When my parents moved to Carson City in 1960, it was a developing community of around 6,000 people. They bought a house on the edge of town with a view of the Sierras across an open field, expecting it would be developed sometime soon, and they’d be looking at neighbors or a backyard fence.
But it didn’t happen. (I mean it did, eventually, but not for decades. They got very spoiled.) Since they expected it, though, they vowed to appreciate it as long as they could. To my dad, the architect, that meant installing a chicken wire fence, so that visually the yard seemed to extend all the way to the mountains, AND building a patio cover that inclined from the house, carefully measured such that from his chair in the family room, he could see the tops of the mountains.
It was years before I realized how awesome that was.
It meant I grew up in a giant backyard. We could see the field from the kitchen table. When I was very young, there were cows in the spring and fall. In the summer, we hopped the fence and played in the field, picnicking on the giant tree stump about a half-mile out. In the winter, we hiked out all the way to “The Pit,” a giant hole big enough to sled down in the winter time, then climb back out and sled down again.
The rest of the year, there were jack rabbits, coyotes, and meadowlarks. And the mountains. I didn’t quite appreciate the view until we started jumping the fence. The thing you notice most as you return to our house was the gap in the fence line. Everyone else for three miles, probably, had put up a fence. I was grateful to my dad then that my house was wide open to view and easy to find (good for a kid with no directional sense).
But now, I’m proud. He saw the opportunity to enjoy that view and he took it. Seriously, the patio cover was kind of a laughing stock in the neighborhood. Who builds a patio cover that goes up from the house? He had to install extra drainage, so the rain didn’t pool at the house. But when he sat in his comfy chair after dinner, he had the best view on the block.
My sister had her wedding reception in the back yard. Later I chose that lovely venue too. The backdrop was beautiful, and the price was hard to beat. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the land was sold and developed in to a golf course and subdivision, and the dreaded six-foot wooden fence went up. They could still see the mountain tops, but the field was gone.
I am certain this had an impact on me, growing up. I was lucky enough to feel a little wild, even as the city grew up around us. Now as I develop my tiny backyard wildlife preserve, I try to curate my own space for my kids to feel connected to the natural world—not an easy task in suburban Southern California.
I make it a point to go out in the mornings on the patio—to be in the morning and take part in the light and song and cool air. I live on a hill, and part of the ambience is overlooking the freeway and a school, too, but it’s all good. I listen to my sparrows and remember the meadowlarks, appreciate my urban sunrises and remember those backyard sunsets.