Climbing Trees [Writings | Home]


When I was ten, I used to climb every tree in the neighborhood, but my favorite was a fir that stood at one corner of my parents' old, 2-story house. Its boughs brushed the windows of my corner bedroom on the second floor. When you pulled yourself up to the lowest limb, you entered an airy cathedral of arching wood and dappled light. Thick, sturdy branches encircled the trunk like a spiral staircase, and reaching the top of the tree was more of a leisurely hike than a knee-scraping climb. The very tip-top of the tree was far above the house, and a person could see for miles. I would sit cradled between two branches and lose myself in books for hours. Once or twice, I took out a penknife and inscribed my initials next to those of a boy I liked. Other times, I used the knife to draw out beads of sticky sap from the skin of the tree. My little sister made the climb a couple of times, but it was my tree, my sanctuary. It was such a perfect, beautiful tree.

My ten-year-old has inherited my (former) penchant for heights. He has built wooden platforms in two of the trees in our yard, and yesterday, he called out to me from the tip-top of one of the fir trees. I had to tilt my head way back to see him waving at me from among the branches. When he climbed down, he grabbed my hand and pointed out how thick and sturdy the branches were, how like a staircase they were, and I knew he had found a perfect, beautiful tree. But to me, the branches didn't look sturdy enough, and the tree looked twice as tall as the one I had climbed without a care when I was ten.

I try not to temper his exhilaration with motherly fears, but as I watch him scramble up through the branches like a squirrel, so small and quick, I wonder how my parents coped with that sick, scared feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when your child climbs to such dizzying heights. I want to keep him grounded, in every sense of the word, but I also want to see him climb.

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