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Invisible Swingset: Swings in the forest that seem to hang from nothing

We have an emergent, work-in-progress play area in the back yard, halfway into the woods called the circle of stumps.

It started four years ago with an enormous dead white oak: The neighbors told the treemen to leave the tree sections in the woods when the tree was cut down; it all rolled down hill into our yard. At first, I was terrified that Peter would be crushed if one of those rolled over him.

But David had the idea to make a stone henge-like circle of stumps as a play area. So David and Geoffrey rolled them into a rough circle in a relativly flat area and turned them on end: Stumphenge!

I attatched a slide to the tallest one and pulled up all the poison ivy , and added woodchips to keep the weeds down, and we were off. Every summer, the circle of stumps gets more elaborate.

Two years ago, I put in a tire swing down there. After that, I decided I wanted a swing too. So -- in consultation with my dad, a physicist who used to win knot-tieing contests when he was a boyscout -- I slung a rope between two trees about 20 feet apart, and hung my swing from that. My dad made me get a better, longer rope and tie it differently than I had at first. There is a mechanism for controlling the tension, too, which uses one of those ratchet things for tightening boats to the tops of cars.

I was looking for a place to hang the baby swing, and at first I was going to hang it on the screened porch, where it used to hang when Peter was an infant. But I wanted it down where the bigger kids play. So I hung it from the rope in the circle of stumps.

Peter is really good with Elizabeth, and I don't have very many serious sibling rivalry problems, but I had crossed a line and the baby swing in his area when he didn't have a swing like the girl next door has on her swingset led to a temper tantrum that I should have anticipated. So now Peter needed a swing.

I am planning to buy a kit to build a real, wooden swingset, but in the meantime, an opportunity presented itself: The first Wednesday of every month is heavy trash day, and about a block away I saw the remains of a playstructure that had been torn down and put out by the curb. I stopped the car and rooted through the pile. Sure enought, there were two sling swings and a trapeze to be had, all a bit rusty but in servicable shape.

The hardware to attach them to the ropes costs about $10 per swing. (Do you know that good rope is really expensive? I'd already bought the rope, so I didn't have to pay for that this time.) So I hung them up, right before Peter came home on the school bus.

Yesterday afternoon, when both kids were swinging and I was sitting on a stump considering the engineering aspects and thinking I'd better call my dad for another consult, I realized that what I'd created here was an invisible swingset -- swings in the forest that seem to hang from nothing, an oddy magical plaything, somehow symbolic of the nature of childhood.

The swings do feel different than those attached to a fixed beam because there is a lot of subtle motion in the system. I'm still going to build a real swingset, but I'm really pleased with how this one turned out.

Oh, and this year, I may finally build a treehouse.