from your knees
upside-down in a walnut tree
sucking on a sour grass
viewing the world through an hourglass
runs out of sand.
* There ought to be a law that grants every kid a really big yard to grow up in.
The 1 acre lot my mother grew up on and all 4 of us kids a generation later was its own eco-system. For a 7th grade graphing project we were asked to plot our homes on a map. The teacher had no idea that I was the one kid in class who had just been assigned War and Peace compared to everyone else who was tucked into a tiny little cracker box plot boardered by smooth, city sidewalks. On this one block stretch of old Jellico Avenue, we didn't need no stinkin' sidewalks! The old cobblestone-like street was laid some years after the founding of the neighborhood in 1929. It humped up along the middle of the street, encouraging water to run off to the scooped edges that met our property lines of deep, baseball-sucking ivy beds.
With a pad of paper and a pencil, I began pacing off our yard. I counted over 30 trees alone - plus many more shrubs, bushes and flower beds. I got extra credit for indicating on my map legend where the red ant beds and horney toad lairs were located, where the horse had rolled for her dirt bath, where the chicken coop sat protected by a gentle overhang from an enormous pomegranate tree, and where my grandfather’s iris and primrose bed was still blooming 18 years after his death, and the sacred ground where all of our many pets were buried under the apple tree. It was daunting, but I loved every minute of it. I knew my yard, and my yard knew me.
English walnut trees are about the most ideal climbing tree you could possibly wish for. The trunk is smooth with natural climbing knots jutting out most conveniently, and the first branches begin low enough for a simple hand-hold and one leg up. The vertical scale is easy and sustains a 75 – 90lb. kid well up into the uppermost branches – the height required to see over our house all the way to Butch’s house across the street. Getting high enough to identify property the farthest distance away was good; seeing a neighbor doing something in their yard who didn’t see you was even better.
There was an absurd sense of power and enlightenment about gaining a bird’s eye view of your neighborhood, and especially your own roof. It was always a thrill to spot the long-lost shoe or Frisbee that landed there last summer and was promptly forgotten.
Mostly it is the freedom of space and time that children appreciate (given the right amount of botanical matter and wildlife) - that combine to present the perfect environment for really deep thoughts.