Yes, it was an actual playground.
Located at the hotel and conference center that doubled as my childhood domain the playground was cut into a hillside. It was not perfect because of the swings. It was not perfect because of the merry-go-round. In fact, none of the equipment was worthy of elevating this small plot of earth to the level of perfection necessary for a child to reach optimum levels of playtime imaginings. No. It was the hill. The tiny hill and two enormous trees.
“There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.” ~Elizabeth Lawrence
As the playground was nestled into a graduated hill, two sides of the square that made up the play area were level with the surrounding earth. The side with the steepest cut had been reinforced with a rock wall. The distance from top of wall to bottom was approximately ten feet (3 meters). The third and remaining wall needed little support as the earth was held in place by the roots of the aforementioned trees and a small stone stairwell in between.
The first tree was located at the highest point overlooking the small escarpment. This was not a climbing tree. In fact, there were no branches that could be reached although someone … at some time … had managed to make it into that behemoth of nature in order to attach an astoundingly fat rope in order to create a swing. The seat of the swing was nothing more than a large knot in the rope. As far as I knew the rope had always been there. Yet, it was not easily reachable and entirely too heavy to be affected by wind. In order to swing on the rope it took a smart kid finding a long branch in order to hook the swing and pull it to the top of the wall. Or, it took a really courageous –or stupid– child (like me) to back away from the ledge and then run full kilter while launching oneself into the air with amazing precision in order to grab the cable and allow the momentum of collision with said rope to swing you forward and then back onto safe ground. It did take great accuracy to pull this off or one faced a free fall to the playground floor which, though covered in thick grass, was not often cushioned enough to prevent mishap. While hours of enjoyment were spent on said swing … a fair number of broken bones had to be set for those who missed the jump or simply lost their grip. Thankfully, none of those bones were mine.
The second tree was, without a doubt, the perfect tree from roots to branches.
The labyrinthine root system twined down the smaller cliff and created, with a little childhood imagination, the most ideal city of caves and streets. We would spend hour upon hour reinforcing roadways and digging deeper tunnels and constructing mud abodes and building elaborate traps, yes … traps. Once completed we would play with our toy cars and G.I. Joe figures and Star Wars figures (I was a tomboy if you haven’t figured that out yet.) for the better part of an hour before the urge to destroy took over. Then, like Godzilla to Tokyo, we would drive our cars into every trap or bury our figures in mock landslides … only to begin rebuilding all that we had destroyed. Good times, I tell you. Good times!
While we created wonderful worlds in the root system it was the branches of the tree where our imaginations truly took shape. The tree was huge and some of the branches resembled a ladder moving up the tree. Hidden in the leaves were pockets of growth where we could all make our own little individual offices or, more importantly … battle stations. Yes, battle stations. This tree, more often than not, represented the Millennium Falcon in our own Star Wars galaxy and we would stay suspended in this made up world for an entire day … breaking only for meals … and then come back in the morning to do it all again. With me as Chewbacca (I was always the Wookie because I didn’t want to play a girl character) and my closest friends as Luke, Han Solo and Princess Leia we took on the imaginary forces of the Dark Side and triumphed to battle another day … and another … and another.
No assembly required. No electronics. No playground equipment.
Just a small hill, two great trees, and … imagination!
“Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless.” ~Jamie Paolinetti, American Cyclist