Do you recall the first time you climbed a tree? How old were you? How did you feel? Scared? Proud? Happy? Free?
Tree climbing is a formative experience. There are countless others, of course. Jumping in a pool, hoping your dad won’t let you drown. Riding a bike with no training wheels. Waving goodbye to your mom the first day of school. Opening your mouth to let a dentist poke a metal tool around your teeth.
Most every day in a child’s life brings a new adventure, a new demand to boldly go where that child has never gone before.
It’s no wonder parents of small children seem to age overnight.
One day, when I was 6 years old, I crawled beneath the low-hanging limbs of a tree I would later learn to call a hemlock. Inside that tree, much to my surprise, the limbs formed a giant canopy under which I would gladly hide from most of the cares of the world.
I wish you could’ve seen it.
Child or adult, we all need a hiding place once in a while. That tree became my childhood refuge. It still shelters me in memory. Its trunk was so big I couldn’t hug it and its branches grew spaced like a ladder.
I’m not sure all this happened exactly as I will tell you, but it’s the way I like to remember it.
I heard a voice like the rustle of leaves and the ripple of water whisper, “Go on. You can do it.”
“But what if I fall?” I said, “or rip my dress, or get stuck on a limb and no one can find me?”
“You can’t answer every question,” said the voice. “Take a step and trust where it leads.”
So I stepped on a branch and reached up for the next. It was easy. I kept going. Halfway up, the tree began to sway to and fro in the wind and the voice said, “That’s far enough today, child. You’ll go higher tomorrow.”
Then I sat for a long while, resting in the arms of a tree and in the palm of God’s right hand.
Do you recall the last time you climbed a tree? How old were you? How did you feel? Scared? Proud? Happy? Free? Were you trying to rescue a cat?
A few years ago, when my grandson Henry was 5, he asked me to climb a tree with him in his back yard. It was easy. We used a step ladder to boost ourselves up, straddled a sturdy limb and sat there together, talking about birds and clouds and the meaning of life.
It was the first tree I’d climbed since Henry’s mom was his age. I told him about the hemlock, how it became my hiding place.
“I like to hide up here, too,” he said, staring at the ground, “as long as I don’t climb too high.”
Henry has a new tree now in his new backyard, and he climbs it every chance he gets. I haven’t climbed it with him yet. It’s a pretty big tree. Maybe I can do it with a ladder, when the virus quarantine is over.
Until then, I can’t even hug Henry and his cousins, let alone, climb trees with them. I’m not sure how we’d manage to keep six feet apart on a tree limb.
In the months since the quarantine began, I sometimes find myself asking questions that have no answers: Are my loved ones safe? How long will this last? What will our lives be like in the days to come?
Do you ask questions like that?
I think about what I learned as a child, what I tried to teach my children, and hope to teach my grandchildren: We can’t answer every question. We just need to take a step, and then another, and trust where it will lead.
The step I’ve learned to take first, before any other, is simple, but hard. I pray to be at peace, to stop asking questions that I can’t answer. Then I close my eyes and picture myself in the palm of God’s hand and the arms of a sheltering tree.
And for a while, I’m no longer a woman fearing for her family and her friends and the world she loves. I’m simply a child at play. And life becomes not only a bold adventure, but the joy that we long for it to be.
(Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.)