Up A Tree

Today’s post comes from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden of Wendell Wilkie High School.

Hey Mr. C.,

We were talking in class today about the latest evolution news – that maybe some of our recent ancestors were spending more time than we think up in the trees.

Our substitute biology teacher, Mr. Leakey, really got excited, and he kind of challenged us to think about it, which is what a teacher is supposed to do I guess but it sort of took us by surprise. Our regular teacher, Mr. Scopes, doesn’t even say the word “evolution” in class without looking out in the hallway first to be sure there’s not some parent or someone out there listening. I think he’s nervous about getting complaints. They say a teacher can’t get fired for stuff like that, but some kids think Mr. S has a few fossils hanging in his closet and he just wants to keep a low profile.

But Mr. Leakey was tossing out the “E” word like nobody’s business, and he kind of got me excited about it too. He talked about the shapes of shoulder blades in these old skeletons, and some really key changes that happened when our kin came down out of the trees and stood tall on the savannah, looking out over the tops of the grasses to see predators more easily and freeing up their hands to do stuff like using tools and learning how to deal blackjack.

I mean, I like to climb trees anyway so the thought of coming from tree-swinging relatives is kind of cool. All the Aunts and Uncles I’ve met are pretty boring ground-based life forms. I couldn’t picture any of them on a stepladder, even. Not to mention being up in the canopy, y’know?

But my neighbor Bethany P. thought it was gross to say we came from apes and she said she was going to tell her mom, who is kind of a big wheel in some mega-church out in the suburbs. That was alright with Mr. Leakey. He said “Tell her to swing on down here if she has a problem with it. I’ll tell her what I think and check her over for lice at the same time.”

Bethany got a little ticked off. Mad, I mean. I don’t think she has ticks.

Anyway, Mr. Scopes is back tomorrow and I’m guessing we won’t see Mr. Leakey again. He was too interesting to last very long at Wilkie High, anyway. But he did get me thinking. It’s kind of been a few years since I’ve done this, but now that the leaves have dropped off, I’m going to go out and see how high I can get in that maple tree in front of our house.

I hope Bethany is watching!

Your pal,
Bubby

Share a tree-climbing memory.

About these ads

69 thoughts on “Up A Tree”

  1. Morning–
    There’s a story in my family that once upon a time, my brother climbed a tree and couldn’t get down. My sister had to climb up and rescue him. This is the same sister that says Mom hit her in the head with a rock and another sister hit her in the head with a bat.
    I remember a stump in the yard that I enjoyed playing on. And another stump that had been dug up so it was a big root-ball that I could climb inside; that was pretty cool.
    I climbed a few trees… nothing too special.
    These days, I’d get in the tree and my knee would give out and I’d be calling the fire department to come rescue me. That’s assuming I haven’t dropped the cell phone or fallen out…

    I climb part way up a TV tower once. I was going to the top when I started but GOSH! Once I got going the top was further away than I thought. I made it 1/2 way; 140′ Took some pictures and climbed down again.

    Like this

    1. up a little late ben? or is it a little early?140 feet is a littel taller than you think when you start i’ll bet. you sister has had a happy life after her battles with your family? we all have our challenges..

      Like this

  2. NE MN has few real climbing trees. And even as a small child, up was my least favorite direction. So my childhood was memorable for the thousands and thousands of trees among which I spent my childhood but never climbed. My brother’s best friend twice fell out of trees and broke an arm both times.

    Like this

  3. Good morning. Climbing in trees was one of my favorite things to do when I was a kid. None of the trees I climbed were very large. I was careful and never fell. The biggest one was an old box elder tree that seemed tall to me at the time. I’m sure it was not even big for a box elder. Box elders do have limbs arranged in ways that make them fun to climb. Another favorite tree was a large mulberry that had a good spot in it where I was able to build a tree house.

    Like this

  4. My home in Ames was on the far western edge of town on a hill that overlooked a big park. Beyond the park was undeveloped land. I used to roam the park and lands just beyond it as a teenager. I was about 16.

    On the western edge of how far I could walk in those days was a hilly bit of woodland covered mostly in maples and oaks. One magnificent maple perched high on a hill, towering over its neighbors. I loved to climb that tree. The limbs were just right for going higher and higher, and when I got near the top of the tree I had a spectacular view because the tree itself overlooked a deep little rural valley. I think a creek wound its way through that valley. There was an idyllic traditional farm with a Gothic farmhouse and big red barn.

