Out on a Limb
By Don H. Staheli

What is there about a tree that makes a young person crave to climb it? Is it the challenge, the risk, or the hope of a superior view? I guess even we older people want to climb, but the yearning is rarely powerful enough to entice us into the branches.

All I remember about the last time I climbed a tree is how long it took to get the sap off my hands. Children don’t worry about sap.

And tree climbing is definitely a lot more that just hefting oneself up over a branch or two. Oh, yes, real tree climbing is both an art and a science. True mastery is achieved only when one possesses an acute sensitivity to the subtle nuances of arboreal ascension.

The scientific aspects were clearly demonstrated to a group of us youthful climbers engaged in the doubles form of the game. We lived near a large tract of trees, both hardwoods and evergreens, in varying stages of development. The springy young pine trees were the object of our interest on many an expedition into this adventureland with which, we were sure, even Tarzan would have been intrigued.

Each tree to be climbed was chosen with great care – not too big and not too small, with just the right amount of spring. Two boys to a tree. The first one up the limbs went as high as he could, with the other boy climbing up behind. As the second came close to the top of the tree, their combined weight would cause it to bend slowly downward, bending farther and farther until the upper trunk had dipped its occupants down to a safe distance from the ground.

Their four feet dangling a short way above Mother Earth, the boys prepared to drop from the tree. With the fortitude of all young fliers (any landing you can walk away from is a good one!), they were ready to yield to gravity and hope for a kind reception on the unyielding turf. This was physics at its finest.

Now, the artistry of the effort was manifest in the split-second timing of the release. With synchronicity usually reserved for a far more sophisticated setting, the two boys, acting as one, released their grip on the sappy limbs. The well-torqued trunk sprang like an unloaded catapult back to upright dignity. The boys dropped to the ground with hardly a thud, their reward the cheers of admiring peers, each of whom judged the feat a 10.

What fun! Find another perfect tree and go for it again.

In one particularly exciting bout, the smallest of our crew headed up a young pine. He had to be matched with the heaviest boy among us in order to create a combined weight adequate to bend the tree. Sure enough, they moved toward the summit and the tree bowed to their wishes. All was going well. The tree lowered to a proper height, hands let go, and up sprang the tree. But this time only two feet hit the ground. The heavier boy had let go before the lighter one was ready.

Our little buddy nearly cracked like a whip as he shot up with the treetop. The snap of the tree shook him loose, and he tumbled down through the branches. Two broken arms and a stern parental lecture later, our tandem tree climbing had to be put on hold for awhile.

The older we get, the more obvious it is to us that we should stay out of trees. A person can get hurt! But we sure do a lot of other things without thinking too much about the consequences. We may not exactly be scaling oaks, but we introduce plenty of risk into our lives. We drive too fast, we go too far into debt, we eat too much junk food, and we take on too much stress.

Most of us, in one way or another, are way out on a limb – never figuring that something will go wrong. None of us young tree climbers ever thought about the possibility of broken arms, either, but they happened. Our friend learned the lesson the hard way!

Never climb higher than you’re willing to fall.


2006 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.