I’ve always loved climbing. The feelings of my limbs stretching out to meet the length and curves of a massive tree, or the feeling of my toes searching for subtle grooves of a low wall, had always made sense to my body. Today was no different. I could barely wait for my dad to stop the car in front of the playground, so I could spill out of its confines and begin my ritual.
First, I take off my shoes.
That almost never sat well with my mother, who seemed to believe that her children were somehow inherently doomed to die a slow and painful death by foot-stick.
“Put on back yu shoes!” she would demand with her signature smile. It was pleasant, but laced with just enough seriousness to remind me that it was the only courteous warning I would be afforded. If she had to say it a second time, my inaction would translate as a personal affront, and my mother did not do well with those.
She was a sweet, petite woman with a boisterous laugh and a free-spirited mindset, but she was a lioness when it came to her children — protective, watchful and, let me tell it, obviously misled by false statistics on foot-stick deaths.
“Mom, nothing’s gonna stick me in my foot because I’ll be in the tree, not on the ground.”
I place that comment in the air carefully, like the 32nd Jenga block. Slow, steady, almost expecting it not to stay.
“I’m not goin’ no hospital today, so if something stick yu inna yu foot, yu better hope it don’t affect yu thumbs!”
That’s her way of saying I’d have to hitchhike to the hospital. It always made us both smile. A good example of the her unstated way of giving me space to do my thing.
From there, I careful place my shoes in the closest out-of-the-way spot to the tree. That way, as soon as I finished climbing, I hop right back into my foot-protector — just another way I save my mother some sanity.
Then, I climb. Slow and specific, so as not to miss an opportunity.
There are so very many opportunities inside a tree. It is nature’s version of Times Square in any tree I climb. Fast-paced working insects on tight schedules whiz by with no regard for my presence. I love that. They’re focused and completely un-phased by the slow-moving giant I must appear to be.
Then there are the lizards. They definitely notice me, but they’re clear that I, not they, am the visitor. They each cock their head to the side, push their dewlap outward, then carry on about their business with a watchful eye in my direction. I think they’re the designated tree police, and if asked, I’d say they do a fine job of letting visitors like me know we’re being watched.
Once I get to a point in the tree where I can see most of the surface area of the ground below, I look for grooves to firmly plant my feet. Wide branches in perfect v-shapes make the best spots, and I never meet a tree that doesn’t have those in abundance. Trees are cool like that; welcoming and open; kind and unintrusive.
When I find my spot, I lean my body against my host’s trunk and begin my expert-level observation of everything ever.
Kids playing freeze tag; grown-ups switching their bottoms while they power-walked; moms pushing babies in strollers; teenagers swarmed together in mini herds, laughing at apparently the funniest things, and touching each other’s shoulders, I’m guessing, to pass on the laughter.
People-watching is my thing. I feel safe and well-informed when I’m up high watching people down low. Up there, inside the safety of my tree condos, I keep a safe distance from the stares and statements of humans who, unlike the insects inside the tree, are troubled by the design of me.
Perhaps my skin mimicks the irregular, yet perfectly designed color variations of my host trees. Lighter here, much darker there, spotted and blotched in some spaces, smoothly colored in others. I love the bold variety of the colors that cover my body, but other humans, they find it curious and often, offensive.
Spotted owl, Rubik’s cube, Cow girl, Michael Jackson — some of the intended hurt they splash in my direction like pails of hot water. I’m sure I’m supposed to be shy and sad, maybe even scared because of this, but it just makes people even more interesting to observe.
It’s like they’re uncomfortable with whatever I am because it’s not like whatever they are; a phenomenon I find intriguing, but also silly.
They name my designs and people even study it like it’s a big bad disease. But to me, it’s part of my magic. It’s my way of standing out in a room without saying a word. It’s also my way of remembering that I am uniquely made. That, for me, is powerful; but that, for them is cause for fear. Odd for sure, but worthy of watching, especially high up inside the perfect watch spot of a good tree.