Monday, October 15, 2012

A description of a playground


You approached the playground through a forest of ancient oaks, willows, and sycamores. The path was paved with a changing pattern of stones and colored marbles, growing gradually more colorful as you went along. The path brought you to the gates, made from ribbons of twisted iron, and which were never opened. The only ways in were a drainage tunnel that ran under the wall, fences that could be climbed, or a small secret door only large enough to pass through on hands and knees. We never really found out why the gate was closed. There was a story, told as sworn truth by children to other children, that the place had been built as a private play place by a billionaire for his son, but the boy had died in a car accident and it had never been used since. Nothing was in bad repair, but it had clearly been built to last in the first place.
If you came in by way of the drainage tunnel, one of the first things you would notice was the flyer swing. The flyer swing looked like a cross between a three-wheeled bicycle and one of DaVinci's flying machines. The top of the chain hung from a pyramidal frame that rose easily two hundred feet in the air. The frame stood over a spiral ramp surrounding a bowl that allowed you to pedal as quickly as you could until you reached the edge and then fly off over a stunning drop. When the swing was moving quickly, it automatically oriented itself (through the arrangement of cables attached at the top of the swing) so that you were facing forward no matter how the swing was moving. By throwing your weight around, you could adjust the way the wings were twisted and control your direction (more or less) in midair. After a while it would gradually slow down and come to a rest near the bottom of the bowl.
To one side of the park stood a tall, grassy hill; in the winter it was perfect for sledding down the back. Winding up the front of the hill, though, passing over and under a stairway, was the Long Slide. This slide wound down nearly a mile long meandering path, passing through a cave that glittered with rose quartz and amethyst and running next to a waterfall for a portion of the way. It wasn't the fastest slide (though there was a very fast, steep bit near the end) but it was lined with some kind of teflon material that made it nearly frictionless. That was what made the jumps possible.
The slide, like much of the rest of the playground, was made of a kind of rubbery fake wood that dented on impact and only gradually returned to its former shape. If you tripped and fell, knees and elbows would sink right in for a few inches, cushioning them. A fall from a greater height would cause the material to ripple outward, almost like a liquid, leaving a person shaped dent that would take a few minutes to reform. The older kids would often take advantage of this, jumping from unsafe heights and landing in a three-point crouch during dramatic chase games.
The main body of the playground was built as a cluster of dozens of treehouses, connected by rope-bridges and spiral staircases. Artificial vines were hung in such a way that it was fairly easy to swing from one to the next, Tarzan style. A double-decker rope bridge crossed over the brook that ran down from the waterfall. The largest of the treehouses was the size of a grand ballroom, and the smallest, high up in a tree, held only a single comfortable seat for reading. A hand-cranked elevator dangled from one side.
Over near the flyer swings stood a gorgeous fire-engine red pinnacle of a rocket slide, seven stories tall, and decorated with a sweeping, curling, art deco arrangment of gold tubes that shared design motifs with pipe organs and saxophones. At the top of the rocket, you could look out through the stained glass windscreen at the rest of the park. Every surface of this cockpit (except the fighter-aircraft seats) was covered in buttons, dials, gauges, indicator lights, spinning tape drives, oscilloscope and radar displays, levers, switches, toggles and control sticks. There were deep patterns to these that you could spend all day trying to solve. For example, moving one set of levers back and forth would line up an array of colored lights, causing an auxilliary panel to spring open. This panel played a memorization game similar to Simon, which, when beaten, brought down a targeting computer from out of reach overhead, and so forth.
The slide was not the only way to exit the rocket-- you could also use the zipline, if you were tall enough to reach it. This would bring you to the sandpit. The sandpit was inhabited by pipe-metal lions and dragons. You would sit and pull levers, which were directly mechanically connected to the limbs of these toys, and dig up great plumes of sand with their paws or snap at the other dragons with their teeth. The "sand" itself could be packed like snow, so there were usually the ruins of several sprawling sand-forts. dotted throughout the pit.
The park really turned into something extraordinary as dusk fell. Robust solar panels dotted through the park stored electricity during the daylight hours, and as night fell fairy-lanterns lit up throughout the park. There was enough light that it was safe to play even late into the evening, and in the summer it was densely populated by fireflies, who were drawn to the lights, I suppose. Where the brook ran between the treehouses, powerful red lights hidden in the river rocks turned it into a stream of lava.
There was a single grand house, a miniature castle, really, up at the top of the hill. The house was unfurnished, and more than a little creepy when you went inside (though the roof was a fine place to have adventures). The basement was even more frightening-- for some reason it was littered with bird skulls and broken dolls. There was a sub-basement below that that I stuck my head into, once, where sounds echoed strangely and came back later; sometimes much later. Older boys told of a cellar even below that, but no one I knew had ever set foot in it.

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