In the small town where I grew up, children grew on trees. In the summers, we spent more time among the branches than on the ground. Our favorite trees became jungles, bandit hideouts, castles, pirate ships, rockets, and sometimes simply quiet refuges.
No matter how hot the day got, it would be cool in our high havens. And in the hottest part of the day, you could spread yourself over a few flexible branches and take a quick nap surrounded by the soft rustling and fresh, green smell of the leaves. At other times, it was enough just to sit quietly and observe. It brought a mysterious pleasure to sit silently on a high branch, watching the world go by below you and realizing that no one knew you were there.
The trees were shelters, playgrounds, refuges, companions. We climbed in them, hung swings from them, and buried treasure beneath them. They were always there when we wanted them, and they never complained.
Either we were master acrobats or trees have child-protecting qualities, since I don't remember anyone ever getting hurt falling. If we slipped off a branch, another one below would catch us, or we'd land in a pile of leaves with our feet under us.
The trees would even sacrifice themselves for our pleasure.
Once during a fierce wind, a large tree fell over in the field behind our house. After the storm, my friend Kay and I surveyed our fallen friend. Kay took hold of one of the long, now horizontal, branches that used to stretch far out of reach above us.
She pulled it down, and it bounced back up. She climbed up and straddled the branch, and her feet barely touched the ground. She gave a push, then another, lifting higher and higher into the air with each push. What a great horse! She gave a whoop as she galloped with long, flying strides across the prairie.
I found another, smaller branch that could be ridden. It had a quicker gait, more like a Shetland pony, and soon I had my eyeballs bouncing in my head. We took turns on the Clydesdale and the pony. The tree lay in the field all summer, and Kay and I lived many adventures on our two steeds, riding galoooom, galoooom, and fwippity, fwippity, fwippity across the wide-open range.
Treehouses, however, almost became our undoing. One summer my brothers and I found some discarded boards at a building site and decided to build a treehouse. We picked one of our favorite trees in a neighboring field and chose a spot high in the air where two sturdy branches split from the trunk and formed a suitable, broad base for our boards.
We spent an entire afternoon positioning the boards to make the best use of our space and anchoring them in strategic positions with the few nails we had located. Then, for the next couple of days, we made full use of our new treehouse, coming down only when hunger or darkness forced our retreat.
AT dinner one evening, as we talked about our treehouse adventures, Dad became very attentive. He didn't ask us much about our activities, but showed quite an interest in our construction methods. After we described how we had built the treehouse ourselves from a paltry smattering of materials, he decided maybe he should check it out, just to be sure we met current building codes.
The next morning, we took Dad to our tree and proudly pointed out the treehouse. While we waited below, he climbed up through the limbs until he stood on a branch level with our structure. Cautiously, he put out one foot and gave the nearest board a shove. We all scattered as the entire treehouse collapsed and dropped to the ground in a shower of boards and leaves.
Dad promised to help us next time we wanted to build a treehouse, but we never took him up on the offer. Adult help would have taken all the fun out of it. After all, our treehouse had held up just fine until Dad started poking at it. We stuck to playing among bare branches for the rest of the summer.
When it came to trees, it seemed best to keep boards - and adults - out of them.