Echo decided that she wanted to climb the Redwood in Juju and Bonnie’s backyard (not actually pictured above… this one’s just to give you the impression of it, since, regrettably, I took no pictures from under the particular tree in question). It just so happens that I am the type of parent who was genuinely pleased to hear that his 6 and a 1/2 year-old daughter wants to climb the 100+ foot evergreen, the very first branch of which is at least 20 feet up, above her doting, and perhaps also “highly concerned”, grandparents’ fitted-brick patio…
I also love that tree! And I wanted to climb it while we are here, as well.
We had the ladder set up, extended to it’s fullest height and even on it’s tippy-toes a bit, leaned against the massive and mythical trunk of “Reddy the Great”, as Echo calls the wizened old giant. This tree is the stuff of Christensen family legend. The mere fact that I, or Natalie, or her sister, Em, have climbed it before, or would, is somewhat of a heroic feat in the family. It’s a big tree. But it also looms over Natalie and Emily’s entire childhood. It’s been imbued with magic. Not just your natural everyday huge Redwood magic, but life-, imaginative-, play-, kid-, undaunted-, love-magic. And you can feel that when you’re near Reddy. And it makes you story-worthy to associate with “the Great” in such an intimate fashion as to ascend to his/her/its crown, to say the least.
The compound had gotten wind of Echo’s plan; and by that, I mean, she’d broadcast the news in every building and in every face she could reach between the time we decided to go for it and the time we had the ladder up against the foot of the tree. Our little friend Seiji was visiting and he was exceptionally interested in this operation to climb the tree and whether or not he would in fact get a turn to make his own ascent; so with our other “residents” that made 8-10 of us around the tree at any one moment, all jazzed-to-nervous-and-back-again about the current activity.
We had to “try out” the ladder placement, so Echo and I climbed up together while Natalie held the base. The top of the ladder was too far from the bottom-most branch for Echo to reach and climb up onto it. We adjusted the ladder and made another ascent. This time Echo decided that being “as tall as a two-story building” at the top of the ladder and touching the lowest branch of the tree was — well, enough. The teeming horde decided they all wanted a similar triumph under their respective belts; so I ushered kids, one after the other, up and down the ladder, to lay a finger on or wrap an arm around that lowest branch. Each one got to peer down and wave at the on-lookers below, and to gaze out on the world from a different perspective. They all loved it so much that they begged for another round. They felt pleased with themselves, and lit-up by the experience.
The tree let them be their own heros.
I’d told Echo that I wanted to climb the tree as well when we spoke of it in the initial discussion, but by the end of my shift at the carnival, I thought about just packing it up and skipping my chance to play. But I didn’t. The moment was synchronic. The flow was evident in it’s allowance of ample space and opportunity. The kids were not only all being supervised enough for me to do the climb, they were all also cheering me on. So I went for it. “Why not?” I thought to myself, as I reset the ladder. Then I began my ascent.
I say “began”, but the tree is so pleasant to maneuver up through that I was hardly 5-7 minutes in working my way to the top. The kids whooped and screamed and called up to me as I went. At the peak of the tree the branches all twist outward from the center forming a palm on which to perch. As I popped out of the top of Reddy’s skull, Lisa, the neighbor across the street, saw me immediately and shouted and said she was going to grab her camera, then fired off the shot (below) for us.
That is the roof-line of Juju and Bonnie’s house 1/3 of the way up the tree…
Realizing that they could all potentially see me in the crow’s nest, I yelled down to the kids suggesting that they run over to the neighbors’ and “look up!”. They all mindfully crossed the still avenue together and danced in circles on the sidewalk waving up at me, and hollering with glee that there I was “in the top of the tree!”.
Here’s what they looked like to me, all gathered around down there…
To make a little-longer story short — when I got back down to the ground, the kids all crowded about me, congratulating me on my successful adventure, jumping at my elbows, shouting feverishly, collecting and coveting the bits of Redwood needle and tiny cones lacing my hair. I was extra-super-cool for at least 5 whole minutes. Sure, they ran off to other great attractions, that is, back to banging fiercely on the elegant Zen bell-gong in the courtyard; but they will remember that I climbed to the top of Reddy the Great. And whether now or at some later time, it’ll be the stuff of family stories that well outlast our memories’ interest in even the greatest legends.
I didn’t mean to be a hero. And I’m not bragging, really. I was just doing what felt pleasing to me. The fact that our family will remember is based in large part on the pre-existing mythic relationship with the tree, of course. The fact that it will be memorable to the junior monkeys club is, likewise of course, because it is such a grand and epic specimen for climbing — especially from a kid’s (memory’s) point of view. But the reason it’ll stay in my mind is because I got to be part of their stories, I got to be nothing short of amazing in several endearing little children’s minds, just for being me and doing something I truly enjoy.
Here’s to authenticity.
Once I made it back down, and pulled all of the debris from my hair and disseminated it amongst my fans, I held the ladder and Xi held baby Selah so that Romy could climb up to the crow’s nest as well. She didn’t get quite the parade upon her descent from that great height as I enjoyed, but I am sure the achievement will still be memorialized in the Daniels’ family lore; and I know she’ll be added to the list in the Christensen legend of Reddy the Great summit-claimers. But just for good measure, I wanted to add her heroic tale to this story as well…
I hope you happen easily upon your moments to be legendary in your kids’ eyes, too, friends. I’d look first in all the places where you’re most you. And just so you know — you’re all legends in my eyes; just for continuing to show up and be your current best parenting selves.
We are Olympians.
Be well, badasses.