EDITOR’S SOAPBOX: Why young boys climb tall trees
In the back yard of the home where I grew up down in Grass Valley, there was a magnolia tree, high and proud.
This is the tree my brother and I would climb when we were children, over and over again. It was about 40 feet high and had branches as firm and steady as girders. From the top of this tree, you could see the heart of Grass Valley spread out before you – across the valley that gave the place its name, over to Main Street and the Del Oro theater, and back up the other side toward Lyman Gilmore Middle School and the northern edges of town.
We fell out of this tree more than a few times, my brother and I -bouncing off the branches and landing in a pile of magnolia leaves at the bottom. Nothing was ever broken, although lots of bruises and scrapes were had, climbing that tree -we suffered from the invincible rubbery dumb luck that saves small boys and dogs from harm.
A magnolia tree is solid, dark and leafy, a perfect tree for boys. Its flowers grow from hard, cone-shaped buds that make grand hand grenades in backyard wars, and its thick foliage always provides shade to rest in and sip Cokes after those wars conclude.
My mother, I know, was always terrified at the thought that my brother or I would come hurtling down from the magnolia tree one day and shatter into a million bits at the bottom. She didn’t like us climbing the tree very much. But it was a primeval urge she could neither control nor curb.
We try to get closer to the sky.
“Because it is there,” mountain climbers say in answer to the inevitable question “Why do you do that?”
Because the world looks different, from up there, whether it be forty or a thousand feet. Laid out before you are all the things that make up the ordinary world, in a new pattern. From the tree I could see the house and the town and the land it sat on, a view that sparked and glinted in my head. The same but different.
You never outgrow that thrill of the view, that spark.
A while back, a group of friends and I grunted, groaned and crawled our way up a middling peak in that vast tract of land known as Desolation Wilderness. A moderate mountain in that lineup, the peak we climbed was still a good 9,000 feet high, the last few hundred sloped at very nearly a 90-degree angle or so it felt to us.
But once you are there on the top, all fatigue slides away – all thoughts evaporate except for that sweeping blue sky and a view of granite, pine and lakes that seems so vast it extends halfway to Montana.
A couple of hundred feet below us, there were the Twin Lakes, still mostly frozen then at the end of June, white sheets floating on black water. A froth of blue and gleaming ice circled them. Waterfalls poured down into these lakes so hidden from the workaday world that more birds than people see them a day.
If we had stepped twenty feet to our right, we would plummet way, way down into those lakes. I thought of the magnolia tree that still stands down in Grass Valley, in a back yard that is someone else’s now, and I imagined my mom probably wouldn’t be really happy about me standing precariously on top of this mountain, either.
But there are things you do and there are things you have to do, and seeing the sweep of the Sierra from nine thousand feet up is somehow just as important, just as unavoidable as climbing forty feet up the magnolia tree once was.
Sierra Sun Editor Nik Dirga grew up in Nevada County.
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