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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