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.