    Sitting high in that tree gave me the feeling I had some special perspective on things . . . not just the valley, but life itself. And that led me to sing a song that had recently been popular, a sappy sentimental thing called “The Three Bells.”

    I don’t think I actually wept as I looked out over my special little valley, but I was filled with a sense of poignance about how beautiful and short life is. And then the sun would go down and I’d clamber down the tree and trudge the miles to home, still singing..

    Like this

    1. I remember that song, Steve. I don’t know where I heard it. Perhaps on the radio. It is strange how so many songs like that one are stuck in my head. If you hear a song that is a little catchy a few times it seems to last forever in your memory. At least that seems to be the case for me.

      Like this

    2. I remember that song – I always found it ineffably depressing. Something about having an entire life telescoped into a three-minute-or-so song just makes me want to swallow cyanide. There are a number of other songs that employ the same technique, most recently Neal and Leandra’s “Hello Goodbye”. Pretty tune, but so melancholic.

      Like this

      1. I hear you, Linda, but with this one difference. Somehow “The Three Bells” manages to convey the sense that life is short and yet retain a sense that it is sweet because it happens with the support of the three bells–religion–and the loving support of “the little town” that provides communal love for Jimmy Brown. Birth, marriage, life and death are communal acts.

        Like this

  5. OT Liam report. Liam had a good day yesterday at daycare. When he lay down for his nap, one of the teachers overheard him whispering to himself: “All your friends are asleep. Be quiet so they can go to sleep and have a happy day.”

    Like this

    1. As a former teacher of the gifted, I can identify two very common traits of giftedness for a child of that age: 1) high energy, lack of a need to sleep and 2) self-distancing/metacognition. that is the ability to watch themselves, to see themselves from outside themselves.
      Trait #1 is the bane of parents of gifted kids. They don’t need a lot of sleep at that age.

      Like this

      1. Hmmm…really? Two of my three kids didn’t need much sleep as infants and toddlers. While both are plenty smart (one more in common sense stuff although she did go through nursing school successfully, so she’s not dumb – and the other quite smart academically), I never thought of them as “gifted.” The other one, my middle daughter, has always needed TONS of sleep from day one and she is very gifted artistically (she’s also pretty smart academically except for math, but she tests poorly so she doesn’t appear to be as smart as she is).

        Like this

        1. I am naming tendencies of gifted kids, not one-on-one correlations. Needing sleep below the normal rate is one of the most common but not universal. And of course it does not by itself mean giftedness.

          Like this

        2. Edith, mailing the Ireland kayaking book up today. Adding another travel book.
          In a tired moment I raised the subject I try to avoid on here and elsewhere, education. So having done so:
          If I could have done a deep serious longtitudinal study in education it would have been on those kids we used to call “talented” as opposed to more “gifted,” which tended to mean high test scores. Talented referred more to arts. Johnson and Johnson at the U of M tried to to some work on the subject of creativity, generally and those of high creativity. Fascinating and very dense/difficult topic.
          The best “student” I ever taught, by which I mean best at learning in the school environment, did not have a standardized test score above the 90th %.
          Education has done little and then not anything very good with the G & T students.

          Like this

        3. Okay, Clyde, I think I get what you’re saying about tendencies of gifted kids.

          I’m not a big fan of labeling kids “gifted & talented.” It seems a narrow way to look at children. Also, I’ve seen at least one example of parents with two kids: one kid labeled gifted & talented and the other not…the G & T kid didn’t do his work and was so full of himself it was obnoxious, but his parents had nothing but praise for him because he was gifted. The “regular” kid worked hard in school, got good grades, and was just a nice kid (I happen to think being a nice kid is worth a lot). His parents rarely talked about him, just gushed about the G & T older brother.

          Like this

      1. i noticed the sunrise this morning on quick route to calling matters. i was trying to remember the name of that color we identified a year or so ago. it was a real nice orange glow coming out of the blue purple band around the horizon. i remember filing that one away for when i had time for it. thanks for making me take the time

        Like this

  6. Steve, in 1958 I listened mainly to rock and roll, but the DJs might have slipped Three Bells in among the rock and roll tunes or I might have heard over TV on one or more of the variety shows that were on TV in those days. I suppose it has been played various places over the years because it is a good song even if it is sappy. I wonder who came up with that video with all those romantic pictures to go with the lyrics?

    Like this

    1. I don’t mean to sound superior to a “sappy” song. Hell, I love ‘em! I was just listening to a Stan Rogers documentary this morning, and I think it had three songs in it that made my eyes sting. Maybe four.

