I was a child who inhabited trees. The property around our neighborhood was full of mature trees that provided multiple sites for treehouses. Some were built by professionals who knew what they were doing. Others were kid-built and, thinking back, I’m surprised my parents allowed us to hang out so high off the ground in structures that were iffy at best. It’s the way it was in those days.
I loved being in the trees. Mostly there were good memories of our times in the branches. I do remember falling out of a tree once, although evidently I was okay since there were no broken bones or serious injuries that I recall. When I was twelve, resisting the inevitable onset of puberty, I had a Tarzan suit. I’m certain my mother had more than a few concerns as she heard me belting out my Tarzan yell from high up in a tree. Those days were remnants of a time when I still had the freedom to be myself, before having to conform to the pressures of fitting in as an adolescent and eventual young adult. I’m glad I had my foundational years in trees.
Not long ago, I was reading a poem about a tree with the 3rd/4th graders. In our follow-up discussion about trees, I asked how many had climbed a tree. Only a few raised their hands. Given how significant tree climbing was in my childhood, I was surprised and even saddened that many of these kids didn’t have the same experience. Due to health department regulations that require a soft fall zone beneath places where children climb, we don’t permit our students to climb trees at the Seed. Keeping that in mind, I decided we needed to offer tree climbing to our oldest students as a rite of passage before leaving the Seed. On Monday morning it happened.
After obtaining parental permission, we hauled several tumbling mats outside to serve as the fall zone. Without providing a ladder or other devices, we offered an invitation to the students to figure out how they thought they could climb up into the tree. One student scurried up the trunk and onto a branch before anyone could blink an eye. A few were timid at first, but all eventually made it up into a tree. Some students climbed up once, climbed higher, then hung out way up in the branches, perched alone or among friends. A couple children tried out each of the two trees, climbing up and down several times. Others had one successful climb, then chose to watch from below.
We allowed them time to savor their experience. I sensed that they were taking it all in, each in his or her own way. I was carried back to my own childhood and how I felt hanging out in a place between earth and sky. I’m hoping that, if they wish, these children will have other tree climbing moments. Whether they do or not, I was happy to have helped create a space for them where freedom, courage, and wonder all briefly intersected.