By Mackenzie Davis
There was a story my brother used to tell me about the big maple tree in the backyard of our childhood home. He told it because it greatly impacted his curiosity of the world and he wanted it to impact me as well.
It was about a girl with her brother and father who used to visit the big maple tree before the forest was clear-cut and turned into a neighborhood. Their dad would bring them through the woods to this big tree and spend hours playing with his kids under the shade of its thousands of leaves. One day, after visiting the tree for years with her family, the girl came back alone. She carried nails and a hammer in her hand. Just like before, she climbed its numerous branches to the middle of its trunk but instead of resting there, she took her nails and hammered them deep into its bark. She continued until fifteen nails protruded awkwardly from the maple tree. She walked away that day and never came back. She wanted the tree to die, taking with it the memories of her recently deceased father.
My brother told me a lot of fake stories throughout my childhood, but I knew this one was true. My father, being protective, had cut the lower limbs of the tree off so we wouldn’t climb it and hurt ourselves. Being a sneaky child, I heaved a brick under the lowest branch which aided me to grab it with my hands, walk my feet up the side and swing myself over into the tree. Sure enough every time I climbed the tree I would see the rusted nails the girl embedded in its side and I knew my brother was not lying. What fascinated me about this story was not the sadness of it, but the fact that the tree has survived. To a kid, nails are an end-all type of weapon but to a tree it was just a sad memory. This idea taught me the resilience of nature and also that even before I had made a connection with this tree many people before me had also rested in its branches and created memories.
Throughout the rest of my childhood, I used my maple as a playground for anything my heart desired. Whether I was Katniss Everdeen escaping predators in the Hunger Games or having goldfish picnics with my neighbor in the branches and talking about life as a fifth grader. This tree not only taught me the peace one can find in nature but was also an escape from the mistakes of people and the forever bustling of life. It wasn’t just me who used this tree as a means of entertainment. I still laugh thinking about the time my parents were gone and my older brother decided to make a “zip line” by loosely tying a thin rope from very high up in the tree to the bottom of our deck. Of course my middle brother was the practice dummy, dressed up in a helmet and hockey pads. I remember being jealous of him because for a split second, as gravity was hurtling him 20 mph toward the ground, he knew what it was like to be a bird.
In today’s world going outside is looked at as a hobby and not a part of our everyday lives. Kids play with tablets inside and escape to their bedrooms when life is too much. The growth of my imagination and the connection with my maple, reminded me of my purpose of being a part of the cycle of the earth. Without these valuable lessons I learned, I would be lost. If we don’t give kids a chance to learn that when life feels loose and unsafe nature will always be an escape, what is our future going to look like? Without the empathy for it, how will we convince communities to preserve ecosystems? To fix this rut our society has fallen into, parents have to be willing to show kids how to play in nature again. How to explore and not be afraid to fall out of trees. By doing this adults could also find the pieces of themselves they lost in a pile of the spreadsheets, tax forms and grownup responsibilities. Let’s stop cutting off branches and start teaching kids how to climb trees.