Around the age of 10 or 11 I lived in a home that was once a one-room school house in a rural part of upstate New York. By then our house had been updated and expanded and was effectively a split level.
We had a large back-yard and the house was surround on three sides by a dense woods. Woods where my brother and I built a tree house, where we would play “war in the woods”, and where, once, my brother drove a three wheeler and got lost. (He followed our dog back to the house, walking, leaving the three wheeler abandoned for days for our family to find by walking a grid through the forest.)
On the edge of our side yard, there was a large maple tree. A tree which grew for decades, with strong, thick, and sturdy branches. It is in this tree that I would climb, a small book bag slung over my shoulder, up into the higher boughs. I would brace my back against the trunk, straddling a strong branch, perched high above the ground overlooking the rooftop of our house. From here I was the king of the sky, secretly squirreled away amongst the rustling leaves. Summer winds would create a nice whitenoise, accompanied by calls of local birds.
I would sit in that tree for hours and read. Ambitiously, I would scale the reaches with multiple books in my bag, consuming page after page of biographies about George Washington Carver or Helen Keller, reading Asimov and Stephen King, discovering Charles Dickens’ land of Oliver Twist.
Research shows that our perception of good food and fine wine is greatly influenced by atmosphere. When we are surrounded by friends and family for a special occasion, the meal we have at the nice restaurant in town is greatly enhanced by the mood we are in. I believe this to be true. I think it is also true about how we perceive a book we read or music we listen to or a movie we watch. As an example, Action Jackson might not have won many awards, but to my wife and I, it is one of our favorites, as it was the movie we saw on our first date.
There is a fondness about the topics I explored sitting in that tree that is hard to recreate. The whole world was yet to be discovered by me, and I was learning and adventuring through those books.
Last summer we planted a 16 foot willow tree in our back yard. It’s more than a sapling, but far from the large tree this will eventually grow into. My oldest daughter grew rather excited when we told her we were having this tree planted. Once she saw it she said, “I wish it were much bigger. I’d like to climb up into that tree and read a book.”
I couldn’t help but smile a little when I replied, “I know exactly what you mean, Allison”.