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Let’s Sit in the Yard

May 18, 2008

Early one morning last week, Clare and I took a few moments to enjoy a cup of coffee on our back porch.  We were treated to an outdoor concert.

In the fresh air and sunlight of a spring day, songs of birds filled the air.  In a firethorn pyracantha at the corner of the house, a mockingbird sang a medley of at least 15 different songs, all borrowed from her feathered friends.

A nuthatch made frequent trips to a suet feeder on the other side of the porch, busily feeding her young in her nest, hidden in an oak tree.

A black-capped chickadee darted back and forth between the seed feeder and a bluebird house she has rented for the season, a place to rear her brood.

A Carolina wren perched on a blooming rose, singing her clear song and tending her nest deep inside a Confederate jasmine vine.

Our backyard is a bird sanctuary.  It is home to an amazing variety of songbirds.  Cardinals and blue jays are regular visitors.  Mourning doves flutter and coo. Tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds make occasional forays to the nectar feeders.  A pair of Eastern bluebirds has made a home in one of the cedar nesting boxes.

Zeke was a tobacco farmer in the mountains of Kentucky.  His beagle, Luther, was constantly by his side. Zeke had a backyard that featured an old Ford pickup truck propped on concrete blocks. A bare dirt path meandered to his dilapidated barn. Along the way, a small vegetable garden flourished in the sunshine. Two dozen or so free-range chickens and a covey of Guinea hens skittered to and fro.  Under a white pine tree that was oozing sap, were two oak nail kegs, turned upside down, intended for sitting.

“When things become too burdensome,” he explained, “I just sit here in the shade.  I call this white pine the tree of life.”

It was in that shady spot that Zeke rested after he had worked his garden or stripped tobacco. There he swapped stories with his neighbors.  A Mason jar of cool well water and a place in the shade beneath the tree of life became, for Zeke, a restorative.

As he put it, “This is where my tired body and my weary soul catch up with each other.”

Every backyard, rustic or refined, needs a place to perch.  Is anything more comforting than a cup of steaming coffee, savored as you sit in a rocking chair on the back porch? Is anything more refreshing than iced tea, sipped from a frosty tumbler, as you rest in a favorite chair on the patio?

Our yard features a Charleston bench tucked away in a secluded corner of the garden.  A double swing provides a place where sweethearts of any age can enjoy the transition from sunset to moonlight.

Gathering on the porch or in the yard is a Southern tradition.  We have several areas for sitting; within a grove of oak trees, beneath an arbor, or on our screened porch. Before the advent of air conditioning and television, sitting outside was relief from the accumulated stress and heat of the day.

Many yards and porches featured clusters of chairs, homemade or store-bought, arranged as an outdoor room. In pleasant weather, the outdoor room was always open and could accommodate extra guests.

Sunday was a day of rest. Sunday afternoon was a time for visiting family and friends.  Visitors were welcomed with a greeting, “Sit down and stay awhile!”

Outdoor hospitality, Southern style, should include a few amenities.  My resident hostess, Clare, keeps a basket positioned near our outdoor living area.  The basket is stocked with insect repellent and a citronella candle. A bottle of homemade bubble mixture is available for visiting children.   Several fans, the non-electric kind, some fashioned from palmetto fronds and some obtained from funeral parlors, are within easy reach.  Of course, Clare offers our guests something cold to drink.

Hospitality is not the only function of a backyard sitting area.  In a gentle rain, a shed with a tin roof becomes a musical instrument. It also provides shelter for an artist to set up an easel or sit down with a sketchpad.  A writer finds there an old table and ladder-back chair; a place to work on a laptop, crafting words in peace and quiet.  A poet kicks back in a hammock until the muse visits and thoughts become verse scribbled in a journal.  The artist, the writer, and the poet are not the only ones who need privacy.  All of us need some solitude.

The backyard can become a sanctuary, not only for the birds, but also for the weary in body, mind, and spirit.  Most of us need some time alone, to meditate, to pray, or to ponder.  Sitting outside may give us a ringside seat to a sunrise or a sunset.  We may be treated to a concert of singing birds or to the graceful ballet of hummingbirds and butterflies.

This is not a waste of time. Far from it!  It is more valuable than many of the other things we might choose to do.

Our yard is a sanctuary indeed.

Maybe Zeke put it best, “This is where my tired body and my weary soul catch up with each other.”  Wherever that spot is for you, you will almost surely find your own tree of life nearby.

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, May 2008

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