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A Gift of a Swing!
by Liz Primeau
by Liz Primeau

Liz Primeau's second edition of Gardening for Canadians for Dummies, updated and with a new chapter on using art in your garden, plus a design and garden-care workbook section, will be released in January, 2002.

She is at present writing a new book on front-yard gardens, to be published by Firefly Books in spring, 2003.

Liz is the the founding editor of the Canadian Gardening magazine.

March 17, 2002

Not long ago I met a woman who for her 75th birthday received something she'd wanted all her adult life--a swing. I don't mean a porch swing for elderly contemplation of the passing scene, but a 'swing' swing, with a thick wooden seat, hanging from the stout branch of an old tree. The kind you have to pump hard, legs outstretched, to reach the sky--and the thrill you're seeking.
"My husband asked me what I wanted, and I said, 'Before I get too old I want a swing,'" she says. "So he made it. Frankly, I suspect he was thinking of himself a bit, because I've caught him using it, but after 55 years of marriage I finally realized how lucky I am to have such a handy husband." (She prefers to remain nameless, quite possibly to protect her husband from requests from other admiring females with a secret passion for a swing.)
I, too, can relate to her desire. I can't pass a playground without trying out at least one swing, but I get no satisfaction from those modern metal contraptions with the strappy rubber seats. They're too small, and too short, doubtless because they're made with the public safety of children in mind. But when my sister and I were young our dad made us a freestanding swing that stood at least 15 feet tall, with sturdy wooden posts that didn't waver even a fraction of an inch no matter how much I challenged them. One of my fondest childhood memories is arising Sunday mornings before anyone else was awake and swinging in my jammies for what seemed like hours. I'd pump as hard as I could until I was almost level with the top post, hoping to rise like magic from the seat and soar to fairyland. Reality always grounded me, of course; I knew I wasn't going to fly like Peter Pan and I worried what would happen if I actually did go over the top. Would I twist around and around it and never be able to get down? Would I crash to the ground in a heap of broken bones? Either way, my parents wouldn't be pleased and that would likely be the end of my swinging days.
Our swing had ropes to hold on to, but my acquaintance's husband ("a professional engineer, a perfectionist," says his wife) used 600/800-pound chains. They swing on nylon bushings from a six-inch thick branch of a maple tree, and are adjustable for different heights; the swing is also removable for storage. The wooden seat is 1 1/4-inch thick, "with width to suit," says my acquaintance demurely. The swing stands near a small planting of shrubs and evergreens on a large expanse of lawn, and every morning when she goes for the mail she uses it a while; the grandchildren love it and so do her friends, who can't pass up a turn when they come to call.
"It's good exercise for someone with arthritis," she says. Yes, stretching, movement, muscle use..."and it gives you a sense of freedom." It's easy to get on and off, like a rocking chair, because you can move it backwards and lean into it. "And a lot of seniors tell me they love a swing just for sitting on and talking, too. It's a lot easier than trying to climb out of those low, slanting Algonquin chairs."
Swings are good for the very young and the very old. But those in between would do well to appreciate their freedom and joy, their ability to recapture the soaring feeling of childhood. Take this woman's advice and consider erecting one in your own garden, before it's too late. 
A swing is a wonderful thing for all ages, but especially for the very young and the very old.

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