Hiking in Gambrill Park yesterday, I happened across a tree, split into two just feet from where the common trunk was rooted in the earth. The tree wasn’t really exceptional in any way, except that it brought me immediately back to my childhood and our backyard on Red Coat Lane.
A wonderland of rocks, roots, trees and dirt, our backyard was the staging area of my youth, the set for Kick The Can, Cowboys and Indians, War, Hide and Seek, sledding, even ice skating one year, though after my sister fell and lost her front tooth, that skating rink was never recreated.
As we grew up, the jungle gym became the place where the older kids hung out with their friends and talked about things I could only hear snippets of from my bedroom window, things I didn’t really understand and could only use my childhood imagination to create and make sense of. I remember thinking those older kids were so cool, my brothers and sister included, and feeling overwhelmingly left out.
Years later, I had a first kiss in that back yard, close enough that my parents must have known we were there, but far enough that my young brain believed they were oblivious. We brought record players out back and listened to vinyl albums, every track and lots of them repeatedly. We became experts at lining up the stylus with the selected groove, memorized lyrics and made up our own.
When my parents celebrated their 25th anniversary, it was in that backyard, and my bridal shower, there as well, bordered on one side by my father’s grape arbor, set in the New Hampshire shade no less, and a basketball hoop, and a large raised flower bed my Dad had built years before on the other.
I can still see the sledding trails, still locate the snake rock in the shadows of my memory, the grooves in the boulders up on the hill, the wood pile along the property line, and the start of the lilac border between our house and the Nadeau Family’s home next door. Years later, when as an adult I visited my childhood home, the yard was so much smaller, the hill but a bump, and sadly the trees were gone. So today, when I saw this split tree, I remembered it as the central point of our yard, visible from the kitchen window and my bedroom, where we hung a rope and swung into mounds of leaves before burning the piles in a neighborhood pyre tossing collected acorns for the burst, the crackle and the spark.