Down an old dirt road and through some overgrown bushes lies an opening with two large oak trees in its center. For my brother and I growing up in North Central Florida, this was our escape, our freedom, our climbing trees. We took pride in the fact that we were the first kids in the neighborhood to find these two trees that were just perfect for climbing. I didn’t realize it at the time but throughout the years those trees would teach me lessons no one else could.
My brother and I started by running to the trees from our bus stop everyday after school. After about a week the neighborhood kids started to become curious as to where we were going and what we were up to. We couldn’t disguise it anymore so we decided to start a club and membership was by invitation only. Soon all the kids in our neighborhood were hanging around the “Surrency” trees.
For me it became a part of Never Never Land as depicted in Peter Pan. Soon the trees started to have less and less children hanging on their branches. I looked up to my brother and asked him “where did they all go”? I will never forget what he said as he looked down and kicked dirt around a little, “they’ve grown up, they went to high school”. I had made up my mind that I never wanted to grow up and go to high school. Little did I know that I had no control over that.
One day I decided I was going to do what the other kids only talked about doing but they never did. I was going to climb to the highest branch that we could see from the ground. My brother really didn’t want me to do this so while we were on Christmas break I decided to sneak over there and do it. I wasn’t going to do this for anyone else, I was doing this for me, I was challenging myself. So I started climbing and I reached a branch that only my brother had ever reached so I decided to go further. Once I got closer to the top, the branches started getting further and further apart, it was becoming harder to reach the next branch. I remember looking down and seeing how far I’ve gone and then looking up and seeing how far I still had to go. Not only did I learn that I could reach my goals that day, I also learned many things that weren’t evident at the time but later on in life reveled themselves to me. I think back on that day at the tree and I compare it to my life right now. If I look back, I have come so far; but if I look ahead I still have a way to go.
I still go back to those trees now that I’ve physically grown up and I drive down that dirt road. I look at those trees and they still have their long branches, some close to the touching the ground. They still make the same sound when the wind comes howling through, a sound of escape and freedom. I put my head down and kick the dirt a little and I realize that I’ve become the person that I didn’t want to be in my childhood, I’ve grown up! Though I think that things have changed so much, they really haven’t. The trees still hold a sense of history for me because I can tie childhood memories to them and now that I’ve grown up those trees don’t look so big. I don’t think they’re limbs have been climbed on in years but I know that the lessons that I learned while climbing on their branches will last me a lifetime.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.