We ever live between birthdays, between aimlessly lost and firmly found, between novel experiences and slowly greying wisdom, between haunting heartache and quiet contentment, between being who we were and who we are and, further still, between who we are and who we would garden ourselves to be. Between branches, if you will: life is like climbing a tree that grows as quickly as we climb. We take to it as children, full of irreverence for the impossible, spurred by a sense of reckless conquest, spun by dauntless drum and dare-lit daydreams, whisked away by wanting wonder and reaching up by rung, moment over moment. As we climb, however, the tree grows and grows. Yet, we challenge the climb, even as time begins to slow and the upward ways multiply. With every branch above is a choice we have to make, every branch below a choice we’ve made. Our hands, nicked and callused, grow weak and gripless. Our knees shake with increasingly careful anticipation of the next acrophobic push. Our back trembles with trepidation as the wind whips and nips at our tattering sleeves. We rest when we find a bough big enough and, when that is done, we continue on, ever reaching for the next limb, ever more intentionally, ever more precariously. Along the way, we hear the creaks and cracks of fear, work against the weight of our consequences, begin to underestimate our courage and irrationally compare ourselves to the vigor and altitudes of others. We may many times make the mistake of setting eyes on the relative comfort of ground below, but one thing inevitably teases, begs and elevates us: that sing-songy, incorruptible child within us all, who tirelessly imagines tip-toeing through the clouds above the canopy. It is for that giggling, wide-eyed, crazy-legged, believe-anything kid we climb. It is as that child we ever thought to stretch an arm.
In this endeavor, the tree is obviously important: it is our meaning, our why, our reason to climb. But forget the tree for a moment. We all have lives to live; we all have trees to climb; there’s such a sapling planted for each of us. Consider, instead, the heart who climbs it: your heart, my heart. Growth matters, ultimately less for the tree than for our inner innocence. How, then, can we out-climb a tree that grows as quickly as we climb? I think maybe it’s much less a matter of out-climbing a fast-growing tree than it is a matter of seeing how big a tree it is our hearts are willing to grow by climbing.
Otherwise, why not just climb a lawn chair? As for me, take me to my next birthday, take me to firmly found, take me to greying wisdom, take me to quiet contentment, take me to where I would’ve gardened myself to be. Are clouds good for skipping stones? I’d like to know.
Take me to the biggest tree in the park.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
—Birches (Last 10 Lines), Robert Frost
Poetry: They Lied