To Preserve That Space
by C.J. Dotson
Schwartz Road Park, Ohio
Even though I didn’t grow up in the kind of town where everyone knew everyone else, I did at least grow up in that kind of neighborhood. It was a small neighborhood in a small town, not yet as developed as it would be. I can still visualize it the way it was back then, seen from the high vantage point of the tree I climbed so often. Below was my house, and across the street from it the creek. Behind my back yard was the neighbor’s. If you crossed through their yard, bisected the cul-de-sac the neighbors lived on, cut through the empty lot between the houses across from them, and went up the small hill you’d find the playground.
It wasn’t anything special. Standard playground equipment, restrooms that were locked more than they were open, a little picnic area, some soccer fields. I guess I should say I didn’t think it was anything special at the time. As a kid it was a place to go play and as a teenager it was a place to get away from the house for a while. When I think of it now, having spent more than a decade living in big cities instead of rural towns, all that free space was something special.
If you crossed the soccer fields, you’d come to an offshoot of the creek that runs across from my childhood home. There were three ways to cross this part of the creek. Rock hopping and wading were risky, the rocks were not great for that and one time my sister had waded across and came out the other side with leeches on her calves. No, thank you. I preferred to push through a thicket of bushes to find the two old telephone poles, left side-by-side across the creek. One had more give to it under weight than the other, and one was a little further down where the sloping banks were steeper and the water farther away. I probably remember it as being a bigger drop than it was, childhood adventure aggrandizing the act of crossing the poles and leaving the park for the woods. It felt like leaving settled land for the wilderness, like exploration and adventure. I remember going out over the water more clearly than I remember the woods themselves, because that was the moment that it felt like I was going into something more wild, more real.
I was in high school when they cut down the bushes and replaced the telephone poles with a real bridge. They put gravel paths through the woods, and benches, and they tamed it.
In hindsight, I know that it was done to preserve that space. I know that it was a good idea, carried out with good intentions. The way we live, things are more likely to be “safe” if they’re for us. We tend topreserve only what we have use for. Unlike the rest of the town, those woods haven’t been developed in the years since I left. The rest of the park has. The swing sets and slides and tube tunnels and ball-less tether ball pole have been replaced with a newer style of playground equipment, the trees I used to read books beneath have been cut down, and the parking lot has been expanded. But the woods are still there.
They’ve just been stripped of their magic.