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Yards Taking a Back Step

Category: , Posted:07 May 2011 | 06:00 am

As far back as I can recall in the dark and blurred place of my childhood memory I remember time spent in our family's front yard.
Growing up in suburban Los Angeles with long summer days and the Santa Ana winds howling beneath palm trees there was little shelter from the blistering heat
My mother taught me to throw a baseball in the front yard (dad was working). We camped out in a small tent some nights and played pickup games of football, soccer and volleyball with kids from the block on the crab grass turf.
Even now I can almost smell the grass or feel its touch beneath my feet like some sort of magic carpet. As in real life, a downside lurked, with chores being the killjoy, from mowing the lawn to raking leaves and trimming my mom's prize rose bushes. Blood was spilled on those thorny creatures which I grew to despise.
In later days I drank my first beer from a brown paper bag in that yard, and once after bringing home a six-pack some weeks later I woke up face down at the foot of those same rose bushes. Ironic, isn't it?
Our neighborhood was our kingdom and we roamed the collective yards of our friends from the time school let out up to the time darkness cast a blanket over the city and the call for dinner came through the wind.
Going back to California from time to time and driving along those familiar streets with ghosts and goblins of days past, I have rarely seen people in the front yards of their homes. Even Jehovah's Witnesses seemed to be missing.
Some may explain it away as a societal shift from front yards to backyards – with safety, prosperity and the golden age of swimming pools, Jacuzzis and built-in barbecues that resemble industrial kitchens. It is harder to be hit by a stray bullet from a drive-by or to be kidnapped from the comfy environs of one's own walled-up personal reserve.
Jump into a time machine – or else the nearest microwave oven – and program in 2011 with the intended destination as Phuket.
Welcome to "Villa Ville". Pool villas, townhouses, even penthouse condos with private water features – they're all here. Of course in water world we have lagoons and klongs as well.
For most of these "amazing" architectural feats, the front yard has been subtly removed and a focus shifted to the Western-favored backyard.
Getting down to generalizing, or as some call "broad reference points", the usual suspects have arrived for the party: infinity pools, koi ponds, water features with giant Buddha heads that have been hacked off at the neck, whirl-pools and remarkably smallish barbeques.
Perhaps this is an indication that general island preferences tilt toward more drinking than dining. Ah, but there I go again, making blanket criticism.
Let's not get started on salas. This is not a topic I intend to visit, sort of like my lifelong mission of avoiding Bangladesh.
There are wood planks, sandwash, terrazzo, stones, marble inlays and every manner of rock hard finishes together with all-too-predictable landscaping.
I can't help but wonder though: Where is the rest of the yard? Those wide open spaces for your eyes to wander over.
Sadly, yards have been downsized just like my bank account after having two kids, three dogs and all the accoutrements that come with them.
Perhaps we need to call Scotland Yard onto the case (okay, that was cheap humor at its lowest). But seriously, I am saddened by the vast disappearance of yards, be they front, back or in-between.
Chalk another one up for the endangered-species list. No doubt the downfall of our entire quasi-civilized society can be traced back to the slow and steady decline of open spaces in our homes.
Blame progress or the high cost of land, but I miss the vast pasture-like yards of my early years.

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