Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Lost Art of Tree Climbing

Do kids still climb trees?

I practically lived in trees when I was a kid. Our back yard abutted The Woods, which is what we called the one-acre-or-so property of our neighbor. To a small kid, The Woods was vast, dark, and mysterious; a forest of pines that laid a blanket of needles on the ground, dotted with pine cones and the occasional robin's egg, which we'd carry home gently and nest in a shoebox filled with grass, hoping to become adoptive parents of a tiny, soggy baby bird.

The trees were easy to climb (up, at least), with low-hanging branches that left your hands and clothes sticky with dark sap. Mom hated those sap-stained t-shirts, because the washer would loosen the sticky globs just enough to lift off a chunk and deposit it on one of Dad's dress shirts.

My brother and I and our friends would dare each other to climb higher and higher, to where the branches bent under our weight and we started to wonder in the back of our minds if we'd be able to get back down safely. We never did have to call the fire department, but I remember the fear that started to trickle down into my stomach when I reached down blindly with my foot and felt around for the next branch but didn't connect right away.

I still climbed the next day. We all did. It's what we did, before video games, when our moms got tired of our noise and sent us outside to play. We climbed trees.

(This reminds me of a line from The Princess Bride, when the Grandpa comes to read his Grandson a story. Grandson, skeptically: "A book?" Grandpa: "That's right. When I was your age, television was called books.")

My best friend Jane and I imagined ourselves a whole mansion in the weeping willow in her front yard. There were bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and our favorite, the living room. Each of these rooms had branches that, with the benefit of imagination, formed the requisite furniture of our willow chateau. The bedrooms had wide, horizontal branches: beds. The kitchen had a counter-branch where we chopped leaves and twigs for salad.

The exercise room featured a chin-up bar. I do remember a time, before my body weight exceeded my muscle capacity, being able to pull off 10 or 15 pull-ups and chin-ups in one session.

But, ahh, the weeping willow living room. A sturdy pair of parallel horizontal branches, one higher and about a foot behind the other, formed the couch. We could lean back in willow couch comfort, our feet resting on the willow ottoman, and watch TV through Jane's picture window. It was awesome.

Sometimes Jane's mom (my other mom, we used to say, because I spent so much time at their house) would give us snacks to bring out to our treehouse. A bowl of grapes, a PBJ, or a baggie of Oreos would keep us happy while we watched whatever one of Jane's four older brothers had turned on in the living room.

But back to my original question: do kids still climb trees? Maybe it's because I live in the city, and the tree-climbing options are somewhat limited--but I don't see kids climbing trees very often. In fact, if a kid starts to climb a tree, more often than not his mom or dad will tell him to get down so he doesn't get hurt. Also, many of our urban trees are replacements, still young, with skinny branches not yet ready for prime-time climbing.

Nowadays, tree climbing is an organized recreational activity with gear and rules. That's all fine, I guess--but I'm still a little sad that my kids are mostly missing out on a fun, imagination-fueling childhood activity.


nicole said...

I'll look at my tree fondly today thanks to you. Maybe my dad will give me a boost??

Hope said...

Tree climbing, tree falling, imagining a tree house..... Those were the days, eh? I think nowadays the only tree for kids to climb is the one in the "Treehouse" at the Zoo!!

Kids have playgrounds, bikes, video games, DVDs, and other kids, maybe a dog.... But no trees are available for the most part. Yep, I miss those trees too!!

E. Peevie said...

Nicole and Hope--thanks for commenting, ladies. Glad to have you join me in nostalgia-land.

Anonymous said...

Kids were meant to climb this link (or skim through it)...

E. Peevie said...

Anon--great link. I really do think it's a loss to our kids that they don't climb trees very much.

E. Peevie