Tuesday, July 3, 2012

You can divide the world into two groups of people: People who climbed trees as kids, and people who didn't.

Similarly, you can divide the world into groups of people who took tap-dancing lessons, and people who didn't. Or people who enjoy Parmesan cheese, and people who don't. I don't know why so many writers think it's a clever idea to start essays this way. You can divide the world into two groups over LITERALLY anything.

"There are people who fish, and then there are people who don't."

No shit. If you are assigning ONE characteristic to a group of people, then you either are that thing or you are not. This is not a revelation. Stop it.

But anyway, I was a kid who climbed trees. Though I'm pretty sure I've always loved the idea of tree-climbing much more than I loved the actual act. I am still very fond of setting scenes in trees. There's something romantic and a bit magical about how the world looks from a tree's highest branches.

It's easy to write two people onto a tall tree branch. It is not so easy to physically, actually climb to a tall branch. There are not usually enough branches available to aid you on this perilous quest. Trees were not designed with a young girl's climbing adventures in mind—they are not nature's jungle gyms. And you have not known terror until you are halfway up a tree and realize that you have nowhere nearby to climb to, and that you will probably fall, and will forever be known as the dumbass girl who fell out of the tree in front of her house.

(The fact that I was more nervous about the embarrassment than, you know, broken bones reveals a lot about what kind of kid I was, but anyway.)

One day I came home from school with my friends Skye and Amy in tow. I quickly announced that I was in the mood to climb a tree, and my friends seemed amenable to the idea. Unfortunately, there were not many climbable trees near my house. The tree out front had been my Everest. I had tried and tried, but my sense of dignity could only handle publicly failing to tree-climb so many times. Also my parents had forbidden me from attempting any future expeditions at that particular location, though all they'd really said was that I needed to "stop hurting yourself on that tree, honey."

The branches of the other trees on my family's property were far too high for our nine-year-old arms to reach. I looked in yearning at the small forest behind my house. It was full of trees with low, sturdy branches—practically overflowing with them. Unfortunately those woods did not belong to my family; they belonged to the family who lived behind us. And while that family was perfectly fine with my climbing their trees with their two young sons, they took issue with my climbing into one alone to read a book.

But our neighbors didn't own the entire woods. The first row of trees was on my family's property. These trees happened to be pine trees. I had never climbed a pine tree before. When I asked Skye and Amy, I found they hadn't either. I suggested we take a look at one of the pine trees, to inspect its climbability. They agreed to accompany me on this quest.

With one look back toward my house, I ducked under the branches of the largest pine tree of the bunch. I was pleased to see that plenty of thick branches grew low enough for me to get an easy foothold. The branches also were so close together that they were practically stairs! I quickly scrambled up this easy-to-climb-tree with gleeful abandon, and my friends raced to catch up.

After a while, Amy suggested that we check how far we had climbed. When you climb pine trees, the needles block you from seeing anything beyond the tree's branches. I shimmied a little ways out onto the branch and gasped.

I could see my roof! I had climbed farther than my roof! In my nine year old mind, this seemed on par with propelling myself to the moon by sheer will. The branches were still thick and plentiful, so I insisted that we continue on our adventure. I was shocked that both girls seemed hesitant about this. They had climbed far enough. They insisted that they didn't mind if I climbed higher on my own—it would give them a chance to rest before we climbed down.

Now I was by no means an athletic child. But I liked to think I was on occasion. Tapes of my rec center basketball games provide hours of humiliating proof. (Thank God no one uses VCRs anymore.)

So I climbed farther. MUCH farther. In fact, I only stopped climbing when a light breeze swayed the entire tree to the left. Because that's the thing about pine trees—they are really easy to climb, and they are also FUCKING DANGEROUS to climb. The higher you get on a pine tree, the less ability the tree's matchstick thin trunk has to handle your weight.

I wrapped my arms and legs around the tree trunk as it swayed to and fro. I felt miraculously calm. I could see the whole city (mine wasn't that big, but it was still pretty damn cool). I was up where only birds shared my company and their chirps were all I could hear.

This miraculous calm lasted for about 3.5 seconds.

Then my thoughts went something like this:

Huh. You know, I seem to be clinging to a toothpick of a tree which is behaving much like a bucking bronco. There are also bloody scratches all over me from the climb up here. My house appears to be approximately the size of a napkin. Yes, the view is awesome up here. I'm sure I will appreciate this so much when I'm DEAD.

This was followed by a good five minutes of weeping, sobbing terror.

About four minutes into my sobbing, my mother decided it would be a good idea to come out into the backyard. I silenced my pathetic cries but Skye and Amy called out to my mom. She chastised them for climbing the tree then asked where I was.

They both pointed up.

I don't like to imagine what it must have been like for my mother to look up, up, up and finally find the patch of blue that was my jumper. How it must have felt for her to recognize that spot as her daughter, and to realize that I balanced precariously in a spot where, if I were to fall, I would definitely, definitely die.

I don't like thinking about this because on some level I believe in karma, and I'm not at all sure I would handle being in my mom's shoes anywhere near as well as she did. Instead of hollering at me for my tree-climbing idiocy, she calmly talked me through climbing back down. Once my friends and I were down, we were scolded and also received an in-depth explanation as to why climbing pine trees is, as already mentioned, FUCKING DANGEROUS.

(My mom, who never curses, would like you all to know that I’m paraphrasing here.)


  1. I was always terrified of heights, though I managed to climb a few trees. I loved the idea, but good trees were huuugely lacking.

    1. Seriously. Tree-climbing is a nice idea, but most trees were not designed with it in mind.

  2. Hilarious. Your writing's helping to fill the Allie-Brosh-shaped hole in my heart :)

    1. Thank you so much. But I will never fill that hole. Allie Brosh has a very specific shape--roughly that of a worm unicorn with stick appendages.

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    1. Aww, sorry for deleting your first comment. My Twitter account was hacked recently so I've been extra-wary of tweets or comments with links in them.

      But thanks so much! And HI, India! You are one of the countries that I am most eager to visit, I'll have you know.