Friday, August 09, 2019

Scrambling Up And Down The Concrete Slide

There's a concrete slope along one side of our junkyard playground, poured generations ago in the interest of erosion control. It's a hard, steep slab, one that struck us as so hazardous when we first moved into the place nine years ago that we forbade the children from playing there. Today, we refer to it as the "concrete slide," and children use it that way, wearing holes in the seats of their trousers, tights, and rain pants, but that's just the start of it.

We've installed a strong rope across the top as a hand hold for the kids. From this the children have tied several ropes that hang down the face of the slope. (Yes, we supervise to make sure they don't get tangled around necks.) These are then used to ascend the face of the incline in the manner of mountain climbers, but also as a way to control their speed of decent. Sometimes these ropes become strands of spiderwebs, a la Spiderman, and the kids swing from side to side by running across the slope in an arc like a type of human pendulum. A stray rope ladder has recently been added to the mix, but since it only hangs about halfway down the slope, one still needs a running start to use it.

At the top of the slope are four mature lilacs that make nice nests, homes, and hideouts, and at any given moment there's a project going on around the roots of one of them that requires children to race up and down the concrete slope to forage, collect, or reconnoiter. The top of concrete slide is also the highest place on the playground, even higher than the top of our two story playhouse, so it's a perfect spot from which to spy down on the rest of us. It's likewise a place where adults rarely climb, giving the steepness of the the slope and the narrowness of the spaces. It can therefore take on the mysterious character of a place apart, ideal for hatching secret, whispered plans. I'm sure that we are going to have to, at some point, take drastic measures to rescue the lilacs, but their roots have become exposed in places, creating brilliant hidey holes for stashing treasures of all kinds.

Most of the two-year-olds cannot climb to the top of the concrete slide, while most of the the three-year-olds can, which makes it the site of one of our school's unofficial rites of passage, where children fail to make it to the top until one day they do, calling out, "Look at me!"

Yesterday, there were a dozen kids scrambling up and down the concrete slide: dropping to their hips to slide down, running up with and without the aid of the ropes, dragging objects to the top then letting them roll or slide or tumble to the bottom, sometimes while astride them, scraping their knees and elbows without fussing, hiding and finding, swinging and stashing, chattering amongst themselves, their words creating stories, projects, and friendships.

The slope is still a hazard, I suppose, in the sense that heads still get bonked and sometimes the scrapes require a bit of first aid, but I'm likewise struck by how impoverished we would all be without it, this accidental feature of our playground, something no one would intentionally build in a place children play, yet without which our lives at Woodland Park would be so much poorer.

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