Tree top


When I was a boy I would climb trees without fear. Without hesitation I would clamber, delighted by the decisions I was making. Which branch next? Will that little one hold my weight?

Inevitably, as the branches thinned, I would reach a dead-end and would be forced to pause, becoming aware of how high I was. My heart would race, my grip would suddenly feel less certain.

I was so confident moments before, moving by instinct, but now doubt would creep in and I was having to come to terms with how fragile I was, how certainly my bones would break if I fell. I would imagine clattering off the limbs on my way down, skin ripping and bruising on each impact.

The grass below was no longer my ally. That thin cushion would do nothing for me now if I fell.

I'm almost certainly going to fall. How high am I? Higher than I ought to be. I would look down and the ground would spin away from me through the limbs of the tree.

I was motionless and rooted like my tree but my roots were in fear, which saps rather than nourishes, unlike the soil which will soon claim me when I fall.

Somewhere underneath the buzz of worry would come a memory of the last time I climbed a tree, and the time before that. Every tree I've ever climbed spiralling into my mind, reminding me that this happens every time.

Why do I climb? I would let out a nervous giggle before dropping back into my frozen fear. Acceptance would come at some point: I had to climb down.

Slowly extending a tenuous foot, I would feel beneath me for the closest branch, any memory of it's position chased away by the paralyzing tingle which consumed me. It would take a few attempts but I would find the branch, any branch, and begin the journey down.

Lurching from one imagined catastrophic doom to a slightly less severe one, my arms hot and creaky, my knees like that of an old man.

Finally, I would have to make a leap from a lower branch to the ground. The same branch I was so eager to pull myself onto earlier in the day now was so hard to leave. But my old life was just below, and I had to reclaim it.

I would collapse into the grass, breathing hard, limbs stiff with the memory of adrenaline and look up at the tree. Through the lattice of old wood I could see the sky and the promise of infinity beyond. Why do I climb?

Now when I lay under a tree I think differently. My body is still strong but I am stiff with age, hardened, and knotted. I used to climb without thinking. Then I would ask "Why do I climb?" Now I ask "Why don't I climb any more?"

What's the worst thing that could happen?

by Lee Jordan