We climbed those trees ‘til their branches no longer offered the next step up. It was never a thought of how we’d get back down; well, not for me, at least. The cracking of branches underfoot; the bark crunching as it got stuck under our nails and skin; the soft shuttered moans escaping our lofty friends: all music to our ears.
I remember how my heart beat out of my chest as I climbed higher than I knew I should. How I’d throw my head back with such rebellious delight whenever I made it so high the tree would sway in unhealthy ways: Those ways that had the arms of my make-believe security net bordering on the point of almost breaking away from the belovéd body that held them so dearly.
Sometimes I’d make it so high, the horror filled voices shouting from the ground blended with the wind. And when those warnings became the wind, I’d cast out the internal voices trying to mentally invade my euphoric moment. There wasn’t time for silly things like caution and reason when you were on top of the world.
I had a favorite tree: she understood my spirit best. I could scale her splendor with my eyes closed — not that I’d dream of missing the view while I climbed into the sky. We knew each other well. I think I may have even been her favorite. I don’t know if she let me be the best, but I could make it to her farthest point faster than any of the other kids. And let’s not talk about how nobody could touch my speed and agility in making it back down to the ground unscathed. I’d just let go and free-fall, grabbing at the right moments to exactly the right branches. Landing without a scratch never lost its charm, or ability to impress my equally adventurous friends. Fear of failure never entered my mind; I was invincible, and fearlessly so.
I used those same tree climbing tactics when I climbed the rope in gym class. I’d climb to the top with such skilled speed, and then let the rope slide through my loose grip while I fell back to the ground. I had this technique I’d mastered to stop myself from crashing to the ground upon landing. Feet from the ground, I’d tighten my hold on the rope, and with three gripped successions, I’d land with ease. Of course, my gym teachers never quite appreciated my skills or understood my need to feed this passion. Then again, they weren’t there the day of Armageddon.
One autumn afternoon, a few of us thrill-seekers showed up to our favorite wooded area. Of course, the action we anticipated wasn’t the sight now torturing our eyes, ripping out our very souls. A few of us dropped to our knees watching that metal monster rip through the last of our glorious friends.
The place that was once our most cherished playground was now a graveyard; a slaughtered battlefield, without survivors – well, unless you count the grandmother of all trees in her castrated new state. The only tree left standing was the grandest, biggest, and most likely, the oldest of all the trees. For reasons unexplainable, she was stripped of all her life bearing branches and reduced to nothing more than a stump. The seven nubby ends left on her once glorious frame were a taunting reminder of all she’d been in her glory days.
Once our hysterics and sobs were reduced to stuttered breaths, it was explained the trees had to be removed because of a terrible accident. A neighborhood girl broke her back and neck after falling out of one of the trees. Apparently, she was lying in the hospital, literally tied to her bed.
A hushed silence fell over us as we assessed who the victim could be. There was only one of us missing: Tamara, poor girl. Of course, she eventually recovered most of her youthful self almost a year after that brush with disaster.
Some wounds never heal, though. Like, how gathering at our favorite meeting place never recovered even a fraction of its charm. And to pour salt on our wounded spirits, a section of one of the trees, which held our tree-house platform, was left resting on the ground. It was most likely left out of pity or a lack of wanting to strip us of all our playthings. Didn’t they understand those trees were our friends, or that the best part of a tree-house was hanging out in the sky?
I’ve often tried recreating that all-consuming feeling that used to flood me while I soared above the world, resting in the arms of my tree friends. New forests filled with trees, roller coasters, power towers, extremely high heights: all of these only tease my senses by bringing me up to the point of climax, without taking me over the edge to complete fulfillment. These new thrills may make me smile and laugh, while stirring my insides into a blizzard of sorts, but they only scratch the surface of fantastical. Nothing has ever been able to come close to bringing me back to that place of absolute freedom. A place where fear and failure weren’t even a thought. A position where — if I concentrated hard enough — I could see the ends of the earth.
Perhaps I’ll never master recreating those magical moments. Maybe that’s because no matter what I set out to do, there’s always an element of safety in place that keeps me from complete freedom within the experience. Or, it could be that a part of my soul is still buried in that woodchip cemetery along with my old tree friends. Who knows; maybe I’m just supposed to have fun trying to even come close. All I know is that the spirit of that tree climbing little girl peeks out now and then through these much wiser eyes, always seeking the next adventure.
Based on my real life, free spirit accounts, which have been brought back to life by the mere mentioning of Sam & Al’s afternoon games. This story is dedicated to my little Angelina.
Today I pass the baton: may the free spirit of that adventurous little girl remain as vibrant as ever while she sees the world through your eyes.