People Climbing Trees

“I didn’t know anybody climbed trees anymore.  That takes me back.”
The author of The Tree Climbers Guide,  Jack Cooke, would I imagine have been pretty smug to hear that the first comment by the first person, a fellow dog walker in his 50’s, that Austin and I bump into, say this to us, as we are climbing trees.  It’s exactly what the author was talking about.  People love climbing trees but it’s a forgotten art, even amongst Austin’s friends, not just when we become adults. Two of his friends can climb trees but the rest either don’t have the passion for it or find they can’t.

As a child I’d treat it like an Olympic sport, with timed ascents and descents on the trees I knew best.  But even back then I know some tree climbing was left unfinished.  In fact often I look back on my childhood and feel some living of it was left unfinished because handheld games and computer games arrived in the mid 80’s and captured much of my time in a tense thumb bashing, eyes transfixed life of gaming kid.  No I was never quite totally plugged in like you hear of today (5 hours a night) but I know life narrowed and bored its self once they appeared in mine and my friends life.  I thought it was just about getting old.  But now I know it was the enemy of childhood making its first incursion.

So coming across this book on the shelves of Prestatyn Library was a revelatory thing.  (I’ve had another couple of books about trees from there last year.  I’m very into my trees at the moment.)  I could climb trees!  Not just Austin.  Not just children. But adults to!  You see Jack Cooke climbs trees all over London.  Gets into scrapes with it but also discovers the untouched and most spacious, peaceful places in the capital.  Look up you might spot him.  In fact he’s only bumped into one other person up a tree all the years of doing it, a businessman having his lunch break in one (which is how the author also got started.)  And he’s terrified a few people when he lands back on terrafirma.

So Austin and I set out today to find the trees we’d missed.  Even an expert tree climber like Austin couldn’t remember good trees to climb in Talacre: that we’ve been spending months in a year, for years.  We found some eventually.  We dismissed the Elm - it was still raining too much.  We dismissed the Black Poplar – evidence of birds’ nests in its crooks.  I’m not sure what it was we climbed in the end because my tree naming skills only emerge as remotely useful when I can see the leaves.  (From a distance they all looked dead.  Up close though the trees are covered in hexagonal buds, tiny green cones and fluffy catkins.)  We climbed and I didn’t get very far, but high enough to get some confidence back, while I watched Austin jettison to top and practically stick his head out of the crown of the tree.

Once when he was little more than a toddle, I had done the same thing on a very high tree and amazed him by popping my head out tens of feet above him in a park.  A week later I demonstrated using a rope swing to him, broke it, and couldn’t breathe properly for hours from the way I landed, so gave up on being an action Dad.

Can you climb trees on the PCT?  I intended only to learn all their names not to climb them.  I’d love to shimmy them too but won’t I be too tired for all that nonsense?  And a fall would be the end years of preparation.  The only way forward then is up.  Get good enough and fit enough to leave the option open.  I have a feeling Austin might get monkey a few times himself.

PS Thinking about it I’m sure I’ve seen a mobile phone advert with adults climbing trees in it.  Those adverts are always built on bitter irony!

PPS Austin is in there in the tree, in the photograph somewhere. Disappearing into the clouds.


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