This post is Judy Clement Wall’s fault. A little over a week ago, on her Zebra Sounds blog, she wrote a post that was an ode to hiking. In a related post a few days later on her A Human Thing blog, she wrote about places of solace, and asked readers to share theirs in the comments. This led to a conversation between Judy and I in the comment thread about my love for the backyard, where I said “someone should write an ode to the backyard” and she replied “you should.”
An Ode to the Backyard
My whole life, from the very first house I remember living in (we moved there when I was still a baby), the backyard has been a place of solace. I find comfort and relief there, safety and peace. Almost everywhere I have ever lived, the backyard has been my favorite spot.
According to me, a good yard needs four things:
- Lots of green stuff, (bushes and trees and grass and fruits and vegetables and flowers and at least one Lilac)
- A privacy fence
- Chairs and a good mix of sun/shade for sitting
The first yard I remember was magic. We lived in a small house (by today’s standards, but the same size as the one I live in now) with a huge yard, almost a full acre. In fact, the yard was so big that when my mom and dad sold that house over twenty years later, they sold the “garden” as a separate lot and someone built a house on it.
I remember a huge cherry tree, plums, lilacs, a weeping willow, maples, birch, pine and fir, and a hazelnut. When I was in the second grade, a forester visited our class and gave us all Douglas Fir seedlings. I planted mine in the corner of our yard, years later buried my hamster underneath it (apparently my second hamster, my dad informed me a few years ago–the first one had died and he’d replaced it because he knew I’d be upset). The last time I saw that tree, it had grown to over 25 feet tall, and made me feel small, old and so young all at the same time.
I remember pink roses, purple irises, tiger lilies, bluebells, and in the garden raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. There was a long slopped hill that we attempted to sled on when it snowed (which wasn’t often or much where we were in Oregon), and a long, wide field of grass below that saw many a football and baseball game. Our patio was a big enough stretch of concrete for both a basketball hoop and rollerskating. There was a family of Quail that lived in our backyard, came back year after year to have their babies, protected from the neighborhood cats by my dad. Quail babies are still one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen in my life, running in a line behind their Mama.
I remember my favorite spot, under the biggest maple tree. I would take a book and my green blanket and sit for hours under that tree. When I looked up, this is what I saw:
Over the years, Eric and I have shared a few backyards, (we moved 12 times in the first 10 years we were married).
The backyard we have now, at the house we’ve lived in for 12 years, where all of our dogs have lived, is one of my favorites. When we were looking, we kept telling our realtor how important the yard was to us, that we planned on getting dogs, that it was in fact the whole reason we were looking for a new place (our condo had a patio but no real yard), but I don’t think she really believed us until we picked the one we would buy. She kept showing us nicer houses with little to no yard. When we picked this one, she said “I guess you were really serious about the yard being more important.”
We live just a block away from an elementary school, so during the day, while they are at recess, our backyard fills with the sound of kids playing.
Because our neighborhood was built in the early 60s, there are lots of mature trees. In the early morning, this time of year, the sky is filled with bird song.
There’s a Jeb Loy Nichols song called “Heaven Right Here” that is its own ode to the backyard.
So I’ll just take my time
And relax my mind
So I’ll stop – slow down
Watch the sun go down
Come on over to my yard
Sit around and let your troubles all disappear
Come on over to my yard
‘Cause right now heaven’s right here
Maybe it’s because there is farming in my blood, encoded in my DNA, that makes me want to pick, plant, dig, and tend the earth, and this gives me a place to do so.
Maybe it’s because I love dogs and they love being in the yard, playing and lounging, rolling in the grass and chasing squirrels and barking and peeing on stuff.
Maybe it’s because I love to read and it’s a quiet, comfortable place to do so.
Maybe it’s because I am an introvert who loves solitude, being alone, but also loves nature, would rather be outside and barefoot.
Whatever the reason(s), I love a good backyard. It’s a place to retreat, to rest and relax, to read, to play, to listen, to be calm and still and quiet. It is my place of solace, magic, medicine, a living meditation on the preciousness of life.