Columns

2013.04.10 I'm out of my tree

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

What my yard lacks is a good climbing tree. It's never had one since I've lived here. There's no way up and into that old maple by the driveway. I don't think I ever entered the middle-aged maple in back. The spruce, the Siberian elm and the enormous red maple—all three that fell in the big storm of 2000—were unapproachable. Everything else is too young. I'm grounded here.

I don't recall when I was last in a tree, but I was reminded of climbing when I recently saw a mention of International Tree Climbing Day. And I just missed it. It's the last day of March and it's now on my calendar for 2014. Now there's a little extra incentive to stay limber and to look around for a suitable subject.

Here's the motto of the tree climbing event: "Liberate the Horizontal, Integrate the Vertical Super Surface." Along with this: "Til death do us part."

Some people celebrate the day alone; others plan meet-ups such as this one: "We will be at Jahanpanah City Forest, Delhi, meeting at the entrance of Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg at 16.30 pm, or just see you up in the branches."

Apparently the event was started by the Irational artist group in Bristol, United Kingdom, in 2003. A year later there were 10 events planned in six countries. In 2009, the group was looking for reports of "sublime interspecies playing." The following year there were planned events in 20 countries.

There's serious tree climbing and then there's just fooling around climbing. The latter is what this event is about, based on the photos I've seen.

Here's a report from a climber: " i love climbing trees! i recently fell 40-50ft and landed about a foot away from a metal bench. i didnt break a bone. i was sitting on a branch and it snapped so i grabbed my backup branch... it broke too. on my fall down, i caught a branch in mid-air. it broke too."

Forty to 50 feet is serious business. You wouldn't see me that high in a tree, not even when I was 16 years old.

When I think of tree climbing for fun, I think of Rick Ford. Wasn't it Rick who used to climb the tall cottonwoods along Bean Creek and watch football games from on high, back when the football field was at Wakefield Park? Someone used to join him up there. Lenny Dietrich, maybe. Crazy stuff. Those guys were really up there. I remember one night they were spotted by "the authorities" and ordered to come down. I don't recall the outcome.

Here's another climber report: "i love tree climbing, at the top of a tree is the only place i feel truly safe and relaxed! i been climbin trees since i was little, fell out of a few but they just made me better at climbin trees."

Young bodies are more resilient. I don't recall ever falling from a tree, but when I was growing up, our yard at the big house on Cawley Road was an excellent tree yard. My favorite was the multi-trunked maple in the front. You needed to wedge yourself betwixt two trunks to work your way up before grabbing a branch. I tried to get into a hackberry with a ladder. I often visited the sugar maple by the road and once or twice made it into the Norway maple. The enormous horse chestnut in back wasn't very approachable, but I tried.

Going back to that second quote—about feeling safe and relaxed in trees—that's what amateur, low-level tree-climbing is all about for me. It's been 40 years, I suppose, but I can still remember a day at the gravel pit on Mulberry Road. There was a collection of young cottonwoods growing along the top of what at that time was a large rise and a sand cliff below. Probably the edge of the ancient lake before Lake Erie. 

There was a strong wind and I climbed into one of those trees. It wasn't just climbing, it was riding. The trees were in such movement at the edge of the cliff, slowly moving back and forth toward the edge of the drop-off. Such exhilaration. Maybe that's the chief thrill and pleasure right there: Moving slowly in the wind as the tree is blown about.

My calendar is marked for next year, but I think it's time to be on the lookout for a good, safe climb, just to feel that magical movement again.

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