Category Archives: tree climbing

These Trees Are Meant for Climbing

Do you remember those first clamberings, the tentative propulsion upwards, the scrambled search for a purchase with feet or hands, a roughness of bark rubbing legs and arms as they grappled with the ascent?

The liberation of leaving the ground behind and entering the leafy expanse above was an exhilirating paradigm shift. The world opened up from that peculiar vantage point perched between earth and sky.

I remember the precariousness and shimmerings of fear, well okay sometimes it was a healthy dose. A sense of release fueled by the accomplishment of a successful climb was tempered by a general cautiousness underscoring a strong desire not to slip, misstep, or worst case scenario, fall from the tree.

Our kids have a couple of climbable trees in the backyard. They’ve become old friends. Each spring they are reacquainted – branches a little stronger, kids a bit bolder. The trees are a testing ground for dexterity, daring, judgment and strength.

We have had to talk them down on a couple of occasions after hearing the nervous yell for help when one of them ventured a little too high, a little too soon, or a little too quickly. These minor hurdles don’t put them off at all. The smallish specimens in our yard are a training ground for the wide world of trees. The kids always return to the climb undaunted calling out, “maman, papa – look, look how high we are”.

In the lofty heights, trees are also a resting place to get far from the madding crowds, a green sanctuary nurturing contemplation and dreams. After buds pop into full leaf, our favourite backyard tree is part of a fort complex and a great hiding place too as long as the kids can muffle their giggles.

And can we hear derring-do? Yes we can, it’s that contact thud as feet or other parts of the body hit the ground after the big jump. Once you launch, there is no going back. Gravity’s unforgiving pull returns you rapidly to earth. That airborne second or two packs one big wollop of excitement, a breath sucking aha of adrenalin.

The new tree climbing season is underway up in the northern hemisphere. This year, like previous ones, there are sure to be new exploits, higher heights and undoubtedly a scare or two. Keep on climbing!

Hug a tree today, or better still climb one.

If you’re looking for a great Earth Day story, look no further than Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Sure to be a classic for many years to come.

“Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy.”

Do yourself a favour and get out into the trees….

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Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Morning

Ed’s note – since the demise of Storehouse, I have been at a loss as to the best way to display images linked to PlayGroundology stories. I’ve gone back to tumblr to try and capture the look and flow of a series of larger images. This is my first tumblr post in a number of years. It’s the visual companion to this WordPress post.

We’re at chickadee corner waiting for birds. In sub-zero weather, the black capped chickadees drop from surrounding trees landing gingerly on upturned palms. With soft, rapid pecks they gather seeds before retreating to nearby cover. We are breathless as they alight oh so briefly on our hands. The timorous beating of their hearts is exhilarating and humbling. Today there are no chickadees and the girls are momentarily disappointed.

tumblr photo story here or click through on image above

Fortunately, there is plenty to do when stopping by the woods on a snowy morning. A freshly fallen tree beckons for solo and duet balancing. After several back and forths, the girls discover a small dip nearby.

A defining feature of this hollow is a large, partially exposed, snow dusted boulder. The steep incline of its scalable face makes for a tricky ascent. In the end, after numerous unsuccessful attempts, it is ingenuity that wins the day and conquers the summit.

Next are the vertical climbs – hanging on and scrambling up trees so tall. The big mama conifer shelters the girls under its boughs. Close to the trunk the almost symmetrical branches are spaced like steps inviting the climbers skyward. They are all smiles and giggles from their perches on high until one gets fretful thinking she won’t be able to get down.

Closer to solid ground there is space for some casual boulder hopping. Each activity is rooted in connections with the natural environment. We embrace a wonderful simplicity, a sense of unhurried ease and familiarity. The light and breezy unscripted play is punctuated with moments of intensity fuelled by physical exertion and the sometimes fright of self-induced boundary testing. And then it’s over, time to bid the snowy outdoor morning adieu.

Just play,
play with mud, sand, sea
blocks and balls
sticks and trees
just play…

Bold

Bold is a word I remember GH (Granma Helen aka my Mom) using frequently to describe my kids over the years. Most often she’d approvingly remark on one of the kids being bold related to an action she had just witnessed, or had been part of with one of the small crew.

As I remember it, the essence of boldness has to do with assertive behaviours and a certain je ne sais quoi attitude, an almost complete insouciance about consequences that might arise from actions not necessarily condoned, or embraced by the adult set.

Nellie was adorned with the bold mantle by GH on a regular basis. Her early forays into the bold zone were warmly and joyously received. This in part is due to them both sharing this empowering trait. GH as young woman of 19 left family and friends behind in Scotland to sail across the Atlantic on her own to be reunited with her love. It was a bold beginning to a new life in an unfamiliar country.

Les ChevauxNellie with tante Danièle’s beloved King and Prince in Sorel, Québec

“Freedom lies in being bold.”

Robert Frost

Granddaughter Nellie has been imbued with the bold streak from an early age. There is a mix of curiosity and fearlessness that helps to brew a good batch of bold. In the photo above, at just over two-years-old, she is getting up close and personal with Belgian draft horse gentle giants King and Prince.

