Before video games and 300 TV channels, kids played outside. And climbed trees. A lot of trees.
In the 1960s, tree climbing was a competitive sport in Ashdown, Arkansas. Tree climbing never made it to the Olympics, but if synchronized swimming, figure skating and handball are there, tree climbing deserves a spot. Had tree climbing made it to the games, my friends and I likely could have taken at least a bronze or silver for our country.
My family lived on Beech Street and most of the original trees from what had once been a forest were long gone. But, one lone sweet gum and a couple of pines had managed to survive the progress of the new home construction boom of post World War II America.
When I was about eight, I decided to climb to the top of the sweet gum, which was the tallest tree in our back yard. I chose the sweet gum because the previous year I had thrown my jump rope around a limb on one of the pines and lodged it so that I could hold on to the rope and walk up the side of the tree just like Adam West did on buildings in the TV show, Batman.
But, I had a cheap rope and not a Bat Rope, so when mine snapped halfway up the tree, I fell flat of my back and knocked the wind out of myself. After that, I decided to leave rope climbing to Batman and Robin.
Sweet gums are worthless other than turning a pretty hue in the fall, but the bigger ones are great for climbing, and the spiky balls they drop are perfect for throwing at each other during sweet gum ball fights.
I had to find something to stand on to reach the bottom limb. But, once I had a good grip on limb number one, I was off. Without looking down, I scampered up, competing with no one but myself, but feeling as if I was making great time.
Before long, I reached the top.
I had never before seen a view from this height. Later in life, I would stand at the top of the Six Flags observation tower, ride in an airplane, even skydive, but at the age of eight, the top of a sweet gum was the pinnacle of long distance viewing for me.
I marveled at all that I could see. There was the entire high school campus where I would graduate a decade later, lots of streets and cars, and the tops of other trees that were swaying and bending in the wind.
The cool wind surrounded me, and I felt as if I were king.
And at age eight, you kinda are. You just don’t realize it.
Recently, I was back in town for a visit, so I decided to detour through the old neighborhood.
The house on Beech Street is still there. So is the sweet gum. But, during the last several decades, subsequent owners have planted more trees. Many of the new trees are as tall now as the sweet gum was when I lived there.
I don’t know the home’s current owners, but my hope is that if they have children that the kids have taken the time, at least once, to put down the video games, turn off the TV, and climb to the top of one of those trees to see the little piece of the world that we both shared.
And feel like a king.
©2015 John Moore
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