For nearly thirty years, my parents and all of the other home owners on our street had something that none of the other homeowners in our neighborhood did; a massive backyard. Okay, so the backyard wasn’t actually bigger than those belonging to all the other neighbors, but our backyard backed up to an incredible field.
For the residents along our street, there was this peaceful illusion – at least from the back porch – of living a little ways out of the suburbs.
Cows ambled along the fence line each night, the coyotes’ howl could be heard just beyond the bushes, snakes and other meadow creatures traveled unseen, lending it an air of adventure and danger.
This field -known as The Back Field – was a field of dreams, in a sense.
When we were young, this field – while still referred to as the Tall Weeds before they mowed it the first time – was a magical land of imagination. It was camping grounds to the troops before they forged ahead to the battle of San Jacinto; a place where cowboys and Indians fought; land on which a prairie prospered; the secret home to a small community of gypsy travelers; an abandoned field where bodies were buried then found…
Later, it was a sprawling battleground for paintball wars – where I had the giddy pleasure, while perched in an ash tree, of watching my big brother shoot my little brother in the butt with a paintball. This was of course years after my older brother shot a BB into the foot of his friend, resulting in surgery for the friend. Good times.
Once I became a teenager, I looked out the back window and imagined myself in a land far away. Away from the mundane and unimportant lives of all of us in this town. I looked at my field and dreamed of going places that mattered.
When I grew a little older, I sat on the sun porch my father built along the way, watching the sun rise on new days, and I learned how to be grateful for the blessings God had given my family. If for no other reason, I was grateful that in an increasingly fast growing city – long since flooded by urban sprawl spilling down from one of the nation’s largest cities – I still looked out my back window into a field untouched by capitalism. I prayed the man who owned this field loved it as much as I did.
Eventually, I had a child and the field became something for her as well. We had birthday parties, explored the forest of trees that had grown, learned about nature and life, and she had a place to go and dream.
Then one morning, after 26 years of memories and adventure, we woke up to tractors plucking the trees from the ground as effortlessly as the hair falls from a body saturated with chemotherapy.
For the first time in my life, I had to struggle against the urge to protest; climb-a-tree-refuse-to-move-get-arrested kind of protest.
And my daughter.
With alarm and the bitter taste of injustice twisting her features, she fisted her hands and shook them at the tractors while demanding, “No! Stop what you’re doing!” The man on the tractor, wanting to charm the little girl looking through the sun porch windows, lifted his claw and waved at us. It was a friendly gesture, no doubt, but he had no idea that as he plucked each tree from the ground, he was ripping away our safe spot, our get-away spot, our adventure spot. He was tearing apart our field of dreams.
Over the next three years we watched as the rumble of tractors became our alarm clocks, the sound of hammers on nails replaced the bird’s songs, and our view steadily turned from a wander-land to a dirty, packed down foundation for houses jammed together like a can of sardines; the neighbors would be able to reach out their windows and shake hands.
We placated ourselves with the hopeful assumption that there would be a nice fifteen-foot green-space, where at least we could throw the ball for the dog and enjoy the tire swing in the tree beyond the fence.Then last week arrived, and with it, the final eradication of our field by the faceless builder who sent tractors to scrape the last bit of grass away like one might scrape gum from the bottom of his shoe. Dirt right up to the fence. No easement.
My daughter spent time planning a sabotage mission, writing it out on paper, and presenting it to me with outlined details, bullet points included. When I assured her our efforts to take some of their dirt in order to leave them uneven building grounds would be pointless, she had a counter attack planned. The follow up plan was illegal, which she – to my relief and pride – said she could not, then, follow through with.
“Why can’t we do something?” She asked. “Why can’t we just talk to the men out there?”
“Those men have no more control than we do, but a whole lot of incentive. That is their job.”
“I’ll just ask them nicely to stop, they will see I’m a little girl, and feel bad for me.”
“They’d feel worse for their own little girl when she didn’t have food on the table.”
How could I help my daughter to understand, when I felt just as helpless as she did?
Space and land are coveted, profitable, and becoming more rare. What we know of land and ownership today will be different tomorrow and in the tomorrows to come. Like all generations, time touches everything, changes everything. That’s why older people so often reminisce about the days of old. So for as long as the tractors of time and disease stay out of the fields of our mind, we will hold our memories close, and cherish them.
As I considered these things, the beauty in the time and circumstance struck deep. As a recent college graduate, soon to be moving on anyways, I realized that The Back Field was my first dreamland, the first place that inspired imagination and curiosity, but it could not remain my only field of dreams.
Life moved forward. Progress. We look to our yesterdays for motivation and understanding, but we live in the todays, looking forward and preparing for our tomorrows.
“Things change,” I told my daughter, “that’s the way of life. Some things we just have to accept. We will move forward with time as we must, embracing the present and making new memories.”
I offered a solution (and a new dream) to my daughter who likes to solve problems:
“We will just have to move to the high mountains of Colorado and buy a large field. There, no matter how much the world closes in around it, no matter how much we are offered to sale it, we will own the power to say, no thanks, We’ll keep our field of dreams.”