Dabbler Country: A Boy in a Tree

Francisco Jose de Goya: Boys climbing a tree, cartoon for a tapestry 1790-92

Yesterday, in Holland Park, I saw a boy in a tree. He was sitting contentedly at the top of a decent-sized ornamental maple, while a young woman – too young to be his mother – waited below with no sign of anxiety or concern. In due course the boy clambered expertly down through the branches and swung to the ground. He was about 12, and I realised from his smart appearance and long shorts (and from what I caught of his conversation with the young woman – an elder sister perhaps?) that he must be French. Perhaps tree climbing is more common in France; here, as I realised when I spotted him, the sight of a boy in a tree is really quite unusual. The tree-climbing habit – once an essential element of every boyhood (and many a girlhood) – is dying out in our increasingly risk-averse society, where children are so much less free to roam than they once were – and it’s a shame.

When I arrived (from elsewhere) as a third-former at my primary school, I was inducted on the first day into the informal tree climbing club that roamed the local park after school, climbing a few trees on the way home. It was – and is – a park rich in fine old trees, especially sweet chestnuts that have become wonderfully contorted over the centuries. I was introduced to individual trees, each of which had a name and a character and a place in the tree-climbing hierarchy, from easy-peasy to near-impossible, and I grew to know those trees – the easier ones anyway – more intimately than they could ever be known from ground level. The texture (and smell) of their bark, the strange burrs and outgrowths and holes, the forks and hidden places where bird’s nests might be found (a boyhood pursuit even deader now than tree climbing – illegal even), the strength or weakness of each branch, the footholds and handholds by which to clamber up and (often trickier) down again, the places to hide unseen and spy on the world below. I’ve loved and been fascinated by trees ever since – though I’ve never known one as intimately as those I climbed – and I’m sure that love and fascination were born in me in those days, when I too was a boy in a tree.

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

8 thoughts on “Dabbler Country: A Boy in a Tree

  1. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    September 8, 2010 at 08:13

    Would you say you were out of your tree now, Nige?

  2. Worm
    September 8, 2010 at 08:33

    At my prep school, where we lived a lemur-like existence amongst the trees, it was the Wellingtonias that were most feared.

  3. Gaw
    September 8, 2010 at 09:22

    Nige, you may be heartened to know that my two boys (2 and 4) climb a couple of trees in our neighbouring garden square. They’re still on the nursery slopes, so not reaching any higher than about shoulder height, but I have hopes that one day they’ll launch an assault on some of the tempting larger limes and maples.

  4. Nige
    September 8, 2010 at 10:57

    Glad to hear that Gaw – keep them at it.
    Worm – you were right to fear the Wellingtonia.
    Mahlerman – yes and no.

  5. anneshewring@hotmail.com'
    September 8, 2010 at 16:56

    I’ve been thinking about this kind of stuff recently (http://anneshewring.typepad.com/shewring/). There seem to be lots of well meaning adults only too willing to tell children how they should and should not fill their time. Children are not bored enough; not outdoors enough; not free enough. Another article in the Guardian today on how children do not engage in rough and tumble anymore. Your piece is lovely, a really great recollection and I can so picture that tree, but I do worry that we grown ups spend huge amounts of time trying to get our children to replicate our own childhoods. Just not sure it there’s much point really. Plus, it all perpetuates the Daily Mail idea that things are not what they used to be and particularly children.

  6. kateandrew2000@yahoo.co.uk'
    September 8, 2010 at 22:30

    Ah, I remember the virtually horizontal tree in Carshalton park, which was the only one I could climb, not being a natural at such things. I think it blew down in the ’87 hurricane though, sadly! Lovely piece, Nige – got me thinking as to whether tree climbing is a popular pursuit in NZ, it being generally a more outdoorsy place – but I regret to say I’ve not seen a boy or girl in a tree so far…

  7. info@shopcurious.com'
    September 9, 2010 at 08:43

    What a joy! Your posts are always full or romance – and this recollection of your early love affair with trees is most engaging. Sad that today so many young boys are denied a meaningful ‘relationship’ with trees..

  8. amandajgraham@hotmail.co.uk'
    October 1, 2010 at 13:04

    I’ve just discovered your wonderful blog, journeying through other blogs, as I do, sitting at my desk at lunchtime – its a wet and windy Edinburgh day and not inviting. I loved your piece about climbing trees. As a child, I had to be rescued once from an apple tree in my cousin’s garden but otherwise sat happily in rather less ambitious trees in our own garden. I remember it well. Now I have some grandchildren – 4 of them. I encourage them, one girl and three little boys, aged 6 and two of nearly 5, to mess around in the Portuguese laurels in their garden. They have a den out there and you can see the branches waving around from the house, so you know they are happily engaged. Better than sitting on the couch with a TV controller in their hands. And whilst they are out there they find ladybirds and all sorts of good stuff to ask questions about. I don’t think there is anything wrong in encouraging the modern day child to get stuck in to some of those glorious things we did as children a few decades ago. Keeps them alive and in this world, not of it.

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