I have always loved trees. In my childhood, much to the dismay of the adult population in general, I loved to climb trees. What else were they there for?! Well, as it turned out, adults had funny ideas about the answers to that question. They valued trees for such silly reasons as –
Right up into my young adult years, I never saw a tree I didn’t want to climb – all the way to the top if possible. There was this tall tulip tree on the high ground of our farm and when you got way up to the top you could look down on all the buildings, the county road and the tops of the trees in the lower woodlot all while swaying pleasantly in the breeze! There were some catalpas in my maternal grandparents front yard which measured the years of my growing by how far up into them I could get at the time. There were many other individual trees I could mention but you get the picture.
The problem, as hinted at in the opening paragraph of this post, was escaping adult supervision. Almost every really good climbing tree grew in the territory of an adult who would end up standing on the ground below LOUDLY insisting that I get down before I fell and killed my fool self – a thing I never did. Well, obviously, I never killed myself. But I never fell either. I have never fallen out of a tree. I have always thought that if I should fall out of a tree and hit the ground, someone else would have to climb back up and retrieve my fingers because they would still be up there gripping bark. I have one aunt – who didn’t even own the stupid tree – who would nevertheless stand below with an egg turner insisting I come down so she could whip me for climbing the tree in the first place. I never found that to be extremely strong motivation for coming down and, it turned out I was correct in thinking my aunt was not, despite her threats to the contrary, coming up to get me.
I will jump to the end for a moment and say that at age 63 I don’t climb as many trees – though it is not yet out of the question – and, I admit, I have come to love and value trees for all those adult reasons that seemed so meaningless to me back then. But along the way to my current position, there was a definite turning point. About the time I turned 14, adults (at least a certain class of them) seemed to change their minds about the advisability of my climbing trees. And those (mostly of the female persuasion) who still considered tree climbing dubious, at least let their forbiddings settle down to forebodings – by which I mean they might stand by and fuss and wring their hands and predict imminent death, but they quit howling for me to get down out of the tree.
If I lost you, let me clarify. Say a tree needed trimming or topping. Or, say a tree needed felling but it needed cabled first so it could be pulled away from a house, fence, power line, etc. Or, say there was an old-fashioned pear tree with fruit growing well out of reach from the ground. If the adults affected by these or other similar circumstances didn’t have immediate access to a bucket truck, they needed someone to CLIMB THE TREE. They needed someone who wasn’t afraid to climb way up to the top or shinny way out on a high limb. They often needed someone sure enough of himself in a tree that he could hang on with one hand while working a hand saw with the other. They needed someone who could climb trailing at least a light line which could be used to haul heavier cables or chains up to the fastening point. My popularity in this capacity lasted decades. It is only in the last couple of years that I have pretty much given it up. The last tree of any size I climbed, topped, cabled and felled was a sixty-foot fir at a restaurant owned by friends. The tree was crowded between a street, power lines, buildings and the restaurant sign with only one possible path for safely falling and it needed to be topped before it was short enough for that path. I attracted much attention on that occasion from passersby on the city street – all the females in the cars no doubt taking up the old pastime of writing my obituary in advance.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church