I am repainting my porch. It is currently in utter chaos. Before the beautification can begin, decades worth of paint has to be removed.
This is not an easy project, but one I chose to get myself through the last month of quarantining. I have been watching with envy as my parents, older friends, friends who are teachers or health care workers have all gotten their COVID vaccination.
A sense of normalcy is so close.
I have about a month left before I am eligible. I am hoping that when I am finally vaccinated, I will feel as though I have made it through one of the most disruptive and transformative periods in recent history.
Hopefully, I will do so unscathed.
Chaos, Closing In
The porch is also my way of avoiding the chaos I have felt closing in on me within my house. After being stuck at home for a year, I am intricately familiar with every single thing that needs to be done to my 100-year-old house. Every. Single. Thing.
I will spare you the entire list of projects that I have created for myself. Painting the porch is a great way to escape the chaos inside, while listening and watching as Spring emerges. So, it has been an extra bonus that I have been unexpectedly transported to an otherworldly place while working on this porch.
Peeling Back the Layers
I am using a heat gun to aid in the scraping of the paint, which is thick with layers that no one has scraped in years. When I started on the slats that are part of the front railing, I noticed a distinct smell begin to emerge.
As I held my paint gun in one hand, scraping with the other… I would get a whiff of what smelled like a pine forest. Pine sap was oozing out of the wood. This would not be happening if the wood was new. But this wood has probably been on this porch for over 50 years.
Untreated wood is just naked wood, taken from a tree, and cut up into boards. No chemicals, no pressure treatment. Just pine wood from a pine forest. And that pine forest on my porch is now wafting its beautiful aroma in my face, as the heat gun draws out the wood sap.
The smell is serendipitous. A few days before I discovered the magic of the pine smell on my porch, I had gone to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
This is an otherworldly place.
The refuge is tucked within the tidal marshes on the Eastern shore of Maryland, where migrating birds stop in Spring on their way northward. Herons, bald eagles, woodpeckers, owls, and a slew of other wildlife abound.
And, it is surrounded by loblolly pines.
These tall, majestic trees can grow to be over 100 feet tall and live for over 200 years. They tower over the marshland. They are also the preferred nesting place for bald eagles. Early colonists boiled loblolly pine resin to make tar, which was used to preserve wooden boats.
I’d like to think that my porch railings may be made of loblolly pine, though I’m not really sure.
While at Blackwater, I scanned the marshland. The so-called “ghost forests” were evident. Rising sea levels have claimed what once was marsh and forested land. The water is taking the loblollies.
They emerge from the water like lost soldiers, their limbs long gone. Only their long bleak trunks remain.
There was a feeling in the air of organized chaos, not unlike the currents of the ocean, cloud patterns, or a flock of birds. These trees were en mass, being reclaimed by the sea.
Beautification is So Close
As my porch scraping continues and spring unfolds around me, I contemplate the beauty and fragility of nature. And the appreciation we seem to gain of the things (nature, community, dining in restaurants, youth) when we realize they are slipping from our grasp.
I hope to save this porch wood from having to be replaced, at least a little while longer.
As I continue to peel back the layers of time, I am beginning to imagine my porch as a great ship, made of loblolly pine. Sealed and weatherized by its own sap. Once painted, maybe I will sail away on it, watching as summer moves closer towards me, bringing thunderstorms, cicadas, and other organized chaos.
We just got our first “snow” of the season. I put snow in quotation marks because D.C. has not seen any real accumulation of the white stuff in a few years.
What fell from the sky was freezing rain, and a few flakes. The grass was covered for less than 24 hours, before it began to melt. Typical for this region. Winter in the Mid Atlantic always leaves me slightly disappointed. I grew up in New England, where winter could be long and cold.
It usually involved a lot of snow.
I have vivid memories of being in elementary school and walking out into the hallway and seeing the giant steam radiators covered with wool mittens, hats, scarves and the occasional snow suit. Wet snow made for soggy mittens. Dry snow was perfect for skiing.
Probably not as well versed as the Inuit who have multiple words for snow, but New Englanders know their snow.
The flip side of winter was the cold. There were many days when the best thing to do was to shove yourself as close to the wood stove as possible, look out the window at the snow falling, while sipping hot cocoa.
Warmth is essential to surviving long, cold winters.
Feelin’ The Bern
Which brings me to Bernie Sanders.
Bernie is no fool. He may be mocked for wearing mittens to Biden’s inauguration, but anyone who has lived in New England knows that mittens are essential. I’m guessing he was the only one on that stage with warm hands.
How admirable, for flipping the bird to fashion and formality and going with what worked for him.
Bernie, just being Bernie.
I’m not saying wear your underwear on the outside of your pants, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be a little more free to express our authenticity?
COVID has isolated us in many ways, but it has worked to peel back some layers to reveal everyone’s inner Bernie.
More of us are using Zoom to interact with co-workers. We get to see the inside of homes, hear pets and toddlers in the background, and peer into inner worlds never before seen.
When I turn on the local news, I now get to see the inside (and the neighborhood, and the back yard, and bbq area) of my local weather man’s home. His dog Fluffy frequently makes it on camera and he often yells out to his wife or daughter to see what’s for dinner or who’s home.
Seeing each other this way —with more depth and flavor— helps us understand and appreciate each other in new ways. It may even help us tolerate people we once considered enemies.
Call me crazy, but I think we could all use a little bit more of that right now.
Looking at the world from above the fray. Houkje writes about following her intuition, observerations on the magic of the natural world, and navigating creativity and chaos in an uncertain world.
Like what I'm writing about? Keep me inspired and buy me a coffee.