Private Spaces

I was raised in an old farm town--Berea, Ohio.

The backyard was big, the trees were many and the sky was open and clear. My family had a great appreciation for that old wood-lined lot and the sounds and smells of the place. You could see a full sunset over the horizon that seemed to lean and then cling on the back fence before slipping into darkness. The dewy dampness in the spring air, the fire pit crackling in the fall breezes, the hum of locusts and crickets alike.

As I grew, I found great solace in returning to that home base on a quiet summer night and allowing those familiar senses to swallow me whole. In those old rickety lawn chairs I decided to play Little League, buy my first car at 16 and selected which college I would attend. It was in that yard I told my folks about the girl I was to marry and the job I just got that marked the beginning of the career I have today.

I went away to college, traveled to many places, yet found great comfort in returning to the familiar, unchanging "natural chapel" known only as my childhood backyard.

When my wife and I bought our home in Lakewood, Ohio--maybe 20 minutes from my childhood home in Berea and less than 2 miles from her parent's home, the backyard was small. We needed more house than yard so we bought with that choice in mind.

Gone were the open spaces and distant horizons I'd known like old friends. I was hemmed in by more suburbia than I was used to and it had an effect on me to be sure. But as time passed and the kids grew, the need for their swing sets and sandboxes disintegrated and the backyard began to take a different shape. I added a six-foot-high board-on-board fence that you could still see through, but not too much. I bought old wooden chairs and outdoor old-fashioned glider seats at garage sales so they blended in with the yard in natural hues. I built a little rough 10' x 10' deck out of scrap palette wood and put a small picnic table upon it with seating that went all around.

In the garage, I mounted an old stereo and hung speakers next to the window pointing out to the backyard so I could listen to the Browns throughout the fall, the Indians all summer long and slow, lofty jazz at night.

A spacious fire pit finished the place off and to this day we find a reason to light it most nights, even in the summer. We always say it helps keep the bugs off but I believe there is some primal urge for man to make and sit around fire . As the caveman in charge I value my two "wolves" (Labrador and Shepard) lying at my feet. Hunter make fire, raise children, love wife, have wolves and horses (a Jeep and a Volkswagen).

The fire is also a signal. It means the family and I are home, hanging out in the back yard and chances are good the coffee is on or lemonade is ice cold. The neighbors stop by, our grown kids drive by and pull in with perhaps a pack of marshmallows or a 6-pack of beer. The mood is mellow, conversation slow and easy and there is a serenity that hangs over that little piece of heaven that I picked up in Berea and deposited in Lakewood.

None of it cost much and little of it is groomed or ready for the cover of "House Beautiful" magazine but I am really glad I have a place for my daughters to tell me about their challenges, my sons to tell me about their doubts and accomplishments and my wife to sit in the firelight while her soft voice and laugh rise about the din of night and take the sting out of a long day.

This challenging economy is forcing people to rediscover their yards and homes all over again and it is a great time to realize your good fortune as a Park and Leisure professional. You have some of the best-kept secrets in the world as to creating memories and spending quality time with nature. Dig in and enjoy the rest of this gorgeous winter. And while this summer you may feel the need to get a pool or new barbeque oven, or this fall you may rake each and every leaf in the yard to keep your well-manicured and groomed lawn edge just right, be sure to take the time to sit down for awhile and enjoy the solitude and peace of your home and hearth.

It is now a time to appreciate the peace and tranquility a stable home and homey yard can provide.

I wish you a safe, healthy and happy 2011 and sure hope you take the time to realize your blessings and indulge them as often as possible.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at