Image by Steve Beger Photography (Beger.com Productions) via Flickr
My backyard wasn't a backyard in the summer. Its southeast cornor was a fairy kingdom. Tucked behind an extension of the enclosed back porch, it was kept safe from the penetrating, curious eye of the sun by a towering elm. A supple emerald-and-gold Honeysuckle vine cascaded over the rigid interlacing of the chain link fence. Its sticky-sweet perfume was a siren call to the bees and me. We drank nectar from the fragile little blossom flutes. The ravenous bees continued to feast as I communed with the warty toad who spent his summers in the oozy, chocolate mud below the vine. Portly, placid, bronzed as a buddah, he sat unblinking, snatching passing flies. What he did at night, I never knew. I did know that he wasn't a toad, but a prince in disguise. I preferred him as a toad.
The whole east side of the fence was profuse with rose bushes of pale pink, blood-red and snowy hues, purple and violet iris, sunny marigolds, zinnias in rainbow colors, and blushing pink peony bushes. This wasn't a garden, but camouflage for the dusty prairie under the foliage, where plastic horses stirred up dust as they ran wild and free.
In the northwest corner of the yard, grown-ups saw a crimson swing-set of steel tubing. I saw a steaming, tropical jungle, heard the cries of monkeys, the snarls of tigers, and the grunts of wild pigs rooting for insects in the damp carpet of leaves on the jungle floor. Their pungent, feral odor pinched my nose. The set of rings suspended by chains were vines on Tarzan trees.
Other times, the swing-set was a circus ring, where I balanced on a tightrope high above the crowd, which gasped and held its breath when I almost fell. As I landed firmly on both feet, arms raised in a triumphant vee, the music of cheers engulfed me.
The swing, its oak seat smoothed colorless by frequent rides, was a sleek, silver jet airplane. I performed loops and dives, defied gravity, soared beyond the clouds. The wind rushed in my ear and tousled my hair as I broke the sound barrier with a boom that rattled every window in the neighborhood.
On summer evenings, after supper and dishes were done, and a reluctant sun had eased down the horizon to bed, we trooped outdoors to feel the cool breeze that arose most every night. We sat in adirondack chairs, and I studied the winking stars while the hushed voices and laughter of the others embraced me. I considered the vast number of people— ancient Greeks and Romans, Cleopatra's Egyptians, neighbors of Copernicus—who had contemplated the same stars.
Eventually, the swing-set was taken apart, the house demolished, the grounds and gardens cemented over as a parking lot for a newly built student nurses' residence. But on soft summer evenings, when the ancient stars are icily smiling, I hear again the rise and fall of laughter, the low murmur of familiar voices, and I'm transported to my enchanted back yard.
Kathleen Chabot, All Rights Reserved