Big Back Yard

A Big Back Yard

We – my wife, Carin, and I – moved into our house because of a few words in a classified ad. It was longer but I remember it as, “Sale by owner… Nice house, big back yard, call Martha.”

It was that “big back yard” that got us to visit. When we came to look it was indeed a big back yard – not Texas big but New England Village big. Then came the kitchen with an island and gas stove. I heard there were 3 bedrooms and 2 baths but I was ready to move in after the back yard and kitchen. It was the tail of the last recession (like now?) and real estate prices had actually bottomed out, but nobody knew that yet. The next day we offered just a touch below the asking price. I remember making the offer from a pay-phone while I was on a trip. Two months later we were in the house we still own some16 years later.

This big back yard continues to feed my imagination. I think it feeds my wife’s imagination, too, who sits on the deck or in the grass and writes. And I see how this green space fills the wide eyes of our 2 kids, now 10 & 11, who have grown as they explore and play in it.

My kids were nearby a year or two ago when, in the kitchen, I turned on my cell phone, realized it had a camera I hadn’t used – I lived under the professional delusion that cameras go on your shoulder or a tripod and not in your hand – and clicked it to record for our series on climate change. The round red light lit up on the screen, and I thought, “Now what do I say?” and instant response, “Bald Guy on climate change here looking for the climate change solutions in my own back yard.” And that sent me on the journey that now continues. I see something similar in many people who draw creative inspiration from the very real problems and real solutions they see around their own literal and proverbial back yards.

Here’s an aspect of back yards: While property lines might be fixed, may even correspond to fences – we’ve got a nice white picket fence on one side – our backyards are connectors. They connect us to our neighbors and the commercial, civic and physical world and life around us.

As an example we’ve just got new neighbors. The Catholic Church, abutting on our west side, was sold to our own town with the thought it could be a great place for the local library. We are connected. And that building in our western view begs the question, is there a climate change solution here? Can we do well with the opportunity now presented? Not that we, one neighbor, get to decide. But we can engage the conversation. We can engage the opportunities. We can think of the solutions our back yards might inspire, if not contain.

A selling feature when we bought the house was the town or village that our back yard connected. Within a block was a post office, a grocery, a hardware store, some restaurants and other specialty shops. While the hardware and grocery have closed they have been replaced, eventually, by a new grocery and cool restaurant.

A little farther behind our back yard is our local elementary school. We share the sounds of T-ball on Saturday morning.

We’ve had many parties in our back yard: birthdays, cookouts, sledding, harvest, artists. You name the interest and we’ve got the lawn. While our back yard is ours, it is the buffer between the private and the public. There are things I would do in my house I would not do in the back yard. Back yards are permeable. Just ask the squirrels and birds.

When we began our project on climate change – originally called Now or Never and soon to be The Green Screen – our focus was and remains to be solutions. It’s not “The Solution,” but the many energizing solutions that people are creating, using, seeing in their literal and proverbial back yards. Because we can see the problem as well as its solution in places familiar to us.

What solutions are you seeing?