When I was a kid, I had a fort in the scrub elms in the field next to our house. I was working really hard at peeling bark off those trees and whacking the heck out of it with a rock to get it flat and smooth so I could make clothes out of it like the Indians did. It was a perfect little cubby hideaway with a secret entrance.
In the overgrown cherry orchard behind my house I could tell you just where the poison ivy patches were, where you were most likely to see a rabbit dart out of its “house,” and just where to walk so as not to be seen by any of the houses on our street. At the back of the orchard, you came out of the silent world into the 20th century again, on a hill that overlooked the interstate. It was worth it to hear the cars, though, on an autumn evening when the geese were flying over on their way to the river past the interstate. They would fly so low over that hill you could see their individual feathers. And the noise! What music – the honking of geese calling messages to each other as they headed in for the night.
In the pines next to the orchard the world would go totally silent, the crunching leaves underfoot in the orchard giving way to a carpet of pine needles so thick, I can’t imagine the depth of it.
My Dad set aside a portion of our backyard for a play area. He set up a swingset, built a large sandbox, and even built a playhouse, complete with a ladder that would take you up to the flat roof. It wasn’t a purchased plastic playhouse. It was wooden, with two large window openings and a door opening. He even painted it the same color as the house.
The flower garden in the back was divided into small plots and my sister and I were each given one to plan as we liked. In the spring, Dad would take us to the nursery and we’d pick out the annuals we wanted to plant. Then he had us lay them out in the design of our choice. Of course watering and weeding were up to us, too.
I rode my bike for fun. Rode about two miles to a little corner store that served the world’s best soft serve ice cream. Ate it there, then rode home, the wind in my hair, not held in a helmet.
Today, my neighborhood has garages full of outdoor toys, but the kids are inside. There’s an occasional basketball game being played in the street, but not as often as you’d think. Of course, we didn’t have all the techno-toys when I was a kid. Would I have enjoyed them? Yup. Would my Mom have let me play them instead of going outside? Probably. Would I have lost a treasured part of my childhood?