One magical element of a farm childhood includes the thrill of tree climbing. When mountain climbers have been asked, “What makes you do this?” and the answer is “Because it is there.”
I could relate through my own experience of tree climbing. The first time I heard what sounded like a decidedly derogatory statement about “those darn tree huggers,” I had no idea why there was a problem with it. In my naive way of thinking, I was picturing all those many attempts at shimmying up a beech tree, and couldn’t imagine why anyone would have a complaint about such a feat.
The great thing about being a farm kid with acres upon acres of woods to explore is that there were trees of all shapes and sizes, just waiting to be climbed and conquered. The only drawback was that there just weren’t enough hours in a day to get it all done.
A tree could be anything we wanted it to be. When I was still very small, there was a nice little grove of tall, spindly lilac bushes that served as a great place to play house for my sister Debi and me.
Debi would instruct me just exactly which part of the grove was our kitchen, and we could climb to the loft above the kitchen because we were rich and only rich people had a kitchen loft. Obviously!
We each had our own bedroom in that lilac grove, and the sweet smell of the flowering bushes suddenly gave us the idea that our wonderful home was located in the heart of Paris.
It was heartbreaking to lose those clusters of fragrant bouquets as spring progressed on toward the heat of summer, but by then, it was time to lay claim to a new tree for our next adventure.
If we were lucky enough to have cousins or neighbor kids visiting, we could divide ourselves into cowboys and Indians, and the entire woods was our playground. The mighty oaks, the solid black walnut trees and the spindly scrub trees all lent themselves to our vivid imaginations.
We had trees that served as forts to gain a safe haven, and other trees that became the banks just waiting to be robbed by the bad guys. We had a huge old sycamore that served as the meeting place when it was time to decide all those major things that childhood play dictates simply must be decided upon.
On a day that we were able to continue playing nonstop until milking time, we might pack our own version of a picnic: Saltine crackers and raisins, maybe a thermos of Kool-Aid. We were ready to hunker down for a nice, long adventure.
My younger sisters often had to give me a boost to climb some of the trees that they had already conquered. I learned how to step into a locked pair of hands and accept a push from behind while grabbing for the lowest limb of the tree someone had already decided would be our picnic tree for the day.
I never minded climbing up. It was climbing back down that gave me the chill up and down the spine, the scary anticipation of making that jump down to the ground always making me wish for a parachute.
Our very favorite tree stood like an enormous centerpiece in our yard. It was a stately old maple that had grown incredibly large, sprawling its limbs in every direction. One of the lower limbs offered itself perfectly for a swing, and we spent hours upon hours taking turns on that long swing.
It was a thrill to push and pump yourself high enough to touch one of the large branches with your tippy-toes. On a hot summer day, that swing was our only version of air conditioning, and it was a grand reprieve after a day of baling hay followed by a long stint in the milking parlor.
I still find myself scoping out a tree to see which one might be a good climber, and which ones would be nearly impossible to scale. There are trees that lend themselves just perfectly to a tree house, and others that seem basically worthless for anything but a little shade.
Books had given me all kinds of ideas as a kid. I remember climbing up an old scrubby tree in our side yard one day after having tied a book to a skinny little rope so I could pull it up once I got comfortable on a sturdy limb, vowing I was not coming back down until I finished the book.
I read a chapter or two and wondered why no one was making a fuss, telling me I had to come back down, which is what every nanny or governess would be doing in every book I’d ever read.
I found out that tree really wasn’t all that comfortable for reading. I threw the book to the grass below and climbed back down. No one had even noticed I’d been missing. I guess the governess had better things to do.