Nellie’s maman Mélanie is also well versed in bold. She left Québec for Nova Scotia as a young woman to make a new home in another culture and language. Nellie has come by her boldness organically. Now I’ve had a bold moment or two over the years but not of the permeated variety that these two women and one girl exhibit. This is a matrilineal beat.

Bold & BrightA 6-foot jump on Rogers Brook Trail, Kejimkujik National Park, Canada

This bright beat of bold influences and informs play. There is a higher degree of risk taking, greater physicality and testing of limits. With Nellie it’s very apparent with climbing, jumping, swinging. She is a trailblazer for her younger sister and older brother. Where she leads, they will mostly follow.

Early on at the playground, monkey bars became the thing, Nellie’s signature piece, her calling card of bold. Just before her fifth birthday our wiry, wisp of a girl came down with monkey bar fever. She was determined and fierce in her pursuit of mastery and was able to draw on a deep reservoir of bravery.

soccer

Mastering this kind of equipment at an early age gives kids a chance to assess their own abilities, get comfortable with risk and celebrate their achievements. Now I do admit that when she took her first tentative monkey bar sorties at the tail end of 3, I was in helicopter mode. I’ve left that far behind and now trust Nellie’s confidence and ability to carry the day.

For Nellie bold is all about movement, height and a challenge. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a natural environment. Trees and erratic boulders on old glacial plains are meant first and foremost for climbing. Nellie is a Baroness in the trees. I am interested to see how the boldness will assert itslef as she gets older. We may be in for some hold on to our hats moments.

DSC09174

Celebrate the bold in our children. It serves them well in terms of confidence, risk assessment and dreams – #playbold.

DSC02619Nellie leads climb up old tree overlooking cove – Kejimkujik National Park

“Boldness be my friend.”

Shakespeare

Whose woods are these?

Each summer we trek a couple of hundred kilometres to camp at Kejimkujik one of Canada’s east coast national parks. For the kids it’s an unparalleled play ecosystem – woods, water, wildlife, wonder. They always have something close at hand in the natural environment that is readily transformed into adventure.

This trip, we are tucked away in the far corner of a walk in area. The cozy comfort of familiarity is all around us. We’ve tented here several times over the years on solo family excursions and with friends. A small inlet is just down the path where rocks, a mighty old tree and gently rippling water beckon.

DSCF9583Gathering moss and lichen from old man tree

Since our last stay, old man tree is no longer reaching skyward. Cracked at the trunk and toppled, its growing days are over. But like the tree in Shel Silverstein’s story (original animation video) it continues to give. Now, it’s a in situ natural playscape – jungle gym, balance beam, bouncy ride.

In past visits when the tree was still stretching its branches and popping leaves to catch the sun it was ‘the’ climbing place. The two older kids risked their first unaided climbs here getting purchase on the rough bark as they inched up the trunk’s steep incline and made the tricky transition onto the primary branch that pushed out almost parallel to the ground.

GOnV8NDIFf_1386290135937From ‘The Book of Play’

There is a sadness seeing this green friend prone and broken down. It’s a tree that will stand tall in my memories as the kids’ starter climber, the bridge for their first magical trip from earth to sky.

As I walk to the playground to get the kids for a meal, they are shouting excitedly about their latest discovery. They’re juiced, bouncing around their find, poking about inside, adding branches to a rootsy, vernacular space.

DSCF9648Found shelter/den

For a few minutes this is the jackpot. All energies are devoted here as plans are hastily conceived to create a similar treasure. The rapid progression of seeing, touching and doing makes the possibility of actually being den makers all the more real to them. The den is perfection. It is cozy and built to their scale with branches and sticks gathered from the forest floor.

Back on the inlet’s rocky shore, Nellie-Rose starts floating leaf boats. Before long, the three kids are marine architects constructing moss boats with twig masts. An impromptu regatta gets underway with seven or eight of these ‘mossies’ getting launched into a lazy current and meandering out into open water. Two or three are crewed by tiny toads – Nellie’s touch – who sit transfixed on their small islands.

DSCF9850Mossie crewed by a toad

These moments of fun and inventiveness, of laughter and togetherness are timeless, a kids in nature blockbuster story in the making.

At night above the canopy we can see specks of shimmery light as stars flit about and satellites skip across the sky. There is something about natural open spaces that buffers the daily chaos, soothes the city’s madness and sparks delight like magic embers arcing in the night.

Whose woods are these I think I know
Their laughter’s sweet enough to sow
Lost in play they do not see
The lengthening shadows as they grow

These woods are airy, light and sweet
But I have miles to go before we meet
Miles and miles before we meet
The ones whose love makes us complete

(Apologies to Robert Frost)

A day played out to a natural rhythm and tucked in with the best night sky viewing Nova Scotia can offer.

Keji Night SkySource: Frommer’s

Thanks kids, thanks Keji – we’ll be back.