To Climb a Tree


Elizabeth Dodd, guest writer

It was February 18, and my anger was flowing freely from a variety of causes.  But I did not try to quell it.  No, I let it loose—free, like a tornado unhindered by mountains.  At times, it is better for the anger to fly rather than to force it to simmer inside as a fire beneath the ground.

My booted feet pounded the ground in an erratic rhythm, carrying me through the field and into the woods.  I knew I would get tired and want to quit—I was out of shape—but my body also knew how to operate outside of itself.  Without the emotion or psychology of discouragement, I could practically program it to keep running.


So I kept running.


In the woods, I stopped, breathing hard, my muscles burning to destroy something, anything.  To do something physical, move.  My gaze locked onto a dead branch of a pine tree.  I went at it, kicking the bottom of my foot into it to make it break.  It didn’t, so I resorted to hanging on it with both hands, using my body weight as leverage.  It still did not break.

I looked up.  Perhaps I could better defeat this foe by gaining the upper ground.


My hands sought the rough bark of the tree and hoisted my weight up.  I found a good foothold and threw my weight into my shoes, bouncing on the branch.  The stubborn thing, it held.  I glared down at it.  That’s when I noticed the green sprig of pine needles sprouting from the side of the branch.

Well.  It’s still green.  Spectacular.


I supposed that I was finished with the branch and turned my attention upward.  The trunk of the pine tree stretched into the blue above me, and I couldn’t resist.  It was better than the destruction of innocent oxygen-makers.

So I climbed.

It became a rhythm: hand, foot, lift.  Other hand, pull, step, lift.  One hand, one foot, at a time.  Like a machine.

The tree thinned out near the top, but I kept going.  It truly wasn’t that tall of a pine tree.  I wondered how hard it would hurt if I fell the twenty-or-so feet to the ground, but I didn’t worry over it.  I’ve never been afraid of heights—how could I be, at five feet, ten inches?


Just keep climbing.


Like a machine.

When I stopped (which wasn’t that long after), I was awed by what I saw.  The pine needles gleamed in the sun, and the scaly skin of the branches looked like a palm tree’s.  It was as if I were an islander climbing a tree just because I could.

I looked out from the top of the tree and saw the tops of the other pine trees—the pine trees in the Maze, as we call the 14-acre wilderness we live on.  I had to catch my breath because I realized that I had lived here my whole life (literally) but never seen the tops of the trees there.  Just days ago, I told my father that one day, I would fly over our property, just to see what it looked like from the sky.

Rotating in my perch, I viewed the property behind me.  It goes slightly uphill in that direction, but at the base of the hill, I saw that there were two trees that were slightly taller than the one I had climbed.

Higher was better.  Higher meant I could see more.


To my dismay, both trees’ branches were rotting off.  Probably because of the wetter ground.  They must have simply drowned in that area.


In frustration, I tried using those branches, but they broke off in my hands.  This was the tallest tree in this area.  I was ready to accept the fact that I wouldn’t see the property from any higher up.  I would have kicked the tree in front of me, but I wasn’t a child anymore.


Child.  My childhood.


I whirled.  When I was a child, I used to climb the “Three Tree” with my cousins and brother, who were much older than I.


It was the biggest tree on our property.  And the tallest.


Now that’s a tree to climb.  I crashed through the woods in a fashion that would have horrified a tracker and came through the underbrush to the Three Tree.  It had been nicknamed “Three” by me, I’m sure, because of a sign with the number 3 painted on it for disc golf.  The sign was long gone now—faded, rotting, and thrown in the wood pile.  But I still called it the Three Tree.


I was used to climbing it, especially since my cousins and brother all grew up and left me alone on the “estate.”  Soon, I had scaled the two smaller trees beside the huge pine and hopped to its thick lower branch.  Come to think of it, I had never climbed any higher than about fifteen feet up, where someone had nailed a board to the branches and made a small bench to sit on.  This time, however, I planned to go much higher.

I passed the bench and found my rhythm again, reveling in the scratch of the rough bark on my hands.  As I climbed, I briefly considered how high off the ground I was.  Higher than I thought it would be, I supposed.


I could die, I thought.  Then I grinned.  Sure, I could have died.  My body was high off the ground, with few branches to catch my fall—should physics decide to make me earthbound again.  I would most certainly die at this height.  But maybe I needed to do something crazy, take a risk, in order to feel more alive.  Or to prove to myself that I was brave.  That I could do it.


