As I scanned the garden I was struck by the “state” of the place. I pondered how earlier in my life I might have been perturbed about what I was looking at. A natural space not as nature may have intended, but as what it can become when it is a loved place of play. The long sliver of overgrown grass and weeds that sprang out all around the boundary fence offered greenness and height. It had attracted three boys who were sniping the weeds with the arts and crafts scissors. I had watched them walk outside scissors in hand, possibilities in mind and decisions to make, intuitively knowing that a wrong one would mean the loss of the scissors. Clever decision I thought as they headed for the overgrowth causing no harm to anyone except the poor weeds. This narrow band of green gave way to a bald island of hardened clay that told a story of greener days, a story of a favourite place to play, worn away by the feet and hands of energetic children as they lay, ran, rolled and dug on it. The piles of pipes, poles, and tyres stashed in the corner looked like something on a ghost estate, except here the children were playing all over it busy with their own ideas about building. Suddenly I was distracted from my thoughts as a pair of blue eyes danced with excitement before me. Their owner a 3-year-old boy carrying a gift eagerly awaited my attention. ”Look, Carol I made this for you”. He beamed up at me his face streaked with the mud that hadn’t quite made it into the overflowing coagulating mass of gunge that was being offered with such pride. As usual the mud kitchen was a hive of activity with the emergent bakers churning out decorated delicacies of varying consistency and size. I watched as the pot of gunge ominously teetered on the plywood range until it lost its fight with gravity and spilled down the front of the stirring chef. This episode brought much laughter and no drama as the waterproof suits once again done their job. The spill brought new opportunities to mess with the muddy ground and direct the stream of water around an upturned pot that by chance was in the way.
Heavy duty digging was going on in the sand pit “we’re making a swimming pool, we need a big hole” shouts a confident voice. At the far end of the sand pit the experts were at play, Sean the son of a builder knew a thing or two, he and his cousin Sarah had made mortar in the wheelbarrow with sand and water. They were now placing it along the lines of bricks they had laid out so professionally it would make his father proud.
Over in the quieter corner three children painted their masterpieces on the giant Perspex partition chatting to each other about their creations. The twins, were gathering “pretty stones” from the beech pebble pit to use as money in the game of shop they were planning.
Behind the bamboo bushes two pals were on an insect hunt huddled together examining the baby snails who weren’t there yesterday.
A skid of sliding feet again demanded my attention as a bike was expertly stopped right at my feet more smiling eyes greeted my glance and in the trailer on the bike a squashed bunch of daisies, dandelions and buttercups were offered as the flowers for the lunch table. So, hand in hand my young nature lover and I stepped around the impromptu small world Zoo that was being created on the path as we went to find a vase.
What a sight this must be to unaccustomed eyes, an unkempt space, a building site, an untidy mess, and yet to me and the children who play and learn here whether in sunshine, rain, or wind it is a place of many beauties: the beauty of a childhood being lived, the beauty of freedom and space, of play and friendships. A beauty that is indeed in the eye of the Beholder.