Two incense cedars dominated the Graveyard. From an under five-foot perspective, they were gigantic, stretching some 75-feet skyward. The limbs of the largest tree started 20 feet up and provided scant hope for climbing. As usual, my brother Marshall found a risky way around the problem.
Several of the lower limbs came tantalizingly close to the ground at their tips. One could be reached by standing on a convenient flat tombstone. But only Marshall could reach it; I was frustratingly short by several inches. Marsh would make a leap, grasp the limb and shimmy up it hanging butt down until it became large enough for him to work his way around to the top. Then he would crawl up to the tree trunk, five Curtis lengths off the ground. After that, he would climb to wonderfully mysterious heights I could only dream about.
Eventually I grew tall enough to make my first triumphant journey up the limb. Then, very carefully, I climbed to the heart-stopping top, limb by limb. All of Diamond Springs spread out before me. I could see our school, and Caldor (the lumber mill where my father worked), and the woods, and the hill with a Cross where I had shivered my way through an Easter Sunrise Service. I could see my whole world. Except for a slight wind that made the tree top sway and stirred my imagination about the far away ground, I figured I was as close to Heaven as I would ever get.
By the time I finally made it to the top, Marshall had more grandiose plans for the tree. We would build a tree house in the upper branches. Off we went to Caldor to liberate some two by fours. Then we raided Pop’s tool shed for a hammer, nails, and rope. My job was to be the ground man while Marshall climbed up to the top. He would then lower the rope and I would tie on a board that he would hoist up and nail in. It was a good plan, or so we thought.
Along about the third board, Pop showed up. It wasn’t so much that we wanted to build a tree fort in the Graveyard that bothered him, or that we had borrowed his tools without asking. He even seemed to ignore the liberated lumber. His concern was that we were building our fort too close to the top of the tree on thin limbs that would easily break with nails that barely reached through the boards. After he graphically described the potential results, even Marshall had second thoughts. Pop had a solution though. He would build us a proper tree house on the large limbs that were only 20 feet off the ground. He would also add a ladder so we could avoid our tombstone-shimmy-up-the-limb route.
And he did. It was a magnificent open tree house of Swiss Family Robinson proportions that easily accommodated our buddies and us with room to spare. Hidden in the tree and hidden in the middle of the Graveyard, it became our special hangout where we could escape everything except the call to dinner. It became my center for daydreaming and Marshall’s center for mischief planning. He, along with our friends Allen and Lee, would plan our forays into Diamond designed to terrorize the local populace.
It also became the starting point for the Great Tree Race. We would scramble to the top and back down in one on one competition as quickly as we could. Slips were a common hazard. Unfortunately, the other boys always beat me; they were two to three years older and I was the one most susceptible to slipping. My steady diet of Tarzan comic books sustained me though and I refused to give up. Eventually, several years later, I would triumph.
Marshall was taking a teenage time-out with Mother’s parents who had moved to Watsonville, down on the Central Coast of California. Each day I went to the Graveyard and took several practice-runs up the tree. I became half monkey. Each limb was memorized and an optimum route chosen. Tree climbing muscles bulged; my grip became iron and my nerves steel. Finally, the big day arrived and Marshall came home. He was every bit the big brother who had had been away at high school while little brother stayed at home and finished grade school. He talked of cars and girls and wild parties and of his friend Dwight who could knock people out with one punch. I casually mentioned the possibility of a race to the top of the Tree. What a set up. Two pack-a-day, sixteen-year old, cigarette smokers aren’t into tree climbing, but how can you resist a challenge from your little brother.
Off we went. Marsh didn’t stand a chance. It was payback time for years of big brother hassles. I flew up and down the tree. I hardly touched the limbs. Slip? So what, I would catch the next limb. Marsh was about half way up the tree when I passed him on my way down. I showed no mercy and greeted him with a grin when he arrived, huffing and puffing, back at the tree house. His sense of humor was minimal. He challenged me to a wrestling match and I pinned him to the ground. It was the end of the Great Tree Race, the end of big brother domination, and a fitting end to my years of associating with dead people.
MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: A continuation of the trip through the Grand Canyon. How did we end up there? It’s an interesting tale.
WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: We’ll visit the ancient city of Pompeii in Italy that was buried by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE.
FRIDAY’S Blog-a-Book POST: There’s some catching up on the education front. I’m allowed back in school and try to take over the first grade.
22 thoughts on “The Great Tree Race… Blogging My Book on “MisAdventures””
I love your big brother/small brother narrative!
Isn’t it marvelous to climb trees? Although my Normandy trees dwarf in comparison to yours, I felt also at the top of the world when I reached the highest branch. Many people are afraid of heights, I’m the other way. I’m afraid of caves, but not of trees or mountains. Climbing to get to the top is a really thrilling experience.
