This was written in response to Denise Levertov’s poem, “Animal Spirits.” Read the poem at this link: http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2013/05/14
One of the kindest things my husband Walt has done for me – and early in our relationship— was to re-create my childhood swing. There was a huge old walnut tree in the side yard of his house—which soon became our house. After I had described how that tree reminded me of the “old soldier” at my childhood home, he worked post-haste to create the connection.
That “old soldier” was at the home where I lived as an infant up to about age five. That stately tree, a hickory I think, had perfect limbs – high up and straight out—for wrapping the ends of heavy rope on it with the length many times longer than I was, and a wooden seat notched out on either side which held securely in place when I sat on it. It was a sanctuary for me in that critical phase of my development.
In the beginning, after Daddy had made the swing, when I’d put the wooden seat in place, I would have to hop up a bit to get on it. The swing had to accommodate my two older sisters, as well, so I guess it had to be of a certain height off the ground. One of my earliest memories is the feeling of peace as I pumped my feet and soared higher and higher. I would lean waaaaayyy back and have the sensation of floating and riding the currents. No matter what was going on inside the house, whatever chaos of the day or night, I could count on the swing to take me to other places —far away.
Even now, as I think of being in that swing, I can feel the rough cords in my little hands and the slight resistance to gravity as I began my flight. Up higher and higher. The breeze making my short hair fly and I’d close my eyes and feel the wind tickle my bare feet and swoosh occasionally right up my shorts and around my halter top.
“Free to be me” is how I would describe that experience today. No voices, no clocks, no demands. Just the sanctuary of a safe place that touched my senses and embraced me fully.
I don’t think I described that childhood swing in quite that way to Walt. But he got enough of the meaning to make sure I always have my rope swing wherever we have lived.
And when I sit on the wooden seat and pump to the flight of my childhood, I find peace.
May 19, 2013