Until two months ago, my grill was the only reason I used my backyard deck. If I had a particularly large tray filled with burgers, chicken, and vegetables, I had just enough room to ignite the three burners. And if I was really lucky, I could prepare a whole meal and singe only one of my eyebrows.
But there's no need to special-order that asbestos suit any longer. My wife, Betty, and I expanded our deck three times its original size — 25 feet — and if I forget to replace the toilet paper roll a few more times, I won't have a problem living out there.
As I write these words, it's 6 a.m., day seven of the Heat Wave of 2010. Sure, it's balmy out here, but incredibly peaceful. I'm sitting in one of my patio chairs and watching as the sun carves a narrow streak of light into the back lawn. I hear a chorus of birds, the distant rumbling of morning traffic on Route 93, and the intermittent grinding of the central air conditioning unit under my feet.
It's easy to ignore those sounds of modern life when I can sit in the middle of a bird aviary. A swarm of robins peck at whatever they peck at on the ground, while a mob of finches fight for position on the hanging bird feeder. Our next-door neighbors have an identical feeder, but their guests are larger, darker, and more numerous. It reminds me of a scene in that famous Hitchcock movie when, one by one, birds begin to gather on the jungle gym next to that Bodega Bay schoolhouse. I'll stay put, so I don't meet the same fate a young Suzanne Pleshette met at the end of that scene.
While a dove and a chipmunk compete for spilled seed on the ground, I hear the moaning cries of Mookie, the oldest of our three cats. He's pressing his face against the screen window behind me, begging me to open the door to the deck.
Mookie knows exactly what he's missing. A few weeks ago, Betty and I discussed allowing Mookie and Lily, the youngest cat, to roam the deck. Max, the middle one, would not have that option. He'd be on the railing, then up on the roof and off to Maine in no time.
But last week we experimented with Mookie and Lily. At first, both cats looked like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, careful to make sure terra was indeed firma. They poked their heads through the railing, perhaps contemplating a leap to freedom, but then thought better of it. Before long, Mookie rubbed himself against a planter filled with daisies, then rolled on his back to loll in the sunshine. Lily sniffed around the deck furniture for a while, then found a chair to sleep under.
A squirrel has just joined me, and it looks familiar. It's the big one, whose tail doesn't do well in the humidity. For days it tried to break into the lock-down birdfeeder, but all it got was a thrill ride as the feeder spun in circles without losing a single seed.
It's not 10 feet away from me, twitching its tail, staring me in the eye. I guess it wants a handout, but I don't want to encourage the kind of behavior that's more common in its cousin, the rat.
Now a dove has fluttered up for a visit. It's giving me the once-over, like a pigeon in a city park. There's a lot to be said for a deck big enough to welcome in an entire summer.
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John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.