I was an extremely lucky kid—I had three great playgrounds. The first was my grandmother’s front yard, the second were the Colorado Rockies and the third was the Wyoming plains. I can’t imagine happier places for any child. In fact, except when I lived at my grandmothers, I lived out in the sticks because my dad was a coal miner—my best memories were living at Rawlins Mine Camp…White Mountain Mine Camp is Rock Springs and Pike View Mine camp in Colorado. There were no yards, no fences and no walls, only vast lands stretching for miles to distant horizons. For me, a paradise filled with a wilderness that was all mine. And I felt in relationship with everything, the lizards, trees, bushes, rivers and rocks; animals and birds. Everything was alive in my childhood—that’s a statement a bit difficult to explain, I know, but I will say that it was if my own consciousness and the mind of Nature were weaved together; it was a spiritual connection although, at the time, I was too young to grasp such a concept.
When I was at my grandmothers—her house was virtually at the foot of Pikes Peak—she would always say that there was no reason to worry if I could not be found. “Just look in the trees,” she’d say as I would always be up on some high branch in some marvelous day dream or just be sitting there listening to the world.
Sure, when I think back to those days I become quite the romantic and I know it but what is Romanticism itself but the meshing of Nature’s heart into our own; that Emerson and Thoreau kind of love for life and for freedom; of being in oneness with all else.
There are exceptions but what I am talking about is something that is being abandoned in today’s childhood; children grow up in that wasteland between the television set and computer. They are smarter than we were as children; they have tons more information than we had at their age and their vocabulary is advanced just as their mathematical skills are!
I also believe that, by and large, kids are wiser to the world than we were as kids—when I was a youngster we mostly wanted to grow up to be cowboys or truck drivers today even little children begin planning their futures much more realistically—stuff means a lot more to them, however. When I was a boy my dream was to have a horse of my own and after a horse some old wreck of a car that would run. Today kids are aware of all the latest electronics available. When I was twelve I was happy to get a B.B. gun for my birthday—kids that same age today want smart phones.
Okay, point made so I won’t belabor it.
I will say this much more, however: today’s children are surrendering their childhoods to the confines of a kind of mental life. They don’t know this, and since they don’t know it, they will probably never realize it but these children are at the start of a new transition in the evolutionary sense. We are not speaking of an alteration of anything physical like the leap from homo Saipan to modern man but more of an unfolding transcendence from labor to psyche.
With this in mind I believe it is safe to say that we all abandoned our childhoods without notice. One day we were, if you will, climbing trees and the next we were in the midst of maturity doing what is expected of mature folks to do. In regard to these views I am writing this article for the kids of yesterday, the kids of tomorrow and the kids of today. I only hope that it brings at least a little extra joy into some of our lives.
Tree Climbing As Philosophy
There are two factors to the name tree climbing: (1) Tree climbing as its apparent meaning (climbing trees) and (2) tree climbing as metaphor for reuniting with nature in the course of our normal lives. Before going on, I am compelled to explain that I am not speaking here of becoming hermits, recluses or a cult of crazies of any kind—my only aim is to inspire us to get ourselves and our kids, if we have them, out of unnatural environments and into natural environments when we can. After all, there really is more to life than sports, weather and news. Recall too that once upon a time, people actually weaved their ways through life without texting, television and Halo 2.
The idea is to consciously step out of the confines of the plastic, concrete environments we all live, work and attempt to play in during the course of our lives and decide to get outside and wallow in the beauty, freedom and joys of Nature for a change; to get back in touch with our connectedness to the Universe.
[As an aside, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) made a most incredible observation when he said, “It is in vain to dream of a wilderness distant from ourselves…I shall never find in the wilds any greater wilderness than I import into it.” In essence this means that for any of us to imagine that somehow we are separated or distinct from the rest of Nature is to misinterpret our place “in” the world. Indeed, he had been greatly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that, “Nature is the incarnation of thought.” That meant that Nature was a manifestation of thought. This was an outrageous statement for those times but is now all but a given in quantum mechanics. In a spiritual sense, perhaps Joseph Chilton Pearce gives us the best insight into all this by his most elegant statement: “Mind mirrors the universe that mirrors man’s mind. Creator and Created give rise to each other.” A profound statement that gives us a way for better understanding Thoreau’s meaning especially as it applies to the purposes of this article].
The idea here is to take time out of our modernism to simply rekindle our relationship with Nature; to rediscover our connectedness to the very spirit that permeates all living things—trees, rivers, animals…the very stones! There have never been an indigenous people on the face of the globe (or that ever existed) that didn’t communicate directly with Nature; that was not in empathy with the life (we call it consciousness or mind) within it. This ability began to be taken away from the rest of us with the philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who took God and so spirit out of the world and relocated both in some distant place above space and time. After Descartes, would-be intellectuals, a great many scholars and scientists have made the views fashionable in modern times resulting in the rapid growth of atheism, the dead-world view of the reductionists and a withdrawing from Nature itself by people in general.
