For almost twenty years the wooden swing set had been standing in our back yard. The wood beams and metal jousts gracefully and patiently bore the passage of time, the vagaries of the weather, the hot sun of summer, the cold and snow of the winter months. For many years the swing set was busy. It would creak with delight when children were swinging on its bright blue swings, laughing and trying to reach the sky above them. Its crow’s nest was host to various clubs and secret societies. Meetings took place there where important topics were discussed, like the best way to eat a grilled cheese sandwich, or what might be the perfect container for a pine cone collection.
In those days the swing set was a hub of activity. When the locusts swarmed one summer, its crow’s nest provided shelter from their flying, buzzing bodies. One winter the snow piled so high the swings disappeared, and the children built a snow man to guard the old wooden structure until spring came and the snow melted away. In the fall, when we built our sukkah, the swing set was just a few yards away, a welcome escape from the confining walls of our temporary harvest tent. One year, in a high storm, the swing set watched stoically as our entire sukkah was blown over by a strong wind, almost laughing at the sukkah, as if to say ‘Look at me, I’ve been standing here for years, and this wind can’t even move me one inch.’
As the years went by trees grew up around the swing set. A cherry tree’s branches intruded on the crow’s nest. A strong maple grew up just behind the swings, so that children might feel they were swinging high up in the branches of a magical tree. Finally a great willow grew swiftly, its massive branches blanketing the old structure in perpetual shade.
There were fewer and fewer visits to the swing set as the years passed. Its crow’s nest was mostly silent and empty. Squirrels scuttled across its top beams, but children rarely visited. They were grown, too big for the swings, to old for such things as ‘crow’s nests’ and ‘secret clubs.’ The swing set became a kind of artifact. It told stories. Of a broken arm from swinging too high and landing too hard. Of aimless summer days. Of intricate projects and plans that were made and made again, but never implemented. Of back yard barbecues and tie dye birthday parties. Of watching young children grow.
We took the old swing set down this week. Its time had come and gone, but it was a bitter sweet moment. All of those memories wrapped up in its grooved and worn boards, its tattered canopy. As it rested in the front yard, waiting for someone to come haul it away, a young woman drove by with her three young children in tow. She noticed the aged crow’s nest, still proudly standing strong, bravely awaiting its fate. ‘Were we getting rid of it?’ she wondered. ‘And would we mind, if she could find someone to bring it down the street, if she gave that crow’s nest a new home?’
Just yesterday we walked around the neighborhood in the late afternoon. It was an end of summer day, the sun warm and high in a bright blue sky, but the trees already starting to shed their leaves. There at the bottom of the hill we saw the crow’s nest, tucked neatly away in a new back yard. It was again surrounded by trees, not the old willow and maple, but evergreens that will guard it from the wind in the cold winter months. Our neighbor scrubbed at the wood, working to sand it smooth so it would be ready for bare hands and feet. It won’t be long. Soon children will be playing there as they once did, and we will hear their laughter, as we walk by wondering where the past has gone, or if it has gone at all.