Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Strenuous Life

It is a happy talent to know how to play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
I'm under fire and my attackers have the strategic advantage of high ground. I'm pinned down behind a damaged wooden crate with little chance of escaping unnoticed. I contemplate making a break for it when one of my armed assailants says, "Grandma, I can see you!" I take advantage of the confusion to lasso a hostage with a long piece of plastic strapping. "Hey!" calls another of those up above, "Gimme that piece of rope!"
"Why should I? You're aiming at me!"

A trade is effected and I make my getaway back to the prosaic world of work and adulthood. Before long, an octet of fleet seven year old feet are disappearing over the front side of the terrace followed by a cloud of dust and a tag along pair of shorter four year old legs. The snow is gone; the building warmth of the equinoctial sun leaves legs free and arms bare. The March wind ruddies cheeks and tangles hair. The toys of summer have resurfaced, but where they fail to satisfy, the winter leaves sticks aplenty and the top of the hill is chockablock with hideouts, mountains, canyons, barriers and anything else necessary for the topography of a kid's imagination.

Gabe is in full bike riding regalia after school on Friday. His mom holds her breath as he coasts full steam ahead down the hill to the big house and makes the sharp turn east. He pulls up smartly, in complete control of his vehicle; a big difference from earlier in the week when the offending bike skidded out on the pea gravel and forced medical attention to the guy wearing helmet, shorts...and nike flipflops. This afternoon he bursts in the back door declaring he rode around the farm at least five times and then ran the same route four times. I think he's earned not just supper but a big dessert too! I don't know if there's a reason for all this output of exercise, or if it's just an overflow of youthful exuberance.

When you play,  play hard; when you work, don’t play at all. Theodore Roosevelt

All this open space lends itself to nothing so much as unorganized play, spontaneous outbursts of energy, creative destruction at its most obvious, the axiom that one man's trash is a bunch of kids' treasure at its acme.  Post election 4x8 signs are wired together with discarded hanging basket wires and chewed off mum leaders to create a hideout.  After winter's storms, one wall of the structure is flotsam out in the cornfield and will have to hauled off before planting.  The top of the enormous glacial erratic in the backyard has been stage, castle, table, and....most often...a launching pad. The linden tree's low canopy shelters another accumulation of toy leftovers and its multitude of branches allows even the shortest kid a chance to climb a tree.  A greenhouse creates enormous amounts of...well, trash.  Combine shrink wrap with constant wind and physics will soon yield giant billows of plastic just perfect for small boys to use as parachutes.  Potholes grow into puddles with spring rains, irresistible as they are ephemeral.  When the adults are clothed in layers of potting soil, the kids figure that mud is a protective coating and they partake generously.

Aaron, Lizzie and I are at the stoplight on Third St. when Lizzie kind of sighs. "I wish they would fix up that park and make a place for people to picnic,"she says, pointing to the partially landscaped vacant lot across the street. But Aaron adds, "I like Tarkio: it's not too big and its not too small. It has just about everything people need!" And I smile. After all, if you're a guy like Aaron, there are streets for riding, a pool for swimming, church and school for meeting and a ball field for practices and games. Just around nearly every corner is a friend to share those experiences with...
No, this little town won't make the map as a vacation spot with history, or interactive museums, or cannons and forts, but it is big enough to have just about all the things an active and curious and energetic young man might need. And small enough to have the familiarity and security to grow up out of doors, climbing trees or building forts or shooting baskets....

Theodore Roosevelt would surely approve.

kites present

kites past

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