When we realize that civilization is an unnatural environment to begin with we can more readily see the need to keep close to and in relationship with Nature as possible. I see civilization as a mental construct that lacks heart and so is necessarily empty of soul. Indeed, today our children are growing up in a world disconnected from its roots, from the very spiritual content of life itself. The chances are that you are among the adults who have simply gotten too busy and/or too intellectual and/or too enmeshed in materialism to pay much attention to esoteric concerns but, on the other hand, this short visit that we all call a “lifetime” is but a grain of sand on an infinite beach.
Tree Climbing as Human Action
In childhood we are one with it all—we have not yet been fully indoctrinated in our socialization to see the world and others as outside ourselves—as children we live in a world of enchantment, which the world is when stripped of its artificiality; its pompous temples of business, politics and religion; its class structures, sexism(s) and racism(s). All these things are the viruses of civilization; the constructs of self-centeredness and isolationism in a “me-and-it,” “I and thou” reality.
In sight of the above I am not at all suggesting that we reject the modern world that we live in and go to the woods and live in tents but what I am suggesting is that we choose to detach from the plastic and virtue environment of modernism and simply take some time to reconnect with Nature.
For some people this can be as simple as going out into the back yard—not for beer and barbecue (which can be great at other times) but to actually observe and open one’s mind and heart to the natural environment—the trees, the flowers, every blade of grass can have its song and its dance; the birds, even the potted plants have their story. And, if you truly listen you can hear them, you can actually merge in mutual love and consciousness. This is not only my idea but I am in good company when I suggest all this. The physicist, Jeremy Hayward, is only one of a great many learned human beings who concurs with the idea that we can experience a certain conscious/awareness with other things and that we can actually know something of what it is like to be a bat or a tree.
When I was a young boy I took it for granted that I was in connectedness with everything else. For example, I never looked at other people with scorn or scoffed at them because they were different—I merely looked at them with curiosity in such a way as I would look at any new experience. It took a lot of indoctrination in my earliest socialization to learn that I was over here and everything else was over there; to be, so to speak, lifted out of nature and taught that I existed in a center with everyone and everything else outside the circumference.
Civilization is structured to confirm this ignorant prospective centralism as it permits wars, greed, racial prejudices and sexism; greed in business and unnecessary human hunger and poverty at the gates of vast elitisms. As a child I remember kissing the things I loved like the old apple tree in my grandmother’s front yard and my grandmother’s calloused old hands; like my favorite toy and the neighbor lady, Mrs. Watson. I remember hugging things too and gently touching the blossoms of flowers and saying to them I love you. I also remember climbing trees and listening to the wind whispering through the leaves and sometimes waving to it. When I was a child the sky was a carpet of countless diamonds in the sky but I could reach the sky by simply lifting and outstretching my hands to feel its sacredness, its might and its majesty. But of course this was a time in my young life that I was experiencing William Blake’s world. Perhaps you recall his words:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour
I did this easily and joyfully as the young child until my socialization began and I was indoctrinated with the greatest of all destructive human acts. That is, until I was taught to judge myself by others and others by myself—the thread of unhappiness that runs through the fabric of our entire “civilized” history! I mention this because it is this specific flaw in the social ointment that creates our frustrations, our jealousies, our disappointments, our pomposities and our greed. Indeed, the cornerstone of social-Darwinism is a construct based on judging self by others and others by self and this is precisely why modern life is so often referred to as, the rat race.
We simply need to retreat from the “race” when we can and begin communicating with Nature—a walk through the woods or even the park, a day at the beach or just a day of awareness in the yard. I say yard because I am well aware that not everyone has much Nature, as is said, at their fingertips but even in the worst scenario, contemplating a house plant on the kitchen table is better than not “contemplating Nature” at all; not touching it with your mind and heart.
A truly wonderful experience for kids but also for adults who know how to let go of their personas, is tree climbing. Elms are great for climbing but there are a lot of other trees that are too.
When you are climbing you never want to go higher than your comfort zone and you never want to climb on branches or limbs that might break. You don’t have to be an engineer to judge a safe branch from an unsafe branch, however. The idea is to literally get back in touch with Nature.
I suppose it happens to everyone at different ages and different times but the majority of people virtually leave Nature as soon as maturity begins to set in. And, as a result, the simple joys of life have been exchanged for the complexities of modernism.
Modernism is extremely fragmented and so one major (and practical) benefit of returning to Nature when possible is to reach the state of yoga. Yoga means “union.”
In light of all this, the tree climbing philosophy is a philosophy of reuniting.
Go hug a tree today, tell your flowers that you love them, walk through the grass barefoot, listen to the sounds and silences as you walk your paths and follow your streams--do what you can to contemplate and communicate with Nature. Open to the consciousness in things and let yourself love the world…unconditionally…and see how you feel.
In regard to the above, I have quoted Emerson before but I think that his words best summarizes the meaning of the above text in a more elegant way than I ever could:
“These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is not time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence…but man postpones and remembers. He cannot be happy and strong until he, too, lives with nature in the present, above time.”
Not many people can live their lives this way but should they choose they can reunite with the timelessness and purposelessness of simply being like Emerson’s roses or the child within whose joy is in climbing trees…that is, to take a little time off to be in wholeness with the Universe again.