We’ve just passed the fourth anniversary of the move from our house in Portland to just a little beyond the outskirts. I guess it could safely be called the country. Well, for the two oldest boys in particular, life had truly started to blossom outside of our little house in town and its immediate surroundings. They were city kids with urban style and a growing eye for the diverse culture all around them. Our place there was sandwiched between a seldom used park, the river and an encroaching industrial complex. We utilized every inch of that park with our off leash dogs and kids - graduating from backpacks to strollers, on foot and then biking on the narrow trails that wound up and down along the banks of the river. In many ways we thought of our Portland house as perfection, the kids had room to roam and we were smack in the middle of a lovely little city and all of its offerings. However, as is often the case, there was a downside to our tucked away, secret home. We always had one eye on the industrial park across the road. Our lot was zoned as industrial, we couldn’t add on in any way as a residential property and, even if we found a loophole to adjust the house for the needs of our growing family, there was no guarantee what sort of development was going to happen all around us. As Amanda and I contemplated our options, the kids continued to thrive and, like any good city kids, they viewed the concrete, pavement and steel of the industrial park as play opportunities, equally viable as the trails into the trees out back.
We would go on the weekends, when the parking lots were all empty. Helmets were mandatory as we rode on every sidewalk and curb and off every loading dock on bikes, scooters and skateboards. We each had our favorite spots around the park loop and we’d hit them in procession. Generally everybody lost a little skin on the unforgiving manmade landings. They had spent enough time at the skate parks to mimic the raw toughness of climbing back on that wheeled horse after being thrown. These were still the early days of my fatherhood and I was continually inspired by their bravery and willingness get up again after a fall.
As our move became more of a reality we talked about how things would be different and how we could still incorporate the most important things into each of our lives. We talked about all the pros and all the cons and we cried about all the memories that we made in that little place in the city. We cried a lot and we talked a lot and then we made our move.
Now it’s been four years. Four splendid years of real hard work, a birth, twists that we never even imagined, turns that we knew would happen someday (and then someday came) and all manner of ebb and flow. We’ve got growing kids at five different levels of development, of which one is usually requiring an extra level of effort to figure out at any given time.
One thing we’d always talked about building - and it has constantly gotten shelved for a variety of reasons - is the halfpipe. We’ve built a treehouse, chicken tractors, mobile sheep shelters, a permanent livestock barn, hoop houses and a number of inside projects. We’ve taken many of those things apart and put them back together as something else as we keep a constant rotating pile of scrap in the barn for the next project need. When a 13 year old young man looked at me nice and squarely and said, “Pop, can we build the halfpipe this year?”, well…all I could picture was that seven year old boy that kept getting up off the hard pavement because he really wanted to learn how to skate. And the nine year old boy that didn’t really relish the idea of shifting his whole life around to live out the dream of his crazy parents. The shifting needs of the homestead are essentially never ending and in that moment I realized that in another four years this kid would be looking back on his childhood and another block of memories from this place. “Yes!!” I said.
Calvin has long been the master of making makeshift bike ramps out of firewood and scrap lumber and he transformed the upper barn into a bit of a skate park that gets used year round. I give free range to most of my tools with a couple of easy rules; don’t treat it like a toy, it’s a tool and put it back on the work bench (damn it). So, armed with a little bit of experience, he helped me build a halfpipe. We only worked on it together. When he went to summer camp I let the base sit there untouched and he had to whack the weeds back so we could continue when he got home.
We got some encouragement and sage advice from an old friend and his family that built their ramp when their own boys were Calvin's age (love to the family Brown!). They lent us all of the plans and notes which are still available here. When I asked about the super expensive surface material they said, "We just went with plywood, man!" And I had that nice relieved feeling you get when talking to someone that is right on your wavelength...
We tried to remember that this project was about the process and I reminded him that the ramp would last for many years but we only get to build it once. We pecked away at it, some days longer than others, a little bit after dinner or before a class. Sometimes Calvin would head out before me to cut a bunch of 2x6's to the length we needed or bring out all the material before I got there. Usually we drew a small audience and had to come up with creative ways to keep the other kids busy, marking boards (that generally got remarked when we needed them) or getting ice water for the crew usually made them feel like they were helping out. When we got down to the end we both got excited and put the push on to finish it up. A few touches aside, it is complete!
We continue to try and balance the needs of our city boys who like the country and our farm kids that like the city. At an early age those boys got a taste of the stage and the performing arts and also the sound of pavement underneath their wheels. The memories of our old place are too numerous to count. Memories of our very early days of parenting when our older kids were so little and before the youngest were born. We uprooted them a little bit and transplanted them out here amongst the trees where the new halfpipe sits. It's a new place to ride and the next memory awaits.