How sad it must have been for you to see what happened to your childhood trees…
Good for you, Evelyne! Not many girls climbed trees when I was growing up. I would have loved to have had some tree climbing girl buddies. I probably would have developed a serious case of puppy-love.
And I am with you on caves, a wee bit claustrophobic! Thanks. –Curt
Great post Curt! Twenty five years ago shortly after I got married, my husband and I were on a camping trip and someone dared him to a tree climbing race up a really tall, thin tree (in California). Might have been the Red Wood Forest, I’m not sure about that. But anyway, he climbed the tree and won the race. And I was way more impressed with that skill on that day than any degrees or any other such successes that he had acquired at the time.
I love your stories about your childhood and the graveyard. Great writing. 🙂
Thanks, Sylvia. Much. Enjoyed the story about your husband. There are few things that I have accomplished in my professional life that have ever given me as much joy as my adventures outdoors. –Curt
At least the spike remains, for now… Lovely memories.
The tree was central to our life, AC. Not quite as important as our pets, however! 🙂 –Curt
Great story. I was going to suggest a ladder but then you said your dad came up with the idea. We had a tree house in my friend Tony Gibbard’s garden. Tony fell out of it one day and landed in a patch of stinging nettles. This put him off trees for a while!
I imagine! I’ve had a few encounters with nettles. That would definitely be adding insult to injury. We never fell out of the tree house, but one of the big limbs broke when Marshall and I were using it as a horse. Another time I was off in the woods playing Tarzan on grape vines, when the vine broke and I was at the height of my swing. I learned a lesson that time. 🙂
I really enjoyed this story about tree climbing and the tree house. It talks about freedom and love. Between siblings and even more, the quiet one from your father.
Thanks, Miriam. Your points are well taken. I’ve always appreciated the freedom we had as children, even if it bordered on benign neglect at times. 🙂 Kids loose something of great value when their life is so structured that they don’t have the opportunity to go out and explore on their own. –Curt
Excellent sibling perspective Curt- Oh, isn’t it a sadness, when visiting long ago familiar trees to find them gone. As a kid I used to enjoy out of season deer stands scattered about acreages of woods I roamed. Just a lovely read Curt. Thank you.
And thank you, JoHanna. I’ve become very fond of the trees that grow on our property. Some pop up over and over on my posts. 🙂 Several were stressed by the drought we had, however, and may eventually have to be cut down. We already lost one giant. Sigh. Today I was out with my chainsaw cutting up limbs that had broken off of the white oaks. But that’s okay. Their time had come and the oaks merely gain more personality. –Curt
What a wonderful story! My late husband used to tell some amusing tall tales about growing up in Oregon and California logging camps. There were some rough times during WW II, but in many ways seem better than this day with all eyes glued to small screens. Then again, it could just be the curmudgeon leaking out of me.
While I am not immune to the seductive nature of modern technology, Gunta (after all, here we are blogging away), I don’t think one has to be a curmudgeon to mourn the lack of time kids spend exploring the real world as opposed to the digital world! –Curt
Just loving your childhood romps! And heartbroken for the cedar tree they cut down. What were they thinking?!
I wasn’t much of a tree climber, but I climbed far enough into our best cherry tree to spend some lovely hours there, reading. On the other hand, I’ve climbed a few masts in my time: some with an equivalent series of spikes to help the process along. Do linemen even climb telephone poles any more? It seems to me they used to, a lot. Now I just see them in cherry pickers, which may be safer, but certainly isn’t as Wichita-lineman-ish.
Being without siblings, I haven’t experienced the joy of whomping an elder, but I can imagine how satisfying it was. Eventually, big brothers learn that little brothers aren’t so little any more.
Our trips up into cherry trees were more for eating the cherries (story upcoming), but reading would have been just fine.
Don’t know about climbing but you still see the spikes. My dad was a lineman in southern Oregon and northern California in the late 30s, and loved it until he came in contact with an 11,000 volt line. Lucky he survived. He had spurs on his boots and a special belt for climbing! I can imagine you’ve climbed your share of masts!
It seems that there is always a degree of competition among siblings. 🙂 –Curt
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This series of yours is prompting all sorts of tomboyish memories to arise in my head! I was a tree-climbing freak – buckeyes, evergreens, maples, you name it. The evergreens were a little scary because of the swishy limbs, but we climbed day after day for years. We built a tree house, too – can’t even remember what kind of tree it was, but I can still picture the setting. I’m enjoying your sibling anecdotes, too!
What fun, Lexi. There is just something about climbing trees that captures the imagination of young people: the challenge, a dash of fear, escape, imagination, the view… and I am sure that the list goes on. And good for you in your tomboyish ways! Your sense of adventure has never ended, has it. Thanks. –Curt
Great, its awesome (y)
Love this story. Our father built the most brilliant tree house in a tall Monterey Pine. There were two very long ladders to reach it and even small tots would solemnly climb step by step up to the dizzy heights, terrifying parents/grandparents.