Why Boys Climb Trees
In the halcyon days of my youth climbing a tree was the biggest obstacle in my life and reaching the summit was life’s greatest reward. I am not sure if it is hereditary or just axiomatic that almost all boys like climbing trees, but Noah gets a smile on his face and twinkle in his eye when I nod my head, granting him permission for him to attempt a tree we are walking by. This is the age of trees.
Any tree. Every tree.
My son and I were at Kelly Park the other day, and suddenly he freezes. His eyes go big. He whispers, “Oh, I can climb that one.”
His voice is misty and dreamlike, and his face is turned upward, sort of the way I act when I see a perfectly grilled 20 oz porterhouse.
I follow his gaze. It’s an oak tree. It must have been planted during the Washington Administration. It towers over us, its boughs rough and gnarled and calling to him in a way only kids can hear. As adults we have forgotten the sirens call of a great tree.
“Climb! Climb me! Can you do it?”
If I’m kicking around the house, maybe making dinner or tidying up, and I realize I haven’t heard Captain Destructo in a couple minutes and can’t find him anywhere, I know just where to look.
We have a tree in our back yard. It is only about 20 or so feet high, and its limbs are too saggy and fragile to climb very high.
Of course, it doesn’t bother Noah. To him, the tree is a dark tower, a monolith of impossible heights, of incredible fantasies.
I watch him climb all of five, maybe six feet and stop, his legs dangling off a limb and his arms reaching above his head. Sometimes I can hear him chattering to himself: It’s a spaceship, an airplane, a pirate ship, a UFO. Sometimes it’s a fort or a house or just a jungle tree.
To him, it is alive with story and magic.
When I watch my son in a huge tree, or any tree for that matter, I admit a part of me wants to call out: Be careful! Get down! Please, just … I don’t know. Keep your feet on the ground. But this goes against who I am and who I want him to be. Yet I still send admonishments of caution. “Three points of contact! son.”
But I know the uselessness of those words. I know the magnetic pull of trees, of heights, of pushing yourself through waves of fear and feeling the incredible rush of new-found courage – or of just finding a place of your own, a crotch or a limb to let your flag fly.
It seems everywhere we go, he wants to climb every tree he sees. He tried to scramble up a slender birch tree at my grandparents’ house. A weekend hike took twice as long as usual because he conquered every tree in his path. Sometimes I’ll climb with him and remember what it was like, this feeling of sylvan bliss. I watch his face dazzle and glow at what must be the first inklings of freedom. (because sadly days of letting our kids go all day without us on a bicycle are long gone) Is that the pull of climbing?
Near my home, an oak tree grows. It’s gnarled and mean and old and towers over everything. Sometimes Noah and I will be playing and I can see him stare at it and get lost for a moment, as if he can hear it calling to him.
Climb, it must be whispering. Can you beat me?
One year, I think to myself, one year I will find him there, high up and smiling.