I snapped this photo of my granddaughter, Evelyn, swinging on her new swing set, which she received from her other grandparents for her birthday. The expression on her face captures the sheer joy a child derives from the simple act of swinging on a swing. The picture immediately reminded me of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem, aptly titled, The Swing:
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the sky so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside –
Till I look down on the garden green
Down on the roof so brown
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Who cannot close their eyes and conjure up the feeling of swinging as high as possible, the closest we human beings come to approximate the feat of flying. On our recent trip to Alaska we would watch the majestic bald eagles soar overhead, their huge wingspans effortlessly gliding them along the air currents, higher and higher they would fly, then come swooping down, usually to nab an unsuspecting fish or other prey. Fortunately we are a little too big to be targets. Yet we are fascinated, nonetheless, by their ability to fly.
In our play, my sister and I would be pilots on a mission, our swings were our planes and often we would have to bail out – we literally jumped off the swings while they were still moving, much to our mother’s horror and displeasure. She was also not thrilled with our taking several strands of the big weeping willow tree’s branches in hand, running and flying over the creek at our cousin’s house grasping the branches and yelling like Tarzan!
What is it about swinging on a swing that so fascinates both children and adults? I think it is the sense of freedom it gives us. Flying through the air, though tethered by the ropes of the swing, we feel the rush of air on our faces, and come as close as we can to that freedom the birds must feel. More adventuresome people take this a step further with bungee jumping and parachuting out of planes, or para-sailing but for the majority of us, you can’t beat a well made swing for a thrilling ride. I love to take the grandkids to parks that have adult sized swings. I still crave the feel of the air on my face, and that moment of pause at the top as the Earth exerts it control and brings us back down again. And children have fashioned many different ways to swing, be it from an old tire tied to the branch of a tree, to an old canvas hammock that we wrapped around ourselves like mummies,as playmates spun the hammock around as fast as they could
No one would say that I am a frequent flyer. In fact, prior to my recent trip, the last time I flew was 1985! And so, as we settled in our seats aboard the plane for the first leg of our journey, I tried to ignore the fact that there I was, about to be flying 400 miles an hour in a big metal tube that was far heavier than the air around us. Who would have even imagined, let alone proved, that this was possible? Thankfully there were men and women of vision from Leonardo DaVinci to the Wright Brothers and beyond to the Neil Armstrongs and the Sally Rides of the space program who believed in the seemingly impossible, and envisioned us flying faster and farther and eventually breaking free of Earth’s bonds and soaring into the vacuum of space.
Flights of fancy from a simple swing to an intergalactic starship. How far will our imaginations take us, how far can we really go? Perhaps to another planet where conditions would allow us to actually fly. I’d love to visit that one!
Fights of fancy or flights of fact? Just ask a child enjoying a swing. It’s the pleasantest thing you can do!