Here’s a fact seemingly forgotten in our wired-wimpy-shopping-mall world: kids are natural little outdoor people. It is we, the adults, that turn them into indoor people. If you don’t get off the computer, why should they?
—Mark Jenkins, from Wild with Child: Adventures of Families in the Great Outdoors
On Friday evening I watched a fascinating online TED Talk by Richard Preston about climbing the Coast Redwoods of California. While I was suitably wowed by his explanation of the intricate structure and ecology of these amazing trees, I was also inspired by his story of how learning to climb trees with his kids had led him to this particular writing project. A quick internet search led me to Atlanta-based Tree Climbers International, and yesterday the boys and I joined them at a local park for one of their bimonthly Beginners Climbs.
Will gets the basics down under the watchful eye of TCI founder Peter “Treeman” Jenkins.
As a kid, I knew and loved a number of climbable neighborhood trees—two mature Magnolias in particular—but TCI sets much loftier targets, using roped climbing techniques to ascend trees that would be otherwise impossible, to access a world otherwise off-limits. When we arrived on Sunday afternoon, they had a towering Willow Oak already rigged with a dozen or so lines reaching up into the various levels of its crown. After listening to a short orientation and getting fitted with harnesses and helmets, we were off.
Andrew, in particular, is totally unfazed by heights.
Will had more of an “invisible ceiling.” Still, that picnic table is a long way down.
Looking down past my feet. The “architecture” up here was fascinating.
What the pictures can’t show is the wind on this particular afternoon, enough to keep the canopy in nearly constant motion yet not enough (evidently) to put dangerous strain on the tree. The more muscular gusts allowed us to experience “tree surfing,” and I was reminded more than once of John Muir’s joyful account of ascending a tall tree in the Sierras to better experience a windstorm.
Andrew, tree surfing.
The climbing itself was pretty straightforward and didn’t require any particular skill—as beginners, we were ascending pre-rigged top-ropes, after all—but I was proud of how quickly the boys got the rhythm down and mastered the simple safety knot they needed to tie periodically as they ascended. They had an absolute blast and felt very accomplished and cool afterwards. We would definitely do this again.
As for me, I’m at least mildly tempted by the thought of learning enough to do it independently, tree climbing being a far more “local” technical pursuit than kayaking or rock climbing—and I’ve got a massive Water Oak in the thicket behind my house that suddenly looks very different to my two little tree frogs!