November 27, 2010
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Outlined by sunken wooden posts, covered in mulch that has slowly churned and become one with the earth, and illuminated by a gentle light that filters through the leaves, the secret playground awaits.

Spinning on a creaky old swing in that place so full of memories, I grin a little grin of someone remembering something nice, the little grin of someone feeling the sun from a long ago summer, the little grin of someone remembering her carefree thoughts as a child. My mind wanders to another place as my consciousness slides into the flow of childhood memories and is quickly immersed in sight, sound, and a vibrancy of color only perceived by the young.
I remember walking there for the first time. Daddy held my little hand as he led me off the main road and on to a meandering path. Our neighborhood was laced with these trails, but the gurgling creek that ran parallel to this walkway and the way bushes pushed over the entrance, clouded this path with mysticism. Their leaves and branches entwined, running together, until each plant was indistinguishable from the next. Treading carefully on the broken asphalt, I kicked at the shoots of green craning through cracks. I stretched my neck to catch a glimpse of our destination, but only after clearing a gentle rise did the playground materialize. My little feet hopped and skipped, longing to fly on the swings and glide down the slide, but my daddy looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder, leaning down to my eye level. He told me that this was a secret playground. He spoke normally, but my excited ears heard a covert whisper, telling me confidential intelligence about this place unknown to the world. I reveled in the prospect of my own sanctuary.

I skipped over to the slide and placed my fingers on the beige plastic. Pockmarks left by countless winds and storms delineated the surface. Nature had left her handprint on this slide. Quickly running up the few metal steps, I almost tripped over the steep jutting stairs, but placed my hands on the cool bar at the top. From the peak of the slide, I could look over the small hill into the creek, and long to splash in its depths. From the peak of the slide, I could feel the summer air dancing over my head, blowing the tiny baby hairs around my face. I could see the arching trees swishing in the breeze. They seemed to be dancing and saying, “You found us!” With a tumble of arms and legs, I leapt down the slide, cutting through the air, dynamic for just one second. As I rose from the curved edge, however, lower than my surroundings again, the playground equipment towered over me. The heady sense of seeing all had vanished.

I walked towards the swing, the only other piece of equipment on the playground, and kicked off my shoes. At first tiptoeing carefully over the prickly mulch, I relaxed my feet and pressed my bare heels down as I reached the earth that had been beaten soft under the swings. As I began to swing, the warm soil that had clung to bottoms of my feet flew off and a light wind carried some of it back onto my legs, bringing with it the comforting smell of earth baking in the sun. The fresh scent tickled my nostrils and reminded me of all things summer. I could see the clear blue of the pool, feel the shifting grains of sand beneath my toes, and hear the crisp voices of cicadas in the evening. My whole body relaxed, slumping into a half sleep and just focusing on the smell. With my eyes closed I could feel more. The sun beat down, and I could feel its rays through my papery-thin eyelids. Warm clods of summer soil stuck between my toes. The wind rippled across my skin like a fine trickle of water. I swung on.

Summers later I returned to this place that had so entranced me as a young child, and realized that it still mystified me. I sat on the same swing and turned, twisting the rusty metal chain until the creakings and groanings grew to a cacophony. As I spun, I noticed the stark contrast between the surroundings of the playground. On one side loomed an electrical plant. Its soaring metal towers and twisted wires loomed like a great beast over my head, their technology vastly misplaced. The swing twisted quickly the other way, and I gazed at the ribbon of water that bordered the other side of the playground. Rocks cascaded into the creek, and small ferns and moss coated trees sprung from its bed. Water bugs skimmed across the water nonchalantly, as if time were irrelevant. In this place one could almost believe it.

One morning, not long ago, I was running with my friend on the winding trails, and we came upon the playground once again. This time I had not been seeking it out, but my feet had led me there. I recognized the trickling creek, opaque with mud and swirling with flecks of fool’s gold from the surrounding bank. The same ancient oak stood sentry over the slide, peering cautiously over the whole playground. At first it seemed so different, but then I realized it was not the playground that had changed, but me. The little yard was no longer shrouded in mystery. This place had never been truly secret, but had simply seemed that way to my young mind. A slight pang of disappointment knotted in my stomach. I felt as if I had lost some small part of me, an important piece of my childhood. Nevertheless, when my friend, stretching, turned to me and asked, “What is this place,” I instinctively replied, “The secret playground.” It held onto me still.

As the swing swishes back and forth one last time, finally drifting to a stop, I slowly lift my head. The strong and vibrant flow of thought meanders to a mere trickle as I emerge from my reverie and the brightness and clarity of perfect memory once again becomes distorted by the reality in front of me.

I am suddenly struck by the idea that this playground is a gateway of sorts, a middle ground between nature and technology, a place in which I could remember my past and dream of my future, a place that has never changed, but watches as those who pass through are changed by it.

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