The Art of Climbing Trees

Climbing trees is one of those uniquely satisfying endeavors, uncomplicated but not simple, enough of a challenge to give you the satisfaction of accomplishment. Grab a branch, feel out its strength, position your feet on a sturdy branch below you, or maybe on a junction of smaller branches that, combined, will hold your weight for the moment. Or, if you’re just starting off, grab a branch and hoist yourself up. Or walk your feet up the trunk until you can hoist yourself. The art of climbing trees is not a static one, but one that changes as you grow. You get taller, you weigh more, your joints ache in new and unhelpful ways. The tree may be the same, but you certainly aren’t.

When you’re young, it’s easy, and it’s a thrill. A manageable thrill, a calculated risk, something that your mother will bite her lip and hold her breath and crinkle her forehead over while you ascend, knowing full well you’re in control and safe. She doesn’t know, you think, but you do. You know something your mother does not! Something so obvious, but still it’s your secret. You can climb trees–everyone knows and no one knows. There’s so much magic in that.

When you’re a bit older, it’s a way to show off. Look at me, look at what I can do–I can climb this high, I’m aware enough that there’s real danger in doing so, but I can do it anyways and I will! I’m good at something. I’m great at this. Are you as good as me? As fearless? As brave? (It’s not brave, not really, but you don’t know the difference between fearless and brave.) Mom would yell at me, or maybe she wouldn’t bother because she knows I won’t listen anymore, but she’d still tell me I should be careful, I should come down, but I don’t have to, she can’t stop me. I’m climbing this tree, dammit, and no one’s going to stop, but everyone should look at me.

Then when you’re older still, it’s a reminder. Of how once upon a time, you could jump to that first branch, grab it with the barest ends of your fingers and pull your little body up, but now you have to get there some other way. Manuevering through these branches was simpler then, you remember how quickly you did it, how carefree and heedless of the real danger. Then again, was it actually all that dangerous? Sure, you could’ve fallen, but you were always really good at this. Maybe the chances of you falling weren’t so high as your mom believed them to be after all. Now, however, you weigh more, you aren’t as flexible, you know how hard the ground below will be. Still, you reach for that next branch, you find a new path up the tree, maybe not quite as high as you once went, but the view is still quite lovely all the same, and you still feel you’re good at something, you can something, it doesn’t quite matter if anyone else saw you (because you’re an adult, and it’s a little silly to be climbing trees at your age), because you saw you, and you know you can still do it.

Finally, when you have a few more years on yet, you might see someone else climbing a tree, someone much smaller and younger who doesn’t know about real danger, or the difference between being fearless and being brave, or how your knees creak when you walk up stairs. They’ll be all joy and bravado and they’ll know the secrets you used to know, the secrets they think you’ve forgotten if you ever knew them at all, and you’ll see how far they might fall, how hard the ground is, how small and thin the branches are. Then maybe you’ll remember what it’s like to know a secret your mom doesn’t know, to be fearless and think it’s brave, or maybe you’ll bite your lip and hold your breath and your forehead will crinkle….

Or maybe both.