How young is too old?

Posted by Ken Campbell May 6, 2009 0 Comment 588 views

I have been thinking a lot lately about trees. More specifically, I’ve been thinking of climbing them. Not all of them, just one big one, on the right day, climb it to the top, or as close as I can get. Is it juvenile of me to be running this daydream? Is climbing trees an activity best suited to the younger set? (And by that I mean, younger than me.) I have a long list of things I want to do before I die – I’ve been keeping it since I was in high school – and #257 is “Spend the night in a tree.”

I don’t recall exactly when I added that item to the list, but it’s interesting to look at it now, to consider the doing of the thing, and wonder about whether it’s still an age-appropriate activity. It may not be seemly for me to admit a desire to climb a big tree. That, after all, is a child’s game. You don’t see adults out there in the park, perched in the cedars above the point, swinging from limb to limb. I have to confess that sometimes, sometimes I wonder, “Why not?” How is something that is so plainly fun, so unabashedly filled with joy, that overloads the senses and literally heightens the mind, how is this a thing that we are to grow tired of, and consign to the young, and them alone?

I read something the other day that I hadn’t thought about before. I was following sea kayaking threads on the internet and came across one that was comparing North American paddlers with their European counterparts. According to the author of the piece, the perceived difference in the expertise and skill of the average kayaker favors the Europeans. In other words, they are better technical kayakers than we are, more skilled and better prepared overall. (Blah, blah, blah. You would think, by now, after all we’ve been through, we would be finished with such prejudice, such aquafascist eugenics.) This part of the article was not new, however; there will always be Us and Them.

What was new, at least to me, was the writer’s assertion that people in this country tend to “try out” a variety of sports and outdoor pursuits, more so than in Europe. A person will take up mountain biking, for example, and get seriously involved with the sport over the course of a few years. He’ll be out every weekend, bombing down singletrack courses and obstacle runs in all kinds of weather. A dedicated bike afficionado. At some point though, his eye will drift to the sails on the bay, those billowing triangles of white against the deep blue of the sea, and the next thing you know, Jack’s a sailor. Then, after a few seasons on the water, his eye will be a’rovering once again, only this time, it’s skiing, or hang-gliding, or canoeing, or rock climbing. When it comes to recreation anyway, we, as a society, hop from one thing to another entirely too much.
Which, the argument goes, is why the Euros are better paddlers than us colonials. The mother country – makes no nevermind which one – is still superior and peopled by our betters; that is ultimately the point of the discussion. I’m not buying it, at least not as it relates to kayaking. But the rest of it? I can’t help but wonder where the urge to always find the new, to put away the old… where does that come from?

It may be that it all starts the day you stop climbing trees. When you come to believe somehow that there are things that little kids do and things that big kids do. A pattern begins, and continues into adulthood, a regular cycle of abandoning one thing and picking up another until, presumably, we will all meet on the golf course.

You’ll be able to spot me. I’ll be the musty old duffer looking at the trees.

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