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Essay

D*S Essay Contest: Andrea Raisfield

by Grace Bonney

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[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Sleeping Al Fresco

About 14 years ago, we went on a family vacation to Hawaii. We rented a pretty cabin in Hana, Maui with our three kids. The bedrooms were spacious and well-appointed, each one with a skylight, and silhouetted against each skylight was a cheerfully chirping gecko, posing like a character out of a children’s book, but it was the futon bed on the screened-in porch (the lanai as it is called there) which called to my husband and me, and that is where we chose to sleep. Two weeks later, we arrived home to Bedford. I had barely dropped my suitcase on the floor of my bedroom before heading down to the mattress store to buy a futon bed for our own screened porch.

Since then, our nights sleeping al fresco have spread across nearly half the year. In April, we turn on the electric blanket about 20 minutes before venturing out into the chill of the early spring night; that, a down comforter, and the most elemental source of heat, another body, and we are as snug as can be. When summer blooms full on, we switch to a woven linen blanket, at once weighty and weightless. In late September, we plug in the electric blanket once again, and by early November, when it becomes too cold to hold a book in our hands, we move back into our bedroom (and its delicious heated floor) for the winter.

What is so elementally appealing about sleeping outside? For us, it has never been about the health benefits, which, according to a slew of sources, are real and varied: improved activity of the lungs by increasing oxygen assimilation, a strengthening of the central nervous system, and the stimulation of vital glands of internal secretion that produce hormones and tone up the skin. On the occasional solo night in the cold, when I’m scrunched up tight in a ball, I think about a New York Times piece about the benefits of cold sleeping to produce something known as “brown fat,” the kind we want in our bodies, and that makes the mild discomfort less so.

The healthy dividends are a mere bonus. We sleep outside because it just feels so good. A butterfly in Osaka flaps its wings, and our back porch in Bedford, my cheek is gently buffeted by a puff of air. During storms, we feel the spray of mist against our faces. Thunder comes from all sides. Lightning creates momentary strobe-lit tableaux, each window framing a distinct composition of trees against a steely sky. Sometimes we are woken from sleep thinking there’s a party gone out of hand nearby. We realize it is the near-human sound of a pack of coyotes wilding on a terrified mammal in the surrounding woods.

We listen with the rapt attention we’d give the most exotic nature documentary on TV. Nights on the screened porch are a study of the delineation between one thing and another. The place where my warm breath meets cool air. The distant place where an owl’s soft pipe song interrupts the velvet texture of silence. The place where, devoid of man-made sounds, we modern people can feel and hear night as it has been since un-modern times. In the dark calm of my Bedford backyard, I can begin to decode the language of the natural world. I listen for variations in the crickets’ song, try to guess where that barking dog is barking from, and attempt to record in my mind an animal’s nighttime cry so that I might search it online in the morning—the distress call of a baby fox? The ratchety chitter of a raccoon in a standoff with a cat? My cat?

“There are on earth,” wrote Jean Giono in his 1935 book, The Joy of Man’s Desiring, “moments of great beauty and peace.” Nights spent sleeping out our screened porch, we have access to so many more of those moments. –Andrea Raisfield

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Comments

  • This was beautiful! And made me wish I wasn’t living in an apartment on a highway, so that sleeping outside would be an option :/

  • It was the image of the room itself that made me want to read this story. Love the bravely-positioned plate collection and the wall itself. To discover it’s actually a screened-in porch made it extra beautiful. Great read!

  • Lovely essay! Sleeping on the porch was a tradition in the South for many decades, but with the intense heat and humidity we experience, the draw of the AC is a bit too strong I think. But it would be so wonderful in the Fall and Spring, I may have to consider it after this description!

  • This was gorgeously written. I wasn’t ready for it to be over!

    Fantastic idea (and only wish I had submitted an essay) – can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

  • Gosh, another beautiful essay! I loved the evolution from sleeping on the screened porch to the connection between simplicity and nature; all the things we seldom experience.

  • Ahh, so nice to hear someone else is delighting in sleeping outdoors! Thank you for sharing & stirring memories!
    A few things come to mind…
    My year round bedroom is a small porch, that is partially insulated & has windows to close when snow, wind & rain are too much (near Rochester NY). I love it when windows are wide open & a lovely breeze is coming in. It’s the next best thing to sleeping outdoors. I just wish I had that other warm body to share it with!

    When my 7 cousins & I rent houses to gather from around the country, they know I prefer sleeping on the porch!

    I was intrigued years ago by an older couple with a “camp” in the Adirondack’s that slept year round on the sleeping porch. No wonder they were hardy folk!

    At my house in suburbia 9 years ago, on nights when it was too lovely to go inside, I would sleep on the deck. The dog didn’t even want to. Once I woke up with leaves all over me. By the way that awful sound is likely a fox, sounds like a baby being murdered, it can be alarming.

    I’m in the process of making a sleeping porch on the second floor of what was a corn crib on my small farm… you have inspired me to git ‘er done! Thank you, sweet dreams!

  • Andrea is and old boss of mine and I was lucky enough to work out of her wonderful home in Bedford. Seeing this made me nostalgic for the few moments I had in that screened in porch and so proud to see her featured on design sponge. Andrea you are still inspiring me to this day!

  • This quote was handwritten on the inside cover of a book that sits on the bookshelf of our sailboat, where we found it:

    “…To live out of doors with the woman a man loves is of all lives the most complete and free.” R.L. Stevenson

    I hope you turn this essay into a novel because I want to read so much more from you.

  • Wonderful essay Andrea!! It’s my favorite thing to do as well just not as brave to last past first week in October!!!

  • Enjoyable read! And because I know you personally, even more special. Our bedroom has large windows and a slider. The blinds are never closed and the windows always open through the night. We love waking to the sunshine pouring in. Although the sun is warm on our skin, the mountain morning air is always cool. A wonderful way to rise, but a sleeping porch would be the ultimate luxury where we live! Thanks!! I always enjoy your writings.

  • Wow! This was a wonderful read and so beautifully written. I’m so impressed! You are truly an inspiration.

  • Transported! Takes me right back there and my memories of the screened porch. A quiet lunch with the diggities perched below waiting for a dropped morsel. A family party where the porch was transformed with twinkly lights into a bar. Thank you, Andrea.

  • I’m the lucky man who as Danielle notes has a life the most complete and free. I spend most nights in this place but reading this essay in the silence of a hotel room on another coast makes me sigh and long to lie quietly and close to this wonderful woman in this richest of spaces.

  • I don’t have a sleeping porch but I am now motivated to keep my bedroom windows open a little longer this fall. I loved reading and imagining the sounds of the birds and animals. This was beautifully written and look forward to more installments. XX

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