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It must be almost 40 years old. Used at first by our three kids, in the past 10 years, the tire swing has become the main attraction for our grandchildren, now five of them, when they come to visit.
A ride on the swing offers the perfect mixture of comfort and danger, fear laced with freedom. The tire builds its own rhythm: going and returning, going and returning.
The older riders enjoy twisting the three support ropes, then unwinding the swing, spinning and spinning, chasing that elusive vertigo that is the main rush from much more expensive commercial rides. They get to be daring but under the comforting eyes of loving adults. The tire gives excitement for free in the shade of our largest, oldest maple tree.
At the end of a 12-foot rope, kids learn that a tire ride can be pretty exciting. They add to the thrill by reaching for leaves on high branches as if they were after a gold ring on a carousel. They can experiment with positions, standing or sitting or sometimes lying supine on the ring. A rope swing also teaches that limits matter, too. It’s best to avoid a young skull’s collision against a thick tree. Have fun, but take care!
Over the years I have built other attractions in our yard. A large sandbox shaded by an old gazebo is a favourite spot for all the kids. A steady supply of fresh water from the nearby rain barrel makes it easy to get muddy there, too. I built a climbing wall from an old piece of hardboard. One of my talented daughters decorated it with large faces of playful animals. At the top of the climbing wall, there is a rustic little playhouse or outpost. An opening leads to a steep yellow slide on the other side. I salvaged an old farm gate to create a fairly challenging teeter-totter, and I built a frame for a more conventional swing. Two years ago I cut out a plastic barrel to simulate the cockpit of a vintage airplane and I suspended it in its own frame. The propeller, fastened to a bearing from an old lawn mower deck, turns easily in flight.
In winter the grandchildren go tobogganing and in summer they cool off in two inflatable pools, but most popular of all, I believe, has been the old tire swing.
It’s a place they can go for a private talk with Grandma or Grandpa and a quiet escape for the times the cousins just want to be alone. Lately, it’s become a spot to double or even triple up and swing or spin their troubles away together.
This summer, though, the old rubber cracked, and it pinched a few bottoms. Some sharp cords also protruded from the relic’s skeleton. Grandpa applied a duct-tape repair but after the families went home I reluctantly brought the tire down. I added it to a load of recycling I’d collected this past year to drive to the regional depot, 10 miles away.
In the past, used tires were considered environmental anathema. Once stockpiled into huge black mounds of rubber, they often made headline stories of dirty fires that lasted for days, filling the air with toxic smoke. But their status has now changed; tires can be recycled and are actually in demand to be shredded and reincarnated as cushioning material in playgrounds or in running shoes, umbrellas, raincoats and mixed into highway asphalt. At our nearest recycling depot, we are allowed to unload as many as 10 old tires on a single visit without any extra charge.
When I arrived at the entrance to the site I received instructions: “paint tins here, electronics there and household garbage in bin No. 4.” I had unloaded almost everything in the truck when I realized I had forgotten to ask where to dump the old tire. Back at the office, I was directed to large bins on the hillside. But long lines of cars were forming, and I was hot and hungry. I decided to come back another day with an exclusive load of used tires.
At home the next day I located a suitable replacement tire, and retrofitted it to make a fresh swing. Online I found instructions about how to suspend a tire securely. I developed my own measure to make sure the ropes were spaced almost perfectly symmetrically around the circle. The original swing had issues with maintaining a level flight. I consulted my engineering son to decide how best to secure supports to the main rope. He suggested I tie three of my favourite sailing knots – bowlines – and they worked perfectly. For a fraction of the fortunes spent by late-life-crisis billionaires on their so-called spacecraft, I’ve developed Tire Swing Type II. I am confident it will last well into another generation. It too offers split seconds of weightlessness, but it will be offered to riders who don’t have to be part of the “1 per cent.”
The old relic still rests against the garage. It forms a circle of memories that will be hard to load up and discard again. From a certain angle, its duct tape even appears to be smiling.
Bruce Brandon lives in Leaskdale, Ont.
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