Climb A Tree

I grew up in a small mountain village surrounded by forests, rivers, and over one million acres of National Forest. My family lived in a cozy cabin overlooking a small river and I would spend every possible moment in my wilderness world right in my backyard.  Ever since my first rock climbing trip when I was five or six I have been obsessed with climbing. My three brothers and I climbed everything. We even had different routes to get to the roof of our cabin utilizing siding and window sills as foot- and hand-holds. Although I doubt our father knew precisely how many times we nearly maimed ourselves (or worse) on a daily basis, he must have had his suspicions. He would never let us take his climbing ropes into the mountains, which kept our explorations closer to the ground. There were various cliffs that we named, such as the White Cliffs and the two Red Cliffs (the upper one and the lower one). The lower Red Cliffs were nearly impassable – my brothers and I did discover one route up the middle but it terrified us so much that we never returned. Once was enough. It took us three attempts to surmount the upper Red Cliffs, though. The first time we ran out of water; the second time there was too much loose rock and I nearly killed my younger brother so we bailed; but the third time we finally succeeded and my brother Luke and I stood on the summit. Finally victorious!

Good Tree for Climbing © Elijah Davidson

Then, when I was just shy of a decade old, I read A Wilderness World of John Muir. It was the best book I had ever read. One part of the book that I remember very well, nearly two decades later, was the part where John Muir climbed a tree to listen to the wind. Before reading that I had always assumed that climbing trees was only for kids. I never saw an adult climb a tree unless they were doing so to cut down a branch or even the whole tree. When I read that John Muir, an adult no less, climbed trees it stuck with me and I resolved to begin climbing more trees and to continue climbing them even when I got old. Reading this probably saved my life because my attention shifted from the chossy (climbers’ term for loose and disintegrating rock) cliffs that dotted the canyon where we lived, and back to the trees.

Most people like to look at mountain rivers, and bear them in mind; but few care to look at the winds, though far more beautiful and sublime. – John Muir

We had our favorite trees spread out over several square miles. Short ones, tall ones, gnarled oaks, sappy ones, and ones so tall we were not bold enough to reach the top despite numerous attempts and bold speeches to the contrary. I taught myself to whistle so that I could “talk” to the birds. I would listen to their calls and try to mimic them. At first my whistling would bring an unnatural quiet across the forest, but as I improved curious chickadees would fly up to me, a quizzical look in their dark eyes when they discovered a young boy instead of another bird perched high above the ground resting in the branches. I would sit in the trees for long periods of time being rocked by the wind, feeling it rustle through my hair. Watching the ants plod ever upwards. Chatting with the birds. And imagining myself able to fly through the clouds that I could almost touch from my perch so high above the ground.

Treetop View © Isaac Tait

As part of my school work I read another book, Ishi: Last Of His Tribe, which is a story about an Indian boy growing up in the Wild West. In the beginning of the book, Ishi is running through the forest with his friend and they jump off of a cliff into a tree and slide down the branches, landing safely on the ground. I told my brother Luke about it and decided that tree jumping was the next thing we should try. That night at dinner we were very careful not to mention our plan to our parents so that they would not have the opportunity to forbid it. The next day we plunged into the forest to find the perfect tree jumping spot. It took a bit of searching to find a cliff with a tree close enough to the base and with enough branches, but next to a dry creek we found one: an alder about forty feet tall with big branches. It was growing out of the base of a thirty foot cliff. We stood at the top of the cliff for quite some time pondering the broken bones that would surely ensue if we botched the jump. Without warning my brother Luke jumped! As he sailed through the air over the thirty foot void, arms outstretched I stood at the edge, crouched and ready to descend to his aid if he missed the tree. He caught the trunk and with a well-placed foot stopped his plunge by landing on a thick branch. He clung to the tree with an adrenaline fueled bear hug as it swayed violently back and forth. So much so that it appeared to nearly topple over but slowly it righted itself. Not to be outdone by my younger brother, I jumped. It was terrifying, exhilarating, and awesome! We climbed down the tree and after congratulating ourselves on our successful exploits we went in search of another tree jumping spot as there was still plenty of daylight.

Nearly a quarter of a century later I still climb trees. I try to find at least one to climb on each hike. Observing the winds, listening to its arcanum as it caresses the foliage, the aroma of the mountains as it tickles your nose, and carrying on conversations – or at least listening in – with the birds can all be enjoyed while lounging on the branches of a tree. Not to mention, the perspective offered high in the bows will open a rarely experienced world missed by the multitudes who have come before you. So what are you waiting for? On your next outing go climb a tree – but leave the tree jumping to the professionals.

Climbing Trees ©Rhondie Tait

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