Of tree climbing and tree-hugging

In this corner of rural Pennsylvania, there are no rocks to climb. But there are trees to sit near the top of. Beyond prospects and horizons, tree climbing presents feels. A lot of back stepping, open hands, heel hooks, and mantling. Some lines of bark running in north-south pinches. Some textures like dried coral.

You go and climb a tree because you want to live deliberately. You want to take responsibility for a life that can only be yours if you are awakened to danger, risk, to the nothingness. You go to the tree because you want to feel your body fully engaged, your fingers rounded into sloth claws, your thighs holding yet relaxed, your heels exacting and happy. You would not go up to propagate an idea of the picturesque, to gain a distant view of some proverbial setting sun. For even when you ascend thirty feet, your attention remains with the near, the close up: the partial attention and partial relaxation of muscles, the natural sounds of moving pant legs and breathing.

You do not shimmy up a tree out of fear or boldness but out of reverence. The form of attention you cultivate is caution. Not tentativeness or reserve but exactness, steadiness, stillness. Not calculation or measurement but ‘only this far.’ In some cases you go up, pause here, and down-climb; in others, you examine a tree for climbability. You pull on the tree bark, it breaks off in your fingers or scrapes off with on toes, you walk around the back, and then you walk away quietly, hands in pockets.

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