Climbing Trees

The Best Way for a Kid to Get High

My yard at 351 Main Street had many good trees for a youngster to climb. Apples and other fruit trees that were low and kind. I considered it a challenge to climb every tree in the yard. One maple even had a “bar branch”, my name for a branch that came out of one limb and grew into another, almost horizontal, and two feet long. Great for hanging by your knees.

When we moved to Chalker Beach, we had no trees at all and there weren’t many in the neighborhood, really. Then we moved to Bluff Avenue in Clinton and a new yard full of challenging trees.

There was one apple tree in the backyard by the shed that was the obvious first choice for climbing. Over the years that was the tree I climbed most often. It was a great place to get away from parents and siblings. I became invisible.

But my favorite climb was always the tall maple at the corner of the yard, far from the house and close to the road. From the top, I was visible from the kitchen window. My mother would have anxiety attacks looking at me in the top branches overhanging the street, but she bit her tongue and trusted me to be the little monkey that I had always been. (For the record, I never fell out of a tree.)

I got up to shenanigans in that tree. I would carry a pocket full of apples up and try to drop them on people and cars sometimes. I took my jackknife up and carved my initials. I also carve the initials HC next to mine once and put a heart around it. She never saw it, but it didn’t work out, anyway.

There were a bunch of trees in the yard I considered unclimbable early on. By the time I was twelve, they were a challenge that I couldn’t resist any longer. I don’t know the tree type, but they had no low branches and their bark was painful to shinny up.

In my mind, the challenge was to reach the first branch. If I could conquer that I had conquered the tree. The best climbing gear I had was my prized jean jacket and matching pants, with sneakers and a long shirt underneath the jacket. I tried and failed a few times, but I always tried again. There was only one tree that I never climbed, but only because my step-father cut it down before I was old enough!

My friend Lance would come from Madison to visit overnight or over a weekend. He was not as good at climbing trees, but he could get to the top branches of my maple at the corner of the yard. I can’t imagine what the two of us looked like up there, swinging the branches and dropping apples, but it felt like a carnival. We both carved initials several times. We left our high-water mark.

My grandmother’s house in Short Beach had trees that I never climbed. Some huge pines that were too big around and had no low branches. They forbid me from touching the peach trees. But I climbed quite a few other trees, even the huge maple under which we had picnics. The view up and down the river was spectacular.

In 2018, I went to Bluff Avenue and saw the old yard where I had climbed every tree (except the one they cut down). All the trees were still there. Except my favorite maple with my initials carved in the top. Pieces of it were lying on the grass. They had cut it within the year. I would like to have been there when it came down. I would have looked for the scars left by my knife 45 years earlier. Would they still be there?

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