Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Climbing Life


When I was a boy, I used to climb everything. I loved nothing so much as ascending from the ground as far as I could go. This small collection of stories shows what I mean.

When I was an infant, I learned to climb out of my crib and out of my playpen before I could walk. My parents had to put the playpen on me
 upside down.

When I was two, we lived in an apartment on the second floor of a building in Aviano, Italy. I once locked myself in the bathroom, climbed out the window and hung until my father could pick the lock on the bathroom door.

When I was four, we lived in Washington again. My only memory of one of the places we lived is of the tree outside the apartment where I fell onto the sidewalk.

At the age of six, I had climbed every tree in my neighborhood. I climbed the crab apple in front of our house and ate the crab apples after they had sprayed for insects. This was the first time I had to have my stomach pumped.

I climbed the short tree behind our house with the well-defined Y branch and went to sleep. I woke up when I fell out of the tree. I do not recall if I woke when I hit the ground or while I was falling.

Further away, I climbed the tallest tree in the neighborhood. It was a deciduous tree though I just knew it had leaves, not needles, at the time. I couldn't have weighed much. I was a very small boy. I used to climb this tree until the top half of my body was higher than every branch, every leaf of the tree. My head and shoulders stuck up from the top of the tree, my hands and feet on small green branches bent with my weight, I would sit for hours swaying in the breeze above the world.

When I was seven, we moved. I was in a new neighborhood in a new state with many yet unclimbed trees. With my newly found adventurousness, I began climbing other things.

I climbed the tallest trees I could find. I climbed trees I could not wrap my arms around. I would climb the tree with the highest unobstructed branch and I would hang from that branch and drop to the ground.

I climbed the swings so I could jump from the top. Jumping from things was one of my new joys. I climbed every piece of playground equipment, first to see if I could and then to jump from the top.

As I aged, I never lost the joy of climbing things. When I was a senior in high school, I would climb out my window at night and up onto the top of the house. When I was depressed, I would climb the sycamore in front of our house in the middle of the night to be alone with my tears.

While I was in California, I climbed over the top of monoliths half set in the crashing surf. I climbed out of the third story window of a friend over Christmas vacation so I could climb in the window next door and shut off the alarm they had left behind.

Later, in Texas, the police stopped me when I was climbing up the outside of the barracks to get to the second floor balcony. This was when I learned that being on the outside of buildings is considered trespassing.

In Utah, I started climbing in a climbing gym. I would walk three miles to the climbing gym, spend as many as six hours climbing, and then walk back to the hotel. On the weekends, I would hike up into the foothills of the mountains and scramble straight up the steep hills and crags.

Just a few years ago, they added a new park downtown in St. Louis. City Park was a beautiful place and it had this sculpture built from girders. I climbed to the top of the sculpture several times, a few, just to see if I could jump from it.

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