I lifted my eyes.


One hand at a time.


Reach.  Step.  Lift.


Up here, I was part of nature.  Unseparated by sin.  Wild.  The fragrance of pine filled my sinuses.  No walls.  I could breathe.  My hand touched the western face of the tree.  It was warm from the sun.  I never thought that a tree could be warm, like a live being.


I soon ran out of branches on one side, so I circled the tree to find a better path.  It seemed to have been made for climbing; the branches were spaced so perfectly that my long legs had no trouble reaching them.


Eventually, I had to rest my burning muscles.  When I stopped and looked around, my head spun.  It looked like a different world, yet still most definitely my home.  Before me, the peak of my house’s roof showed through the break in the trees in the distance.  Behind me, the feathery tops of the smaller pine trees covered the Maze, and farther, my neighbors lived in dollhouses.


I looked up.  How much farther could I go?


All the way to the top.


As I went higher and higher, I reminded myself that my body could handle itself.  It knew what to do.  I let it carry me to the top and settled into the highest niche in the tree.  I shook the tree, amused by the vibrating of the clumps of pine needles that surrounded me, but assured in the fact that this tree wasn’t budging.  I was safe as could be.


The view was a dream compared to what I had imagined it would look like.  It was my home.  I’d lived there for sixteen years; it was all I knew.  I had grown sick and tired of seeing the same old things every single day of my life.  Everything looked different from the top of a tree.  The fact was that I was still seeing the same things, same house, same place—but from a different perspective.  All I had to do was climb a tree.


I lost myself in thought, picking at the bark next to my head.  It came off in large chips.  The sound reverberated through the air, and I was fascinated.  I did it again—the child that I am—and heard the same thing.  As I listened, I also heard motors from far in the distance.  A plane rumbled miles in the sky somewhere.  With the buffer of the woods far below me, I could hear the cries of the red-tailed hawks as if they sat on the branch beside me.


Sitting in the top tier of a pine tree, on eye-level with the hawks, I wasn’t human anymore.  I was a bird resting in her perch, readying herself for takeoff.  I was a wild thing, content to be in the trees with bark down my shirt.  I was so close to the sky that no one would be able to see me from the ground.  No one knew I was there, and it was beautiful.


I wondered what the hawk was looking for, crying from his place in the sky as he circled higher and higher above the treetops.  Was this what the birds did all day: fly?  Viewing the world from a wind current?  Free as a…bird?


Leaning forward, I rested in a surprisingly pleasant position with my chest against the trunk of the tree.  The rough bark prickled my skin as I laid my cheek against it.  My fingers found a needled bough in front of me and broke off pieces of green, immediately sending pine fragrance into my nose.


It’s just a tree, I thought, but it’s so beautiful.


Without a plane, I wouldn’t get to fly over my home.  But as long as this tree stood, I could be happy.  I supposed this was the closest I would get to doing aerials over my roof.


At some point, it registered in my mind that I had to eventually get down from my castle in the sky.  Maybe I was still a child.  Maybe not.  But I would never lose my love of the trees.


When I entered the familiar territory near the bench on the lower branches, I realized how close to the ground I was.  How ridiculous, that I used to be afraid of falling from this height!


With this in mind, I decided to just jump, instead of climbing the rest of the way down.

Crouched on the wide, horizontal branch, I plotted my course.  To miss the log directly below me, I would push off a little farther, then bend my knees as I landed to break my fall.  I knew the logistics.  The only thing left was doing it.


I froze.


When confronted with decision, I’ve always been unsure of myself.  I’m a professional second-guesser.  I knew I could make the jump, but what if my foot slipped on the branch?  What if, what if…This coming from the girl who climbed two hundred feet in the air just because she could.  Again, I’m not afraid of heights, or even falling.  It’s the mistrust of me.


Finally, I came up with a plan of action to actually get myself off the branch.  I used the old-fashioned counting method.  It worked.  On ‘three,’ I jumped and trusted my body to do what it knows.


In my short flight to the ground, I’m sure my eyes were saucers and my mouth was parted in a wild grin—an exact reflection of my fear and thrill at being weightless.  When I hit the ground, I didn’t even think about bending my knees—they did that on their own.  I got up, clapped my hands together, and dusted the residual bark off my clothing before trotting back up the driveway toward my house, lighter than when I had left it.