Yard Is Where The Heart Is

We went to Fresno this weekend: that great mecca of tract housing and mini malls.

I LOVE Fresno. So much so that I call it FresYES. I grew up in the Midwest — in the suburbs of Detroit’s West Side. And although I wouldn’t outright call myself a fan of tract housing and mini malls, I’m sort of from the place where those things were invented. And so whenever I enter the perfectly symmetrical Fresno city grid, I can’t help but feel a little intoxicated.

Fresno is seriously like a giant suburb of nothing. Like an atomic bomb of post-war development just went off in the middle of the San Fernando Valley. You enter the grid and you drive and you drive and you drive past mile after mile after mile of restaurants and shopping malls and gas stations and drive-through banks and you think you’re going to come to the city or the waterfront or the SOMETHING, but… Nope. Eventually you just pop out the other side of the grid. And you’re back in the valley surrounded by almond trees.

It’s a weird little swath of something familiar to me that seems to have no business being where it is, but I like it where it is because I can go there for a bit, eat at some chain restaurants, go to some crappy bars, and then go home to the more “worldly” life I enjoy complaining about in the Bay Area. And pretend like I don’t miss the Midwest.

Yes, I am an enigma. Full of contradictions.

Trent is from Fresno: born and raised. His grandparents, sister, and his Aunt Pat and Uncle Mike live there, and we go there a lot for family gatherings. This weekend was the annual Easter affair at Pat and Mike’s. Pat and Mike have a KILLER backyard. Sitting outside admiring it all day yesterday in the 82-degree weather (because unlike Detroit, Fresno has perfect weather to go with its mini malls and tract housing), I started to realize just how excited I am for our new backyard.

Backyards breed happiness. At least for Trent and I, they do. We are kindred backyard spirits and would never go inside if given the option. This obviously has something to do with the fact that we both grew up in places where everyone lived in single-family homes on huge plots of land and we got to spend lots of time in our own backyards, but in any case — we talk about the backyard at the new house and what we’re going to do with it more than anything.

Our backyard.

Our beautiful backyard.

We know it’ll be a place for our pup to be the kind of pup he really wants to be, and we’re excited for that. But we also know it has a lot of other potential uses.

Sam fetching in Trent's parents' yard at Lake Almanor.

Sam fetching in Trent's parents' yard at Lake Almanor. That is one happy dog right there.

We want to farm a considerable chunk of it (we’ve got 6,000 square feet, after all), and set up a big home composting bin. Maybe a rain-water capture system, too (all of this with the help of my colleagues here at Chabot, of course). We want to use the backyard as a place to start learning and experimenting with real-world endeavors: growing, harvesting, building, sustaining. We believe that in the coming decades, as we run out of oil and come to terms with the fact that our existence as-is isn’t sustainable, our generation is going to have to learn to live more like our grandparents’ generation.

Barbecue at our current apartment in San Francisco.

Gearing up for a bbq in our current backyard (huge by SF standards).

Yard Lab in full effect, yo!

And we know it will be a place for us to come together with our family and friends, the way our backyards always were growing up (and still are). We’re looking forward to barbecues, fires in the firepit, harvests (!), and even just simple dinners on the deck.

In fact, a lot of our life will probably happen outside the house. And now that I think about it, most of my favorite memories as a child always took place in the yard.

See? I spent some time this morning looking through old photos of my family gatherings in the yard(s) through the years…

My dad, Great Uncle Nick, Grandpa Frank, and Grandpa Sam playing bocce at my grandparents' house in the early 80s.

My dad, Great Uncle Nick, Grandpa Frank, and Grandpa Sam playing bocce at my grandparents' house in the early 80s (note: bocce set would make great housewarming gift!).

Planting flowers in the backyard with my dad.

Planting flowers in the backyard with my dad. In California, though, my flowers will bloom all year.

Going down the Slip n' Slide in the backyard as a kid.

A little summertime Slip n' Slide action!

When I think about the amount of work we have to do on the house, I get overwhelmed quickly, but the same is never true when I think about the yard. It just represents happiness to me.

I sat on my in-laws patio yesterday, looking at the house paperwork and trying to absorb all the advice coming at me from everyone and every direction and at a certain point I thought I couldn’t take any more of it and I would have to go inside to get away from it all… But I just never did. I mean, it was way too nice of a day, and it was way too stinkin’ perfect on that shady patio, with Sam rolling in the grass nearby.

I’ve figured out that I’m this kind of person: the yard is the place I run to to get away from the house. Not the other way around.

Trent and I lying in the hammock in Pat and Mike's yard in Fresno.

Husband, family, hammock, sunshine.

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4 thoughts on “Yard Is Where The Heart Is

  1. Lisa, I don’t believe I have heard a more beautiful dissertation on a backyard anywhere. I really think you should consider a column on home ownership. Or maybe a column on life. A few thoughts from mom……….Yes, you always loved playing the backyard. I could never get you in the house! And when I took you camping with the Girl Scouts the first time, I thought you might wimp out on me, but you never did. In fact, you were the most courageous girl at camp! You were even willing to dig a latrine! I figured that you and your sister are so smart because you played in the backyard so much! And I think you are right about turning to a more simple way of life. If anybody can make that work, you and Trent can. Most of us envy you. I want to be more like you. And that is one darn happy dog. Just the way he runs says he thinks he has died and gone to heaven. He should be on a dog food commercial. The grandparents and I enjoyed your column tonight. We will be spending some time in the driveway tomorrow soaking up the sunshine and thinking of you. And if you want your great grandfather’s bocce, just say the word. Love, Mom

  2. lisatemp says:

    I think you need a column of your own, Munga! 😉

  3. Marlene says:

    OH I love the Munga/Lisa Lovefest. And I can’t wait for all the Summer gardening fun over there.

  4. Carla Daniels says:

    Vegan BBQ puppy playtime!! Can’t wait to see it.

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