The Working Waterfront

Farming from the porch

The view is a kind of ‘deep reality’

Sandy Oliver
Posted 2022-09-26
Last Modified 2022-09-26

Take a bucket of shell peas you’ve just picked and a basket to heave the pods into, and a bowl to collect the little green wonders, then go sit on the porch where it is cool and shady and shell them all out, eating some as a snack, and anticipating simmered peas with butter, salt, and pepper.

It might be that at supper time, you’ll take the peas on your plate back to the porch to eat them, because in summer the porch, besides being a kind of kitchen annex, is also a bit of dining room, a place to have drinks with friends, and a nature observatory, too.

The porch is a good reason to grow shelling peas. The rise of snap peas, which are delightful in their own way, has overshadowed the pleasure of slowing down, sitting quietly out of the sun, and doing something useful. While some folks meditate, I shell peas, or pluck berries from stems, or hull strawberries, or snap green beans for freezing, and I do it on the porch while monarchs flutter and swoop among the milk weeds in the front and side yards, making visible unfelt drafts of air.

Meanwhile, beyond the porch, nature does pretty much whatever she wants without me…

It’s a blessing to have milkweed which doesn’t grow just anywhere; it likes certain soils, and we have its favorite kind, thank goodness. The blackberries also like it, and a huge patch has grown up in front of the house shielding the porch from the road, and making a kind of privacy screen. This is its third summer and lots of berries have set; if they ripen and the birds don’t get them all, we might keep the patch which definitely rerouted the deer who used to cross the yard diagonally and take a nibble from the cedar tree at the driveway’s edge, before they crossed over the road.

From the porch I can watch progress on four apple trees. The old crab in front is a biennial and this isn’t an apple year for it. Last year it yielded basketsful of apples which in turn yielded chutney, jelly, and homemade pectin. I probably should have pruned the Baldwin planted in ’91, which is setting a fair amount of fruit. I’ll refresh myself on apple-thinning with a squint at YouTube videos.

A Black Oxford, observable from the porch at the side of the house, gave me sufficient fruit last year for a single-tree pie, its first, hugely thrilling. It, too, needs thinning, and this might be a two-pie year! On the very edge of the cleared yard another very old apple, another biennial—one of the very common early yellow ones with pink freckles—shows fruit this year.

For now the porch, whose roof is held up with Italianate-style square posts embellished with enough molding to keep them from being starkly plain, and whose ceiling is painted sky blue, is lined with rocking chairs. I rescue chairs the way some people rescue dogs. Reglued, reseated, and painted back into usefulness by our friend Cris, and interspersed with small, randomly collected tables, the chairs give us a comfortable place to rest a while.

I stop for lunch sitting on the porch. Sometimes I take a quick snooze there. We put a cutting board full of charcuterie on the little tables when friends come over for drinks in the late day. We eat supper with our plates on our laps. Meanwhile, beyond the porch, nature does pretty much whatever she wants without me, and I’ve grown accustomed to being ignored.

During the first pandemic summer I alternated between the garden and the porch. The vegetables I planted didn’t know people were struggling to breathe in hospitals. Weeds sprouted and I was grateful to pull them up because at least I, not confined to a small apartment in some concrete canyon, could go outdoors to weed. So leaves sprouted, grass grew, flowers bloomed, insects buzzed, and birds scooted into trees and bushes to feed their young and the view from the porch never acknowledged the pain and chaos of the human world.

While war rages and politics appalls, what I see from the porch is deep reality, one that that needs us to give up self-centered living. I pray it will outlast old mortal me.

I keep wishing the actors in the weirdly disassociated world that comes through my cell phone could spend a few hours on my porch observing the persistence of a world of life outside of themselves, one that could care a fig about human self-importance.

Sandy Oliver is a food historian who gardens, cooks, and writes on Islesboro. She may be reached at