Chaos & quietude
Blending Serenity and Mayhem since 2019
I remember a family outing to a local park, many many moons ago. It was slightly odd for my siblings and I to be taken to out to play because we grew up surrounded by acres of forest that served that purpose very well. Whatever the reason though, we were there on picturesque day in the early fall. It was a large park with hills, a playground, and a small creek meandering along the edge of the woods. The watercourse was shallow, generally less than knee deep to a child, and across it spanned the vestiges of a narrow, broken-down footbridge or old dam. Other children were playing in the vicinity but what makes this visit particularly memorable was the multitude of parents hovering very close at hand loudly admonishing their precious little Tommy’s and Jane’s to “be extra careful” and to “go slow” on the debris. Then, at full speed, over the dilapidated structure and through the middle of this tranquil scene of familial watchfulness, plowed my brothers and I, pursued close at hand by our father who was (playfully) pelting us with acorns as we scrambled across the rocks.
I aver that over-protective parenting stifles children, and it was with this attitude that I erected a barn swing for my kids soon after we made this place home. More akin to a circus trapeze than your typical swing set, a properly constructed barn swing combines impetuous adventure with a dash of elegant simplicity. It is an entirely different animal from those anemic play sets typically adorning public parks. A real barn swing ought to command a certain amount of respect and awe, at least in the heart of an eight year old. Our barn is perfect for it.
Pretty typical of other barns in this area, our cowshed is around 100 years old, large, over two stories tall, with a gambled roof and a stone foundation. The framing is of monstrously solid rough-hewn wooden beams and it is covered in hemlock boards that have long since turned gray from weathering. The one aspect that I find unique about it, at least as compared to the barns I remember as a kid, is that there is no hayloft. The inside of the main portion is entirely open from floor to ceiling, excepting those huge framing posts and beams that jut out every so often. Length-wise along the peak of the ceiling runs a rusty cable with some kind of pulley system attached that I suppose the old-timers used for lifting and stacking hay (probably via horse power). Because we don’t need all the space our barn affords, a large portion of it remains clear. As a consequence, the barn makes for a natural play-place in inclement weather, with the swing serving as centerpiece.
To set the swing up, I climbed as high as I could on the exposed beams and then using a long spruce pole, I managed to loop a stout rope over the cable and secure it with a slipknot. The single length of rope then stretched inside the barn from the peak to the ground. For a seat, I drilled an appropriate sized hole in the middle of a plastic pail lid with a wooden washer and secured it with a stopper knot. I performed a few trial goes, and, voila: happy kids!
So now the title question: Is it safe? If you’re genuinely wondering, you’re reading the wrong blog. I wouldn’t exactly call it a death trap, but no, it is decidedly not safe. At least not when compared to such things as playing video games in the house or the typical lame (and seemingly strictly ornamental) schoolyard playgrounds. The swing traverses a wide arc and the intended launched point is high up in the hay bales. If one doesn’t paying attention, it would be easy to smack headlong at full speed into a wall, a solid beam, or other kids running about through the fly zone. Yes, there have been numerous bumps and some crying fits. Yet, our girls congregate out there even now, years after it’s commissioning, especially on dark winter evenings following chores. It also continues to remain a particularly favorite attraction for visiting children.
In these days of parents vociferously petitioning their school boards to remove what lackluster playground equipment still exists, I contend that such over-protective parenting does not engender the kind of adults we need. Kids ought to be allowed to fall down once in awhile if they’re going to learn to pick themselves up again. This is a nation descended from pioneers, explorers, revolutionaries, and patriots. Now our young adults are clamoring for a basic universal income and the paying off of their personally incurred debt with public funds. In our excessively safety-obsessed society of today, I fear that we are only encumbering the future. I don’t advocate throwing out all sense of caution or common sense, but kids need to be kids. Plus, the swing is just plain fun… as long as I remember to not park the manure spreader too close.