Playgrounds symbolize childhood and a yearning for freedom to explore, learn and understand the world around you. As my children have grown—all in their teens now—their playgrounds have developed into more complex forms of recreation. The backyard toy of their childhood sits idle, abandoned for a huge mountain of snow. They ride to the top and board to the bottom as fast as they can, their sanity giving way to the sensations of speed and exhilaration. Come summer, they’ll store their boards and head for the water to dive off rocky cliffs and ski behind a speeding boat at a local reservoir in an effort to continue the momentum and movement, defying gravity. Sometimes summer brings the opportunity to go to Six Flags adventure park where they can reliably swing to new heights and have their feet –and stomachs—drop out from underneath them as they repel from climbing walls, shoot out of thirty foot-high water slides and vault over hill and dell of the newest, twistiest and turniest roller coaster to date. The opportunities for thrills are endless.
Just thinking about my playgrounds of yesteryear brings up images of tall slides that swooshed and tickled my tummy, turning bars that left me dizzy, and swinging all recess not wanting to let go of the swaying sensation. For me, my years of wanting to tip myself topsy-turvy have long since given way to more grown-up forms of play. As an example, winters can be long in Idaho so naturally, we look for ways to make a playground out of all the snow. Our family has taken up snowmobiling. Nothing too serious, a little speed and little side-hilling makes for a thrill and a diversion from the humdrum of long, cold days. It is our good fortune to live near two of Mother Nature’s blessed playgrounds, Yellowstone and Teton National Parks. Our annual summer excursion into the backcountry provides an endless array of “playing fields” for recreation.
Playgrounds take on different meanings to different people. Depending on age, ability, availability, setting, likes and dislikes, playgrounds appear to be as diverse as we are as individuals. But for all the diversity and personal preferences, there is an underlying theme in all forms of play that I find reliably consistent: no matter how “grown-up” we become playgrounds will always symbolize childhood, a return to what is good and right with one’s world; a yearning and a freedom to explore, learn and understand.