More than just a pretty leaf

Sometimes a tree begs to be climbed.I feel badly for anyone who has never climbed a tree. there is some thing special and wondrous about the feeling of being up there in the small branches atmost where the birds fly free. Of course, sometimes that is a scary place to be.

When I was a kid, we had an outhouse about 100 yards up the driveway, a  two-holer – a big hole for big people and a small hole for, well, small people. It was one of my favorite reading places. I’d sit in there and devour a variety of books, as well as the current edition of “Readers Digest,” and sometimes have to chat with a passing moose.

Out behind the miniature castle, a tall White Birch, about six inches diameter, raised its branches to the sky. There was just enough space between the tree and the building to allow a youngster to lean against the building, place his feet against the tree, and walk to the roof like a mountain climber working up a rock chimney.

Unfortunately, he who goes up must eventually return to earth for dinner – a task not as obviously safe as the upward effort. There were, of course, no branches at that elevation – birch branches typically are near the top of the tree, well above the outback’s roof.

I never got over that fear. While not debilitating, it did cause me to take longer to get down than up. I’ve never been able to understand the effect. Like when I would climb the underside of a 32-foot extension ladder; going up to hang storm windows on the front of the house was no problem. But my legs would begin to shiver as soon as I was heading down.

My favorite trees stood just outside the kitchen door, a few feet from the lake – a maple, hemlock and a birch.

The birch stood by itself, like a teenager standing near enough to be classmate but not really part of the group, intent on its own purpose, such as providing its unwrapping bark for arresting bat’s to hang upside down.

The hemlock and maple had a different purpose, standing side by side to help the boy in his quest to almost reach the sky.

I would climb the hemlock branches until I was high enough to cross over into the arms of the waiting maple. Scurry would be the wrong word to describe the remainder of my ascent, as I carefully made my way to branches I was pretty sure would not hold me if I put all my weight on any one. But if you snuggle close to the tree trunk, and spread your weight among both hands and both feet.

Sometime during the years I was away playing at young adulthood, the birch surrendered to winter snow and fell into the lake, unable to hold itself vertical in the soft sloping lakeside soil. Last I knew, the hemlock and maple were still upright. I hope some youngster will find an opportunity to climb up there, and have parents willing to let him.

We lived for awhile in a townhouse development in Virginia, with neighbors who called the police when our then 7- and 6-year old youngsters climbed some nearby trees.

The trees were city trees, not designed for 240 pounds of me. But they were perfect for the youngsters to practice their risk-taking skills – invaluable, I submit, for any future adult. Better they should take a chance of falling from a weak branch close to the ground than getting up in the maple as a full-grown, Krispy-Kreme-fed, office worker.

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