A few days ago, my three year old girl climbed a tree all by herself. She was filled with wonder and joy and pride, and so was I!
We were having a picnic lunch on our first day off in a long time. She insisted we bring a picnic blanket and even though her father and I pushed for the relative ease and comfort of the shaded picnic tables, she wanted to lay out the blanket under a tree.
She was right. It was the perfect spot. Underneath a low hanging canopy of leaves, we spread our blanket amidst the clover. The playground was just steps away and we spent some time on the slides and ladders. We also took a little walk to the pond nearby, but we spent the most time underneath that small, almost bush-like tree with its web of spindly but sturdy branches. It was shady and relatively cool, there was yummy food, and we were together.
Towards the end of our time at the park, we returned to our spot to pack up our stuff, and our little girl started to study the tree.
“Mommy, I want to climb that tree. Can you help me?”
I took notice of the tree and realized it was the perfect tree for a three year old to climb, and that she really didn’t need my help. She was big enough, strong enough, smart enough, and brave enough to do it on her own. And I told her that.
For almost half an hour, long after we had packed up our blanket, she climbed up and down and around that tree. She swung from its branches and dropped to the ground. She even spent some time “teaching ” me how to climb a tree. It was fabulous! And it got me thinking about what makes a good climbing tree:
Low hanging branches (or, “a way in”) – You’ve got to have a way to get started: low branches to grab and pull up, knobs or crooks to step-on. A ladder might be useful, or a boost from a friend, but I would say that’s for more advanced climbers. If a three year old can’t do it alone, it’s probably too high. Without a way in or on, a tree isn’t really climbable, and you are left feeling wistful and frustrated.
High branches (or, “a way up”) – Once you’re on the tree, you need somewhere to go and in a tree somewhere is almost always up. Sometimes the way up isn’t clear and requires some trial and error. Sometimes you can see it but the branches might be higher than you’d like or farther apart or more spindly than you’d prefer. Often, it takes some courage to keep going, but a good climbing tree gives you a chance to be brave.
Somewhere to sit (or “a place to rest”) – Climbing is hard work. You need a comfortable crook to settle in and rest to take stock of how far you’ve come, to survey the ground beneath your feet and the branches left to climb. You need to be able to dream, read, pray.
A view (or “perspective”) – Whether it’s from your resting spot or a perch high atop the canopy, a climbing tree should provide you with something wonderful to see. It might be a vista full of more trees to climb – mountains or rivers or playscapes yet to be enjoyed. It might be a new view of the people you love or the places you have been, now seen from above with a little more distance and (maybe) a little more grace. You might even find a canopy of leaves to observe up close: the way the veins in the leaves mirror the branches of the tree; the slight variations in color, texture, and structure of each leaf, each branch. Perhaps you’ll see a carefully constructed birds nest just above your head or an ant winding its way along the branch.
A good climbing tree can teach us something about God, about ourselves, and about the world not just from the new perspective it gives, but also from the act of climbing – moving up and down, in and around God’s wondrous creation!
But if you are three, a good climbing tree is just plain fun! It helps you learn that you are strong and brave and smart. It cradles you in its branches not too far above the ground, but far enough to be exciting. It gives you lots of ways to explore your newfound independence and skill so that when you see another tree that’s just right for climbing, you’ll be ready.