Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

On the Porch

The recent unseasonably warm temperatures have gotten me thinking about the iconic American front porch, which in most suburban towns have gone by the wayside.  Here in Montclair, however, they are common and soulful, a delightful transition from the private area of the home itself and the public realm that is the street.  On the fourth of July, the town parade marches its way up Midland Avenue which as you might have guessed is situated in the center of town.  I usually find an obliging curb on the Avenue to watch the campy display with my family and eye out the school children I know marching with their respective boy scout troop or gymnastics team.  But I envy those families who are sitting on their front porches watching the charming line of fire trucks, convertible cars and shriners go by.  They have cold drinks and popsicles from their conveniently available freezers, yet they are also enjoying their neighbors and fellow villagers.

Most of the houses in this town were built in the 1920s, a time when the porch was necessary to keep cool and provide respite from the thick summer heat.  Most of these homes have now been updated with central air conditioning and their porches are too pristine to be regularly used, with their gorgeously planted urns and tasteful outdoor furniture arranged like a living room.  They are underutilized and offered instead as an introduction to what lay behind the door, than perhaps a diversion from it.  Rarely are its occupants seen enjoying it, with the possible exception of the fourth of July and Halloween, which is precisely why these are two of my favorite holidays: those that force us all to come together as a village and listen to something other than the hum of our air conditioners.

I saw my neighbor yesterday, and during our chat over the fence (another favorite aspect to life in the ‘burbs) we remarked about the early Spring.  I noticed as I continued down my driveway to my reclusive back yard with my toddler that he pulled up his lawn chair and sat down on the deep porch of his Dutch Colonial, opening up his lap top to surf away the rest of the warm afternoon.  I longed for that porch as I settled in on my more modern back patio and frankly felt a little lonely.

The New Suburban Frontier: The Moon?

Last evening, Michael Shara, the Curator for the American Museum of Natural History’s current exhibit, Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration, gave a lecture about the very real possibilities of colonization of the moon.  This guy is no Newt Gingrich, but a true astrophysicist who has spent a lifetime studying the possibilities of what lies beyond our atmosphere.  It’ll cost billions to get there and there’s the pesky question of water and oxygen, but certainly these guys will find the answer.  The most immediate one is to launch two ships into space at a mind boggling cost: one for the colonists and another for the gear (including air).  But what to do with future need for food air and water for those who’d like to stay longer than, say, a week?  Simple:  the soil on the moon is 40% oxygen which can be exploited by compression to create all those essential elements we need.  As a matter of fact, Dr Larry Clark of Lockheed Martin has already found a way to turn moon dust to drinking water by separating the elements from within and reorganizing it.

Shara even touched upon the fact that the Chinese are currently developing a cosmic railway system to get us there.  There are also private space exploration companies like Space X and Virgin Galactic, the latter established by Britain’s own Richard Branson who is already taking deposits for trips aboard his Space Ship II.  Rumor has it Katy Perry already spent $200,000 to reserve a space for her now estranged husband, clever girl.   Perhaps the cosmic rail station will serve Starbucks coffee, perhaps there will be an express line for those who need to get there in under 13 months.  Maybe one day lunar property taxes will be less than its earthly Montclair counterpart, and certainly someone will open a decent yoga studio, nail salon, and sushi restaurant there.

I jog by Buzz Aldrin’s boyhood home on Princeton Place right here in Montclair three times per week.  Baffling to think that in his lifetime, landing a man on the moon went from sheer nonsense to reality; and how ludicrous is it to think that he might see the early stages of colonization of the moon?  Perhaps not as crazy as originally thought.

And you thought the commute to Penn Station was tough.

Click here to see Branson christening his Galactic Baby:

World’s First Commercial Space Line