When I was young I spent a lot of time outdoors, and most of it was spent in a tree. I would climb them, and jump out of them, and lean them over so I could walk across them like a tightrope to get to trees that were further away. I would slide down the branches of spruce trees as if they were a piece of playground equipment. Twenty, thirty, forty feet up in the air, jumping around like a monkey. Fearless. Confident. Immortal.
I remember one day I climbed this one spruce tree. It was the tallest tree in our yard, and I decided I was going to go all the way to the top. At first, it was easy. The branches were thick and the stalk was firm and straight. As I got higher the branches were thinner and bushier and I had to push my way through them. Slowly, I made my way to the top and the stalk was starting to bend slightly with my weight and I could feel the breeze waving us back and forth in the air. I was probably 60, maybe 80, possibly 200 feet up in the air. I looked out over the forest, my backyard, my house small and fragile far below. The only thing I could see that was higher than me was the mountain.
I was elated. I whooped and cheered. I was an eagle! I could nearly touch the clouds! I threw my hat into the air and counted the seconds that it took to reach the ground. Ten! I was ten seconds of a falling hat up in the air! I was a god! No child had ever climbed so high in a tree and none would ever climb so high again!
I shouted for my brother to go get my mom and dad so they could see how high up I was. So they could all see how brave and capable I had become. I was not just some little boy anymore. I wasn’t just a dumb little brother with nothing to offer to the world. I was the tallest thing on the block! The tallest thing in the universe!
My parents came out, and when my mother finally realized where my voice was coming from she became frantic. I didn’t understand what she was saying (she was quite far away) but I could tell that she wanted me to come back down. My father calmly stood at the base of the tree with his hands in his pockets and watched as I casually made my way back down. He instructing me where to put my feet and which branches to watch out for, nervously rotating around the tree as I descended. Did he not realize that I was an expert at this? Was he not proud of what I had accomplished?
Back on the ground they hugged me and walked me back inside. The following day I jumped off the bus and ran towards my house. My dad turned and waved at me from the front yard where he was feeding branches into a large bonfire. Behind him, in the woods, I could clearly see that someone had taken a chainsaw to all of the lower branches of the tallest trees in the forest.
I never understood why he had done that. Parents are strange creatures.
I was thinking about this the other day after I came home to find that my own children had made a fort on the top of the refrigerator using a step ladder that I had been using to replace light bulbs in the kitchen. They smiled and cheered and waved hands in the air as soon as they saw me walk through the door.
And I became frantic. And I ran to the refrigerator and stood holding the ladder steady while each of them carefully climbed down. I guided their feet to make sure they were on the right steps. And as each of them touched the ground I gave them a big hug.
Clara cried and said she didn’t understand. She thought I would be excited to see what they had done. She kept repeating in the most bewildered tone, “I don’t understand. I thought you would be happy. I did NOT expect this reaction from you AT ALL.” I stoically ignored her. I climbed up the ladder and took down all of their things and then put the ladder away, and I told them to never ever do something so dangerous ever again. And Clara cried some more. And Lydia stomped her feet. And Gideon laid down flat on the floor as if his world had ended.
And somewhere deep inside of me, a different little boy shook his head in disbelief at what I had become, and I tried hard to ignore him. But I have to admit that while I was up on the top of the refrigerator taking apart my children’s play fort, I couldn’t help but glance around the room at the tiny sofa and the tiny kitchen table and the realization that I was now the tallest thing in the entire room, the entire Universe! And I smiled quietly to myself before climbing back down.
Andrea took this picture of them earlier in the day because apparently she doesn’t care if one of two of our kids falls and breaks their arms.