screens, scrolling and infinite entertainment options. But you have to pause, and breathe, and be patient to get the full effect.
It’s worth lingering over, and that is why, in visiting small towns, the very first place I go is the main residential boulevard. That’s where the action is. The sad fact is that we are often moving too quickly to see that action. It’s like trying to train yourself to observe the movement of the hands of a watch. Getting yourself aligned with the steady but imperceptible pace of the timepiece takes practice, and learning to see the gradual reveal of a house’s heart by first taking the measure of its porch is a habit that we have long since lost the natural knack for. But there is a reward in it, and there are pictures in it, and therefore it is worth doing.
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