      Like this

  7. I was not a tree climbing kid – the trees in our yard were not climbable, and I just didn’t have a desire for height much. But, give me a tree or three that I could get inside of somehow like a fort, now *that* was my cup of tea. Friends of the family had a weeping willow – loved going to their house because I could brush aside the willow boughs and enter a secret world that I could create. There was also a group of evergreens at a park near our house (maybe 5 or 6) that a friend and I liked to play in like it was our pine-scented clubhouse. Some of bottom branches were just high enough to sit underneath, others had the sort of split trunk you could wedge yourself in between. We would bring picnics there, books, other goodies and could easily spend an afternoon. Some of the lower branches on those trees were stout enough to climb up on days we were willing to live with being a bit sticky from tree sap. We tried to bring my friend’s older sister there one day, but she didn’t understand the magic of the trees. I guess she was already too old to sense or see it.

    Like this

    1. Anna, that’s very interesting your comment about ‘entering a secret world’ and me playing in the rootball. Creating our own worlds since age 3!

      Like this

    2. just read the little prince with my 11 year old and had forgotten that the last line is so reminiscent of the polar express.

      Hero Boy: At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.

      “Look up at the sky, ask yourself, ‘Has the sheep eaten the flower or not?’ And you’ll see how everything changes. And no grown-up will ever understand how such a thing could be so important.”

      Like this

      1. Little Prince is one of my favorites.
        Anyone else see the production at Theater de la June Lune several years ago? (I can’t remember; was it done once or twice?? I worked on one of the versions. They did good theater!)

        Like this

        1. They were wonderful. Their productions were so creative and magical. Good to know that at least part of them might be resurrected.

          Like this

  8. I didn’t do much in the way of tree climbing when I was growing up; dresses are not conducive to it. I wasn’t allowed to wear pants until I was about 13, so that cramped my style a bit. Fortunately, the only reason I could see to climb a tree was to pick fruit, and all of our fruit trees, with the exception of our cherry tree, were small. With a rake in hand I could usually manage to satisfy my need for fresh apples, pears, and plums, not the mention the abundant supply of fresh berries. Raspberries, blackberries, red and black currants, not to mention my favorite, gooseberries. No climbing required. Thinking back on it, I realize that my Dad must have planned his shore leaves to coincide with the cherries ripening; he was usually there to harvest them. Being a sailor he was a good climber, and spent days on end in the canopy of that huge tree filling baskets with those almost black cherries. Wonderful memories!

    Like this

  9. I loved climbing trees when I was a kid. It was fun, but I don’t have one particular memory of it. There were plenty of trees around to climb; we had 8 acres and not all of it was garden. I had one special tree on a hill I liked to climb high – I thought that no one else knew about that particular tree and maybe I was right.

    When we moved north, there weren’t trees to climb. Lots of trees, of course, more than a person can count, but not very climbable. I did climb up the fire tower on Lima Mountain (2nd highest point in MN) a couple times.

    Like this

  10. I’m older than my two brothers by four and six years, so I must have been at least ten when I climbed a tree behind my grandparents house. There was a woods behind their house and we used to go exploring there. Exploring was our favorite pasttime when we were kids. I, being oldest, was usually the leader. I wasn’t always a wise leader, but I did learn.

    Anyway, I told my brothers I was going to climb that tree. You could climb up several feet, then wiggle, kick, and pull yourself up to stand on a lower branch. I reached the lower branch and then climbed, pushed and pulled myself up to the next one. My brother, Eric (next in age), climbed up after me and sat on the branch below me. Then he decided he wanted to join me on my branch, which he quickly did. Then he looked up and decided to go another branch above my head, which he did. But I looked down. I could see our youngest brother standing there on the ground in the woods, looking up at me. He looked really small. He looked like he was way, way down there. I froze. My little brother on the ground, Kurt, said, “I can’t get up there, Kris.” I said, “I know. Stay there. I’m coming down.” I tried to lower my feet to the branch below me, but it wasn’t directly under my feet and I was going to have to do some sliding or jumping or falling or something to get there. I panicked and stayed up on the second branch. Meanwhile, my brother above me said, “Kris, I’m coming down.” I was in his way and was required to move. (Well, I’ve explained before how my common sense seems to leave me when I’m in a boy’s way in a high place, so I won’t bore you with that again.) I was panicked at that point and tried to move out farther on the branch to make room for Eric, who was really coming down on top of me. He landed safely on the branch and looked at me with disdain. “Can’t you get down?” I said no. He gave me a withering look and lowered himself down to the lowest branch by hanging from his hands. Then he shimmied down the trunk of the tree and landed on the ground with Kurt – safe and sound.

