Just Because It’s There: Climbing Stuff

Nine times out of ten, around ten years of age, I fell off whatever it was I had just climbed.  Climbing was great free entertainment and available in a dozen different forms. There was no need for organized PE.  Good grief, one of the main reasons we were always glad when school started was that we could finally sit down for more than five minutes at a time without having someone instruct us to “go find something to do!”  Townkids climbed the grain elevator down by the train station or the water tower in the town park: country kids climbed everything else. 

The cottonwood trees were a significant part of our 8-row windbreak where hundreds of tiny trees were planted in the 1940’s .  There were two rows of tall trees, two rows of really thick bushes and two rows of something else and best of all, two rows of Colorado spruce that started tiny in the 40’s and were twenty feet tall and stretching by the 50’s.  Cottonwoods filled out the “tall tree” rows and their big branches were perfectly spaced for preteen farmkid legs.  We did solo climbs when nobody else was around to play.  Climb as high as possible (about 25 feet as I recall) and just sit there.    The eastern horizon was very close to the North Dakota border and I always thought it was a fine thing to be able to sit in my tree and see almost to another state.

My brother and I would also do competitive climbs on two adjacent trees, racing to see who could get highest, fastest.  I always lost. The only downside of climbing the cottonwoods was that there were huge fat green worms which lived there during a certain part of the summer.  They were a very pretty color of green generally speaking…but except for that somewhat pretty color, they were Y-U-U-UCKY.  After treeclimbing  I always shook my hair out really good to be sure I didn’t have green worms in it.

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The windmill in our yard right near the barn was about 75 feet high.  The first of the narrow metal steps that took my Dad up to “the works” when they needed to be tinkered with was a good distance off the ground, but finally I was tall enough to get myself up on those steps.  Now it wouldn’t do to be discovered in the act of Climbing The Windmill, because any kid with a lick of sense knew good and well you would fall on your head, break your bones and then be in trouble for running up doctor bills. So I waited ’til I was old enough to be left home completely alone (because I was trusted, you see).  Finally  I am home alone.  I climb the windmill about 50 feet up, just as high as I dare with the breeze blowing just a bit.  Oh, my.  This is good.  This is very good.  It’s not real comfortable because these steps are very narrow, but it’s very good.  I’m scared to death and hanging on as tightly as possible because I  know for a fact that if I fall, I will just go “splat” on the hard ground and that will be the end of that.  So I don’t stay up there very long.  But ever after, I can think about what no one else knows: when I was home alone, I climbed the windmill.

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We sure enjoyed  running around on the lower portion of the barn roof, the part that wasn’t so steep, and on a few legitimate occasions, we were used as shingling assistants.  We would walk (in the presence of a parent) back and forth with nails or shingles for older brothers and Dad as they repair the roof.  The very steep sections were only scaled by Dad himself when shingling or painting the white trim.

He was at the very highest peak one day with a gallon of white paint, lost his grip and the whole bucket spilled down the steep roof, making a distinctive 20+ foot-long exclamation point that was about 12-15 inches wide.  It’s amazing how far a gallon of paint can go.  Dad’s appreciation of the ludricrous compelled him to take photographs featuring The White Paint Streak Down The Side Of The Barn Roof.  It was remarkably visible on the west-facing roof for many years, greeting all guests driving into the yard,  until it finally faded away and lost its usefulness as a conversation piece.

The piles of hay in the barn loft were put into place by being lifted up the face of the barn in big hay-slings,  then sort of spun into place, deep inside the haymow as they rolled on ropes fixed through a series of pulleys.  Once the hay was deposited, the slings removed and the barn doors closed, those ropes and pulleys became the opportunity for swinging across  open spaces as we clung to the ropes, flying from one stack to another, and then~~if we landed just right~~sort of launching ourselves and sliding down the face of the haypile to the floor of the haymow.  This was considered a legitimate way for us to pass the time (especially in the winter) so on those few occasions when we didn’t let go of the rope soon enough and our hands ran through the pulleys (with our body weight providing the “squish-pressure”), we could take our skinned, bleeding fingers into the house and obtain some cursory first aid from Mom.

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Climbing everything I could put me closer to the sun, the stars and the source of the wind.  It put me in a position to always see a more distant eastern horizon.  

There’s something charming and strong about the fervant joy of Reepicheep, the little mouse who was doing his best to reach Aslan’s country.  He told his friends he would just swim and swim and swim and, finally, “…when I can swim no longer, if I have not yet reached Aslan’s Country, there shall I sink with my nose to the sunrise…”   ~ C. S. Lewis

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