Contentment about having summertime veranda attitude

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 5, 2009

The other day a few of us were doing one of our favourite summertime things. We were chatting with each other over our morning brew while sitting on the wonderful handmade bench just outside the front door of Cochrane Coffee Traders, saying hi to all who walked by, scratching behind the ears of a friendly dog that joined us for a moment, and reflecting on what a great community we live in.

And all this happened while we were occupying a distinguishing feature of this part of old town Cochrane – a veranda.

Actually, at first we couldn’t decide among ourselves for certain whether we should refer to this wonderful space as a veranda or something else – a porch or a deck, for instance. But whatever it was called, we knew it was a special place where the heart could feel at home and we could rest from life’s cares for a few moments – a place where we had licence to do nothing, if we so chose.

Such architectural spaces are not recent innovations, of course. Two millennia ago Roman homes had peristyles, walking and conversing spaces bordered by columns and often surrounding a courtyard, very similar in layout to the multi-angular veranda along Rustic Market Square, across the street from Coffee Traders.

Words to describe these comfortable outdoor areas attached to homes and other structures vary according to subtle details: both porches and verandas, for example, are roofed outdoor spaces structurally tied to the building, but whereas the term “porch” relates closely to the entrance, “veranda” suggests a more elaborate porch-like structure, often extending along more than one side of the building, frequently bordered by waist-high railings, and having columns supporting the roof.

Decks are quite a different matter. Whereas porches and verandas are more formally part of the building proper, decks are more informal, often after-thought add-ons, and typically lacking a roof.

The same lexical field also includes terms like portico, colonnade, gallery, pergola, loggia, arcade, lanai, balcony, rooftop deck, and patio, each with its distinctive features but sharing in common the idea of (usually) leisurely space with outdoor exposure. Regional dialect differences, however, sometimes result in two or more words having the same meaning.

Where my wife grew up down east, for instance, what her grandparents referred to as their porch would most likely be termed a veranda here in Cochrane.

Regardless of the exact term, both my wife and I associate porch/veranda with warm friendliness, a place from which we could enjoy the surrounding world.

It is true, of course, that decks and patios share in this spirit of enjoyment, but whereas porches/verandas tend to be more of a formal – and public – front-of-house feature, decks and patios are associated more with informal – and private – backyard life.

An email just in from Edmonton coffee companion Barbara Stevens illustrates this. From her contemplative place on her deck she wrote:

“We have a little squirrel who likes to sit in the petunias of the planter nearest the feeder. He has a little hidey-hole there. I found that out last night when I went out to dead head and we both scared each other. I sat down on the lounge and he soon came back to feed and chill out. I talked to him so that he can get used to my being around and I told him that we have to share the deck – and flowers. Good thing none of the neighbours were outside.”

Verandas and their kin are especially welcoming on warm, sunny days, such as we had for the past couple of weeks. By the time you read this column, however, you will already know that all that warm sunshine turned quickly into a cool and very windy rainstorm.

Which reminds me of a story older than my white beard:

A certain farmer was just about to celebrate his one-hundredth birthday. A newspaper reporter drove out to his farm to interview him. When she arrived, she found him on the veranda rocking away in his comfortable old rocking chair.

“Tell me, sir, what’s the secret to your long life?” she asked, expecting an answer to do with hard work and clean living.

Instead the farmer rocked casually a few more times in his chair on the veranda and said: “Young lady, I decided a long time ago that if it wanted to rain, I’d let it.”

Well, there you have it, folks: testimony to the therapeutic value of having a summertime veranda attitude. I’ll close with apologies to Nat King Cole for paraphrasing his famous song from back in the 1960s:

“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, those days on verandas with friends and good cheer. Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. You’ll wish that summer could always be here.”

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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