In the days of my youth, summer vacations were spent at the Arnold grandparent’s home in Richmond, Virginia. It was a place of magic and mystery. The two-story house built in the 1830’s, had an expansive backyard devoted to beautiful flower and lush vegetable gardens. There was a huge oak tree in the front yard, so tall that its thick leafy crown was visible for several miles in every direction.
Even holding hands and stretching out our arms, the four Arnold kids could not gird the circumference of the tree. At the base of the tree were several Civil War era cannonballs; the house served as a field post for a brief stint during that time. We played with the unexploded ordinance without ever worrying about its potential lethality.
The garden had a main path running down the middle from one end of the backyard to the other. On either side of the main path were floral gardens each with its extravagant variety of specie. At the south end was the garden house and beside it, a mound of compost. The north end opened onto a grassy square with a bordered edge of berry and butterfly shrubs; a haven for birds, squirrels, rabbits, and a kaleidoscope of butterflies.
I became a collector of butterflies and moths captured with a homemade butterfly net crafted by my grandmother with a broken broom handle, a wire hanger attached to one end, its circular shape covered in old, cut-to-fit stockings. I bagged enough species to fill several shadowbox glass frames that the grandparents displayed on the wall. Their admiration made me feel like an artist, yet one with a mildly guilty conscience for how the captives had sacrificed their lives for my exhibit.
In one corner of this grassy square was a large stone fireplace. It had a tall chimney framed on either side by giant boxwood. When we entered the north end of this space it was as if coming upon the altar of some extinct tribe. This wonderland fevered my imagination. In the reverie of creative adventures with my siblings, I did not know or care about unaffordable vacations to exotic locales.
I am not one to wax nostalgic on “the good old days.” What I now appreciate of those summer vacations was the lack of distractions, the freedom to daydream, to see beauty, to explore the natural world, and imagine new ones. Boredom and lack of distractions can be one’s friend. New worlds await.