    I tried a few more times to get down but I couldn’t do it. I was terrified and stayed put on the second branch. I told my brothers to go get Grandpa. They ran back to the house and Grandpa came back with them, smiling, laughing, and calling me Tootie. “Can’t make it down, Tootie?” As soon as he was near the tree, I came right down. I slid down fast and ran to his kind arms. All I needed was to see his face and know that I would be safe.

    My brother Eric and I remember this incident well. Kurt has a foggy memory of it.

    Like this

    1. Krista, that’s a great story, well told. Without knowing him, I have a fondness for your Grandpa. I love that just seeing him was a reassurance to you. And his “kind arms” are so appealing.

      Like this

  11. we had a great climbing tree (a maple) in our front yard and and even better climbing tree (a walnut) in the back yard. I loved climbing trees. There are so few trees where we live now. Both my children are climbers, and when they couldn’t find a tree to climb, they find other things to climb, like decks and fences and ladders in book stores.

    Like this

  12. my tree climbing days are the stuff childhood was made of.
    scoitty bowman next door had the everyday dutch elm tree that had the knob for the foot and the bark for a handle that made it automatic to launch yourself up to the big bottom branch way up there that had you in tree mode instantly. from there you could climb up and up or simply watch the traffic go by on 110th street which was a busy street with buses lots of cars. pedestrian trafficdelivery vehicles and stuff and the underground house was just across the street with those people who never came out. it was a corner house with a great view of the cars on the street just below as they went by. got in trouble for peeing on cars mooning cars yelling kid stuff at em, you could climb way up but why? the comfortable spot to sit was the bottom branch and you were hidden enough to feel private and open enough to see everything you wanted. perfect tree.
    when i was in jr high we had a fort gang. we built one in the woods but they built a high school where the woods were and that fort bit the dust. the next one was a tree house to die for. it had the beautiful feature of having guys old enough to know put together the combination of steps that you need to do to get up to it and no one ever figured it out without the instructions. it hung over the railroad tracks so it was a great source of adventure to ride the rails to and form when the occasion allowed. once you got to the tree fort the same cunning designers had the entry masked as a slight gap between the boards that looked as though there was no way it could accommodate anything going in fr out. no window apparent from the outside but indirect light for inside club members. lasted a year of so then the fire department came out with hook and ladders and dismantled it. cant have a fort over the railroad tracks you know. public safety concerns. . hung at the river bottoms and tree swings with barge ropes had more than a coupe good stories. getting those rope installed called for the best tree climbers in the territory. cant get my kids to enjoy the river bottoms with me these days … too bad. rivers trees, air. outdoors. i miss it these days and appreciate it when i do get out. all my leaves are down now and i get one more day picking them up then i just get the branches of 27 oaks to welcome me on my way up the driveway every day. they are great. when i moved into the house my 19 year old was 12 and all cranked about the great branch we could build a tree fort in. we drew plans then found out it was the neighbors tree not mine. what a drag to live in a world where you cant buiold a tree fort in a neighbors tree. but the burbs are what they are. i love my woods

    Like this

    1. Probably nitpicking here, but the Bowmans’ elm was an American elm. The invasive beetle that brought the disease was allegedly Dutch.

      The Wilkes plantation in Gone With the Wind was called Twelve Oaks. Shall we call your plantation called Twenty-Seven Oaks?

      Like this

  13. I climbed a tree when I was about six, fell and broke my arm. I remember a badly infected cut on my knee (scar is still there) that I attibute to the willow tree near my then house.

    The best climbing I remember was at the “new” (1956) house that my father designed/built.
    There were some amazingly thick vines hanging from some of the trees, thick as your wrist. It was a wonderful Tarzan world. We didn’t really swing from vine to vine but there were places where the vines would bend from straight down to horizontal and you could stand on the horizontal part and bounce while holding on to the vertical part. I can still feel that satisfying bounce.
    I wonder what those vines were in the wilds of Connecticut. They aren’t there anymore perhaps because of my sister-in-law’s vigorous woods clean-up and landscaping.

    Like this

        1. I spent some time, Renee, looking for that information. But if you use “wild vines” as a search string, you hit countless wine sites. I clearly remember a “This Old House” segment in which they were carefully cutting away and pulling down these undesirable vines that had the power to kill desirable trees. I’ve encountered these things in river valleys. Their grip on other trees is astonishing.

