At our house (which is my childhood home), the front yard is flat. But the back yard has a slope. It always has. We used to roll down the hill. (We were much smaller then, and it seemed like a hill. It’s more of a slope.) The first summer my family was in the house, we, with our neighbors, played kickball in the backyard, from our yard and into the neighbors’. (Erase the hedges and fence and trees and grass.) Home base was about where I stood to take this photo. First and third bases were about at the lot line, and I cannot even remember where second base was. Far into the neighbor’s yard, I guess.
We didn’t really think about the hills in the yards. All the lots that backed up to ours were flat. Almost all the nearby streets were flat. Just a few blocks away, there were hills. When I went to ride down Wooded Acres, there was an amazing, glorious, steep hill; a wonderful speedy ride down. But, then, a tedious, strenuous ride back up, which usually ended in a walk back up. If I went the other direction from my house, from my flatish neighborhood, there were hills, too, but not as steep. And if I got a good fast ride down, I might be able to get enough speed to propel me back up, with just a little bit of pumping to get me to the top.
And we never really thought about the sloping backyards and flat backyards. That’s just the way the yards were.
JoAnne was a geology major at Baylor. For one semester. Doing some research for a class, she came across some interesting data. It seems there’s a fault running through our backyards. It shows up in some geological maps she was pouring over. Not a giant fault. Just a small, gently sloping, hill-rolling fault. The kind that most neighborhoods should have.
For more than a month, I’ve been working in the yard, almost every weekday. Trimming things, and pulling weeds, and planting things, and spreading mulch, and just sort of cleaning up. At my age, I need lots of time to do even the simplest kinds of yard work. But, as I walk up and down and up and down and up and down my sloping back yard, I’m beginning to feel the difference in my leg muscles. And as I clip and dig and haul, I think my arms are growing stronger.
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;
Isaiah 40:4 (New King James Version)
Fill in the valleys,
level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
clear out the rocks.
Isaiah 40:4 (The Message)
I love the King James Version of this verse because it’s part of Handel’s Messiah and I cannot just read it. I sing it in my head when I see or hear these words.
I love the Message version, because it communicates to me that I am the one who should be doing the work. So as I work physically, smoothing out the flower beds, clearing the rocks out of the garden, I can think also of the work I could and should be doing metaphorically, smoothing out rough places in people’s lives, making difficult situations easier, removing obstacles. Maybe it should be a change in attitude. I know the slope in the yard makes it more difficult to mow, but, it’s a great way to strengthen thigh muscles, and a perfect place for little kids to practice their rolling skills.