I am a total geek. Like any real geek, the things I love I obsess about. Unlike some true geeks, there are things and even activities in the natural world that I think are worth lavishing my obsessive attention on. And one of those activities is tree-climbing. I love stepping (or grabbing, or jumping) into a tree I’ve never been in before. There are trees I’ve found that after years of me climbing them are now like old friends; I know which steps and sometimes leaps are required to begin my climbing-dance with the tree, I know how high my partner-tree will let me go, I know the kind of view I’ll have when I’ve gotten as high as I can, and I know which kinds of good feelings I can expect from having made the climb. At the start of every climb I always ask myself, “Will I be able to make this climb,” even in trees that I’ve climbed before. As I’ve gotten older, the question “is this the one I’m going to fall out of and break my neck?” also occurs more and more often. Every climb is an adventure.
And it’s an adventure that I love. I love the feeling of accomplishment as I use my whole body to scale a tree; tree-climbing requires both upper and lower-body strength, so there’s a sense of physical prowess that comes from a successful entry into a trees branches, and an even greater sense of prowess the higher one goes. I love the sense of rising above where others comfortably tread. I love the quiet that can often be found in a tree, especially amongst the higher branches. I love the different smells different trees have; even ones of the same species have different environmental and growth factors that make their aromas different. I love being able to get a different visual perspective on otherwise everyday urban surroundings. Some trees have a nice view of the distance from higher up that isn’t available at the tree’s base. I love the sense of privacy I get from being up in a tree and people don’t know I’m there, just because they’re not accustomed to looking up. And I love the surprise and interest I get from those few who do see me because they still remember to raise their eyes. I love the sense I get from some trees with very dense branches, where I feel hidden from the world for as long as I’d like to be.
Tree climbing is one form of entertainment no one has commoditized. I feel like that adds to the sense of freedom I get when I’m climbing. It also means I never have to wait or compete for the chance to climb in my favorite trees.
It used to be that every time I climbed a tree, I would come away with a scrape or a cut as a souvenir. Nowadays, my skill has reached a point that I rarely even have abraded skin, even when climbing a pine tree in shorts and a t-shirt. For those who haven’t climbed trees before (or haven’t for many years), deciduous trees often have much smoother and less abrasive bark than coniferous ones. Living where I do, there are many more climbable coniferous trees than deciduous ones, and so I’ve had to learn how to keep my skin safe from the bark. Mostly it has to do with using my hands and not my wrists when grasping a large lower branch to haul myself up. Making sure to avoid being poked by the stumps of broken-off branches helps too.
For as much as I enjoy climbing, I’m not what I would consider a super adventurous one. If it takes more than about 10 seconds for me to find a new foot- or handhold in a tree, I consider the climb to be done. Occasionally I sit in trees, but usually I stand in them, both feet planted (so to speak) and at least one hand on a firm handhold at all times. I find it fun to leap from the ground to a low branch, and pull myself up with sheer strength. But I avoid leaping from branch to branch, and after entering the tree I always have hand- and footholds on separate branches as I climb; if I can only climb higher by trusting all my holds (hands and feet) to a single branch, I don’t climb any higher.
Last year, I was climbing one of the few deciduous trees in the area I particularly like, and I found an unexpected surprise. High up in the tree, at the last crotch of branches at which a teenager could comfortably put their feet, someone had left a red-white-and-blue glass pipe for smoking weed. The view of the distance at that point in the tree was spectacular, and I could totally understand someone coming up there to smoke a bowl in peace and quiet, enjoying a very private view away from the madding crowds. I left the bowl there, for the person who put it there (or someone else) to use, but I left the tree feeling like I had discovered a buried treasure.
The easiest trees to climb have their charm, but they aren’t always the most enjoyable. I find that having a little bit of challenge in the climb adds to the satisfaction when one plants one’s feet at the highest possible point in that tree. The easy ones to climb are the ones where one can best relax; if I’ve had a hard day (or a hard week, or a hard month), a nice easy climb and some relaxation above-ground helps put things in perspective for me. The more difficult climbs provide perhaps the most satisfaction. If I need to blow off some steam, an exhilarating climb is one of my favorite ways to do it.
I have a friend who I specifically spend time with to climb trees, but I often climb them alone. It’s always nice to have company, but sometimes I find the most satisfaction from a climb is derived when it’s a solitary accomplishment.
I thought about sharing my personal favorite trees and tree-climbing locations, but I eventually decided against it. From the little bit of shared tree-climbing I’ve done, everyone climbs a little differently, so the best trees for me might not be the best for you. And besides, I don’t want to have to compete to climb my favorite trees. J
If you go where trees are looking to climb, the trees that are best to climb tend to stand out as such. In my experience, many parks—and even some small forests—just don’t have any good climbing trees. But good climbing trees are out there, if you continue to look.
So, dear reader, what are your tree-climbing experiences? Do you still climb trees even though that’s something grown-ups just aren’t supposed to do? Do you have favorite trees to climb? What makes one climbing tree more enjoyable than another? Do you know of any clubs or other associations where adults climb trees? I’d love to find one, and maybe even join it. Surprise me.