          Like this

  14. When rearing my three kids, we lived in the same little Cape Cod home in Minnetonka for over
    30 years. Smack dab in the middle of the back yard was the largest elm tree in the suburb. This truly became the “tree of life” for my children, particularly the youngest one, Steve, who was the most precocious kid in history. In that tree, Steve built an elaborate fort, an intricate set of steps reaching to its highest branches, and ultimately the word’s largest Johnny Jump Up swing. He fashioned this contraption out of a discarded garage door spring with 4″ wide coils and a leather seat attached to one end. The kids would climb to the highest branch of the magnificent elm, position themselves in the seat attached to the garage door spring, then jump off. This would send them wildly to the ground then back up over and over. Each contact with the ground allowed them to jump laterally 20 feet at a time. Mind you, these kids were teenagers by the time Steve created this dangerous pass time!

    Kids from all over came to experience this home made giant jump up. Then one day, Steve’s best friend, Erik, had just leaped from the highest branch when suddenly the spring detached from the tree above where it had been secured. The heavy spring came down on Erik’s head, slicing it
    open on his scalp!! A trip to ER, a few stitches, and a frantic call to the kid’s mother followed. Erik recovered in due time, but I remained quite anxious that his wealthy parents would come after us with a big lawsuit for damages. Thankfully, they never did.

    Many years passed by when Steve and his wife asked me to accompany them to the only home he’d ever known. Our first impulse was to visit the tree of life which held years of fond memories for him. It was gone. This magnificent giant elm had become diseased and had to be taken down. I’ll always wonder if it knew that its life purpose had been well-served and it simply gave up its will to live after we abandoned it twelve years ago. Not that I’m anthropomorphizing or anything.

    Like this

    1. Wonderful story, Cb. That jump up swing does sound like a lot of fun even if a tad dangerous. But I suppose that was part of the thrill.

      Like this

  15. I like the solid ground, but even before I moved here I was fascinated by the story of one of Minnesota’s early geneticists (and unfortunately eugenics enthusiast) who was afraid of prairie fires so chose to live in a tree as an adult.

    Like this

  16. Several of these stories made me think of Jean Craighead George’s book My Side of the Mountain, in which the protagonist leaves home and takes up residence in a hollow tree in the woods, living off the land with a pet weasel and a falcon. Something about having a secret place that the world can’t find tugs at the heart.

    When I was I kid we had a treehouse that wasn’t really a house, just a platform in the crotch of a tree. Probably not more than seven or eight feet off the ground, accessible by boards nailed to the trunk. I used to like to bring snacks up there. Things taste better with a view.

    Like this

  17. I was the opposite CB’s son, Steve. I loved to climb trees like he apparently did. I probably wouldn’t even have given the spring device a try. I knew that some branches on trees might break and I was careful about not using any of those. I would have a good grip on a solid branch before trying one that didn’t look too strong and then i would only use the weaker branch if I also had a hold on a stronger one. I admire people who can over come their fears of falling to do some amazing climbing, such as talented mountain climbers, but i would never be able to do that.

    Like this

  18. A really fascinating book about tree climbing is “The Wild Trees” by Richard Preston. I recommend it. It recounts the story of the first climbers to ascend into the canopy of the California redwoods (this was all within living memory), their discovery of a completely separate ecosystem up there, and the search for the tallest redwood.

    Like this

  19. Climbing

    by Amy Lowell

    High up in the apple tree climbing I go,
    With the sky above me, the earth below.
    Each branch is the step of a wonderful stair
    Which leads to the town I see shining up there.
    Climbing, climbing, higher and higher,
    The branches blow and I see a spire,
    The gleam of a turret, the glint of a dome,
    All sparkling and bright, like white sea foam.
    On and on, from bough to bough,
    The leaves are thick, but I push my way through;
    Before, I have always had to stop,
    But to-day I am sure I shall reach the top.
    Today to the end of the marvelous stair,
    Where those glittering pinacles flash in the air!
    Climbing, climbing, higher I go,
    With the sky close above me, the earth far below.

    Like this

  20. My maple tree was large, and the leaves were large and pear yellow. I would sit up in the tree on the boulevard while people walked below and never saw me (or so I believed). I loved that tree. The bark was smooth and friendly. It is still standing there on the boulevard. The walnut tree is gone. What kills a black walnut tree?

    Like this

    1. “What kills a black walnut tree?” Usually a greedy neighbor with a chain saw! I remember when walnut wood got to be so valuable that people would slip into a field at night with chain saws. In the morning the owner of the land with the tree would wake up to find a stump there.

      Like this

Comments are closed.