“I should prefer to have some boy bend them, / As he went out and in …” Birches, by Robert Frost.
Better a boy than an ice storm should bend the birches. A girl could bend them, as well, if a girl is in the house, and requires exploratory forays into a nearby forest. To climb a really tall tree is to gain a sense of accomplishment not available to parents and other adults who are well advised to stick to the lower, thicker branches.
And to have Mom worried that you might fall is to have an opportunity to show her, “No, I won’t.” There is no finer feeling than to tell her you will not fall, and then prove it.
Climbing trees was one of my favorite pastimes, when I was considerably younger than I am. There was a huge maple outside our kitchen door, with a long-needled pine next to it. Short needle pines are prickly, but long needles easily brush away under-hand, and the limbs are precisely placed for young human bodies to bend around them during the ascent.
Up near the top, where the pine became too small to be comfortably supportive, I finally could reach the first place on the maple – a giant fork where the single trunk became two, and I could switch trees to continue the ascent.
There is something special about getting w-a-a-y up there where adults are too scared, er, sensible, to go. Nearer the clouds, where one is looking down on sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and, if one is lucky enough to have a tree lean out over the water, Chain Pickerel and Yellow Perch as they swim ’round, inhaling bugs and smaller fish.
Some of that tree-climbing must have been in my genes because when our son and daughter were about six and five, they found their own climbing venues.
“Mom,” one day came the call from somewhere “out there.”
We stopped and looked around, but the caller was nowhere in sight.
“Up here!” came the boyish voice.
Up where? Mom wondered.
Then she saw them – about 60 feet up in a pine, both of them laughing.
Mom laughed, too, albeit a little nervously.
A few years later, when the U.S. Navy had moved us to a land of townhouses and ten-foot tall “trees,” a neighbor called the police on our growing tree climbers.
“Those kids will get hurt if they fall,” she said.
It would be good, then, if they don’t fall, I replied. But if they do, historical evidence shows kids under about 15 generally bounce rather than break. And next time, they grab stronger branches.
The genes have passed on; our son’s sons and daughter have been caught climbing trees. The daughter – my eldest granddaughter – is nearing the end of her first year in college.
A parent’s job, I eventually figured out, is to point the little rascals toward the forest and turn ’em loose. And when they fall – and they likely will – be just close enough to mark the spot where they land.
Because one thing I’ve noticed to be a nearly universal kid-trait. They land, then look around to see if anyone noticed. If Mom is close, they cry. (I still try that ploy, though at 67 it doesn’t result in nearly the cuddling it did at seven.)
Otherwise, they brush themselves off and climb back up, taking care to find thicker limbs.