Monday, April 2, 2012

Rope swing and boulders influence homesite selections

A large live oak growing alongside the lake makes the perfect rope swing tree.
Simply Living
April 2, 2012

My husband and I have designed and built several houses over the past four decades but only two have been on large undeveloped parcels where we intended to live for a long time. Both times, before putting pencil to paper or picking up a hammer, we spent hours walking the land surveying our surroundings.

Our objective was always to find the perfect site. What kind of exposure to sunlight did it have? What would the view be like? Were there any interesting natural fixtures in place that we could enjoy?

On Cape Cod, where we built our first home, we found ourselves drawn to a hilltop where two large boulders overlooked a salt marsh. The boulders — vast mounds of granite poking out of the earth — looked alive. Their distinctive shapes — one resembling a giant's head with wide mouth agape, the other with a flat top that begged climbing — were so alluring. We didn't have children in those days but we had a small herd of goats. Knowing how much our Nubians loved to clamber up objects, Ralph and I pictured them atop the rocks.

We decided to place our house between the two boulders so they'd always be within sight.

We spent 17 years in that hand-built house and although we stopped having livestock before we started building the house, we never tired of the views. West-facing windows looked out over the marsh while our south-facing panes framed the larger of the two boulders. The other rock was next to our entry, visible whenever we passed. In my memories of those Cape Cod days, boulders figure prominently.

Five years after we moved to Florida we were ready to build our second home, but the site for that hand-built house relied more on botany than geology.

A large live oak — one of only six large trees growing on the entire acreage — stood next to the lake. Its long, broad limbs stretched toward the water. Ralph and I looked at that tree, looked at each other and shared the same thought: Rope swing tree!

By then we had a family or four young children who shared our passion for outdoor activities. How fun it would be, we thought, to hang a thick, knotted braid of fibers from one of those limbs, swing out over the water and let go!

One of our favorite spots in Massachusetts had been a Cape Cod National Seashore pond in Wellfleet where a rope swing enabled us to splash into the cold water as soon as the weather warmed enough to dare. Before we had children, Ralph and I had enjoyed many afternoons at Spectacle Pond. In Florida, we looked forward to introducing our kids to the same type of experience but in a warmer climate.

We decided to place our house near the water, close to the oak tree.

Twenty-one years have passed since the day Ralph and I first surveyed our surroundings. Ralph did hang a rope from one of the oak's thick limbs and it remains in place today. Over the years, our kids probably played on it more than we did and I expect our grandchildren will do the same.

The older I get, the less likely it is I'll take the plunge, but that doesn't stop me from reaping pleasure. I like the idea of a rope swing tree. Just having it there makes me smile. I don't need to wrap my arms and legs around the cord to remember the feel of wind through my hair or the adrenaline rush before I release my grip to drop down into the water. I can do that through memories and vicariously through my offspring's antics.

There are countless reasons why people choose home sites. Ours just happened to center around nature and outdoor fun. Whether it involves a splash, a climb or some other activity, it's never dull living where playful adventures are close at hand.

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