Through the years, especially here in the US, my backyard fascination was slowly eroded by the toil required to make the garden beautiful. I don’t have a green thumb and gardening for me is hard labor. Thus, whenever I look out to our backyard, I secretly groan instead of rejoice. Especially in California where the drought has browned whatever grass remains.
But this road trip has revived the memories of carefree times when backyards meant swings, sprinklers and green grass for rolling in. Crickets in the evenings, the croaking of frogs after a rain. A backyard then meant a hammock for napping under a tree that shaded us from the sweltering heat and humidity. Or long, winding conversations that lasted way beyond sunset, in patio chairs.
Driving through the small towns of this huge country, we saw a wide variety of backyards, many of them so pastoral that they look like meadows. You always know where children resided because there were seesaws and swings and sandboxes. Some had age-old trees that cast mysterious shadows in twilight; in Amish communities, you would see laundry drying on clotheslines, and in the suburbs, backyards dwindled to a few square feet.
The best ones – those that took our breaths away – were the lakeside backyards, and we were lucky to have friends in various states who have invited us into their homes and gave us a break from the highways to revive our energies in their backyards.
In a town near Boston, a Filipina author and her husband couldn’t bear the thought of leaving their quiet community because of the river that flows through their backyard. Giant acorn trees provide shade as they spend part of their days sitting in comfortable chairs watching the swans frolicking and the lilies floating by. In autumn, the opposite shore bursts with colors. The peacefulness, the beauty, the quiet – such a perfect brew for stirring up one’s creative well.
Nette and Zardy’s weekend home in Delaware looks out onto this lagoon where hundreds of Canadian geese on their way south stop for R&R. The community is just a few miles from the Atlantic shore, and we were told that it bursts with activities (and tourists) in the summer. But for us weary travelers, the placid water, the ducks swimming and the aroma of Zardy’s cooking were more than enough to make us feel like we’ve hit the jackpot.
We chose the perfect time to visit Backy and Olive at their lakeside house in upstate New York. The weather was perfect, the weekend residents were no longer there and the autumn foliage was starting. The lake itself was like miles of glass, so still, so meditative, so serenely gorgeous.
Landscaping was painter Frederic Edwin Church’s passion and muse, so he built his Olana estate in upstate New York, which offers a magnificent view of the Hudson River, the Catskills Mountains and the Taconic Range. Church is considered the master among America’s landscape painters. He died in 1900.
Another beautiful lakeside house, this time in Georgia. The autumn leaves had fallen (and, ignorant Californian that I am, I watched fascinated as the leaves fell continuously like rain) and Anna and Ray’s backyard was strewn with the colorful foliage – a beautiful sight in itself. A few meters away was the huge lake that spans five counties. It is no longer the season for taking their boat out and the rain kept us indoors. But the promise of swimming and sailing in the lake was enough to whet our appetite for spring and summer.
My childhood friend Minnie has two acres of wooded backyard and she cleared out a portion of it to raise goats as pets. The rural ambience was real, but just a block away was the roaring traffic of North Carolina’s high tech highway which, just a few years ago, was a mere dirt road. The best of both worlds? Maybe, but Minnie prefers to lead a quiet, retired life in her extensive garden where she grows saluyot and ampalaya and other greens close to a panggalatok’s (a Pangasinan native) heart.
In Asheville, North Carolina, the Vanderbilt-Cecil clan enjoyed this pastoral scene from the backyard of their Biltmore estate, the largest privately owned house in the US with four acres of floor space, 252 rooms (including 33 bedrooms), 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. Not exactly in our friends’ circle and I can’t even imagine wanting to live there. But it’s a good place to visit.