On Sukkot, we gather with hungry friends — and ants

To our more observant friends, our sukkah is nothing special. They and their families each build one, every year; no big deal. But, to our less observant friends, our humble screen-and-lattice sukkah is a thing of wonder, as exotic as an igloo.

Our observant friends are completely on top of this sukkah business. (This year, Sukkot begins at sundown Wednesday, Oct. 15.) As soon as Yom Kippur's fast is broken, the men (most of them) are outside, trying to reassemble last year's sukkah.

My husband is among them, trying to rebuild the white PVC pipe frame of our front-yard sukkah. Each year, he numbers the pieces that interlock with each other. Each year, the code seems elusive and mysterious when he begins to rebuild. Each year he figures it out, after much grumbling, a cold beer and — if needed — a trip to the big hardware store.

One year, I think it took four trips. But that was the year we purchased the rolls of flexible screen (it hangs on the PVC frame), and nothing was very predictable. Once the screen is hung on the frame, we add one wall of lattice, facing the street, so that people driving past won't stop to stare into the sukkah. We didn't have the lattice the first year, and every set of headlights was a new adventure in instant friendship.

A backyard sukkah would be better, but to make room we'd have to uproot the grapefruit tree and that would be a great pity on a harvest festival.

Our less observant friends could care less where we put the sukkah. To them, it is amazing that we build one at all. Some of these friends, who may even help erect a community sukkah at their synagogue or Jewish community center, join us for a meal in our sukkah every year: They don't build their own sukkah any more than they'd dig their own pool. But to our great pleasure, they do love to come to ours.

We have done a few things over the years to make them — and us — more comfortable. First of all, we now attempt to control the temperature.

In many communities, the issue is how to eat in the sukkah without freezing. But we live in the subtropics and we are used to sweltering in the sukkah. While our friends up north and out west are eating steaming soup in their overcoats and parkas, we are mopping our brows and gulping iced tea.

But a solution is in progress. Last year, we rigged up a chain of extension cords that would have horrified the fire marshal but that made it possible to keep a fan running in the sukkah. Now you can feel cool and comfortable there, at least for the few seconds that the rotating fan blows directly on your face.

Secondly, we attempt to govern the behavior of the mosquitoes and ants. Eating in the sukkah does have its picnic aspects, and active involvement with the world of little critters is part of the experience — just not my favorite part. But we are campers and hikers with (usually) great attitudes, so we light citronella candles and hope for the best. I have wondered whether I should just set a separate table for the pesky things and hope that if they are served promptly, they'll leave us alone.

We also tailor our menu for outdoor dining. This is not the time for carving unwieldy turkeys or handling heavy roasts. This is the time for pasta and salads and things that are easy to carry and easy to consume.

Sukkot is my favorite holiday since, by and large, I'd rather be outdoors than indoors. By the time it comes along, life has been pretty serious since Rosh Hashanah, and we're ready to move outdoors, celebrate our history and relax under the canopy of leaves.

Now if someone would fetch the trays from the kitchen, point the fan in my direction and banish that buzzing beastie, my life would be just about perfect.