|The Backyardigans, Nelvana, 2010 (source)
From a young age we are indoctrinated by our elders to believe in all sorts of nonsense. That Santa brings us presents every year on a reindeer powered sleigh, that breaking a mirror will bring seven years of bad luck, that if you cross your eyes they’ll remain that way forever, and that the backyard is a mystical place.
The backyard as a land of imagination is a common theme in children’s literature, television and movies: Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Bridge to Terabithia, Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, The Fraggles, and more recently, The Backyardigans. All of these narratives rely on transmogrifying yards to transport their protagonists to strange alien lands. Plants sprout mouths, dolls come alive, dogs talk in polite speak, small things become large, and large things small. The imagination literally comes alive.
Just as the wives tales of broken mirrors and crossed-eyes are told in the interest of parents—mirrors were incredibly valuable for much of history, and crossed-eyes were impolite—so too is the old wives tale that is the mystical backyard. The rear yard is granted magical properties by adults because it is safer, less formal, and more easily supervised than the front yard—it is sheltered from the eyes of transients and perverts, accommodates messy play, and is typically fenced off on every side. While television series such as The Backyardigans ultimately encourage children to use their imaginations, the trouble is that they associate imaginative play with such a limited geography.
E. Sean Bailey
I did not encounter suburbia until I was seven years old. On a family vacation, I was struck by the rows of identical houses with grassy spaces to the rear, surrounded on three fenced-edges, by neighboring yards. It was here that I discovered the backyard—a revision of the typical rural plot of land—and all of its possibilities.
In my years, I had only ever seen a garden being watered by a hose, however in suburbia I was introduced to the sprinkler. In its classic variety, it was possible to run under the sprinkler’s arched stream of water without getting wet, or to run through its stream jumping directly over the perforated metal tube as it rotated back and forth, or to catch the light, rainbow-infused spray, from its edges. The backyard also introduced me to the maple tree and the guinea pig, a plant and an animal I previously had no awareness of. It was also here that I finally came into contact with grasshoppers for the first time, which I then brought indoors, not realizing they were better off outdoors. As a child, this exotic place with its foreign culture, flora and fauna proved to be endlessly fascinating.
Erandi de Silva
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