Ahh, Western North Carolina in summer: graceful blue mountains cooled by a perpetual breeze, the dappled shade of the forest, the trickle of water where a river begins, hawks soaring on invisible updrafts, and trout dashing behind their rocky shelters. As a long-time resident, I know well the charms this region holds for summer visitors. For me, year after year, it’s about the enveloping power of nature experienced on an intimate scale. The weather’s not too hot, not too cold, and perfect for hiking in the woods or sitting around a campfire on a starry night.
Therefore, even though I live in dusty, noisy, yet highly enjoyable, downtown Asheville, and might easily find more tranquility in a distant setting, I declare my vacation destination of choice for 2011 to be my front porch. And I suspect there are hundreds, if not thousands, of year-round WNC residents who oh-so-quietly rank a front porch—or back deck—at the top of their getaway list. After all, almost any view in this part of the state is guaranteed to be beautiful, and the drive is already over.
Please, don’t call it a “staycation.” That term implies that one is settling for second best—“next year we’ll take a real vacation.” No, the front porch is a vacation spot every bit as enjoyable as an extended weekend at the beach or a remote cabin, as long as it’s approached the right way.
During this mini-break, trips to the grocery store are strictly forbidden. I “pack” so that every possible requirement for nourishment and entertainment is at hand, laying in ample supplies for three or four days.
The food musts include a berry pie made from scratch and vanilla ice cream, and a few of my other favorite summertime treats, including potato salad, gazpacho, sweet corn, and watermelon.
Beverages include a little of everything in case of last-minute cravings or the arrival of company—milk to go with a slice of that berry pie, fruit juices and seltzer for mixers, lemonade, cold beer, a bottle of white wine and one of gin. Also on the list are tea bags for the sunshine brew I will make every morning when the light hits the front steps.
The porch needs to be clean, so I move the lightweight, woven chairs around, sweep behind them, and prod the dead leaves and cobwebs out of the corners. Then I wash the chairs and end tables with soapy water and hose away the suds.
And here’s a secret: I inform business contacts that I will be away from my office for a few days—perfectly true—and then I snap shut my laptop.
For recreational activities, I locate the cribbage board and make sure each deck of cards numbers 52. My favorite reading materials include any recent Sunday edition of The New York Times and a few magazines bought just for the occasion (somehow, reading a book seems like work). Now that my husband and I have acquired the best vacation companions—grandchildren—we keep sidewalk chalk, bubble soap, storybooks, and a little tea set on hand.
The shape and size of the porch matter little. Mine is an old-fashioned wraparound, covered spot that faces east and south. The close-up view is pretty—young fruit trees and berry bushes, a birdbath and flowers in the tiny yard—and the distant view of Town Mountain is superb. Once I park myself on the shady front porch, my main concern is following the sun’s lazy progress across the sky. And that takes all day, including time out for naps.
Gradually, the city noise dies away. The rumbling trucks and the neighbors’ radios, the faraway sirens, and the horns, clangs, and shouts all fade into a dull white hiss, and then merely an undertone. One by one the sounds of nature emerge, and I’m on vacation.