Tree Swinging


Before we get started walking down the path in the woods of this story, I have a disclaimer: please don’t try any of the fun stuff found herein (herein is a legal term … I think).

Looking back, it was really fun, but it was also really dangerous, so I don’t want any of my young readers to get hurt. Besides, y’all really need to be around for next week’s column where I share how my dad predicted the end of the world (that’s coming at any moment). But that’s a story for next week — here’s this week’s.

On the last day of school, I asked our granddaughters’ coach what he did for fun growing up during the summer. His answer described something so dangerous, none of us kids ever attempted it back on Flamingo Street. “The kids in the neighborhood climbed pine trees, then bounced up and down on the limbs.”

“We never did such a crazy thing,” I replied. “That’s really dangerous. Pine tree limbs aren’t very strong. Didn’t they break?”

The coach shrugged his huge shoulders as he responded, “Yeah, all the time.” Then he smiled, “But you never knew when they would break or who you’d fall on. That’s what made it so much fun.”

Then I told him what kids on Flamingo did climbing trees during the summer. His response was an odd mixture of disbelief, curiosity, and a little admiration, “Now that’s really crazy.”

Tree Swinging

I’ve written many times about the art of riding trees: climbing up a small hardwood then, as it bends, slowly riding it back down to the ground. This story isn’t about that. This story is about the next logical step in the evolution of tree riding – Tree Swinging.

To be honest, tree swinging was invented purely out of necessity. One Saturday morning in June, Bubba Hanks, Goofy Steve, Neighbor Thomas, my three brothers, and I were riding trees in the forest of hardwoods up by the fishing lake behind our house.

I’d chosen the perfect size hardwood, climbed up, held on tightly and flung my legs and body out and away. The tree slowly bent halfway to the ground, but then stopped. That’s when I realized my mistake, but it was too late. The tree I’d chosen was a sweet gum, and they don’t bend as much as oak trees.

Hopelessly dangling twenty feet above the ground with my grip on the tree slipping, I had two choices. I could let go and drop the twenty or so feet to the ground below. I quickly decided this was a very bad option, one I probably would not survive.

My second option was almost as bad. I could get really hurt, but if it worked, I wouldn’t die. By swinging from side to side, I was able to get close to a nearby tree. Wrapping my legs around the new tree, I let go of one hand, grabbed a branch, and then let go of the other hand. The sweet gum tree rebounded back up, swaying back and forth. I had successfully completed the first Flamingo Street tree swinging!

Coach shifted in his chair, cocking his head to one side in disbelief, “You guys really did that?”

Smiling I replied, “Sure we did, and it was a lot of fun. During those seven years we spent growing up on Flamingo, us kids rode trees and did tree swinging every summer, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that anymore.”

After picking up the girls from school, we walked across the parking lot and got into the car. They were eating their snacks going home and were excited that school was out for the summer. When they asked if I had any fun stuff planned, only one thought came to mind. My days of riding trees down to the ground and tree swinging are long over, but it sure was a lot of fun.

Or maybe not …

This summer we’ll still spend hours at playparks watching our two granddaughters run, climb, and play tag. If they fall, they’ll spring right back up and keep on playing without even thinking, the same way we did back on Flamingo Street. That time for me was very long ago.

Many things change as you move into the age of being a grandparent. Now, if I fall down, jumping right back up isn’t the first thought that comes to mind. Now I lay there for a moment wondering what just got broken, whether we’ve met our deductible, impending doctor bills, and how long I’ll be in physical therapy.

The next fun thing

Sadly, the Girly Girls’ time for enjoying swings is quickly coming to an end. This year they will probably outgrow playparks and move on to the next fun thing. But perhaps, just perhaps, the next fun thing will be riding trees or even tree swinging.

Have no worries; it’ll be safe. After all, their Big Papa has years of experience and can show them how we did it back in the woods of Flamingo.

Some of you may be thinking it’s a crazy idea and someone may get hurt. I’m sure Coach would think the same also. But I’m not worried. I’ll just demonstrate how to do both. Even being a granddad, I think I have at least one more tree ride and tree swinging in me.

And if by chance I do get hurt, I’m not worried. We’ve already met our deductible for this year, and a new physical therapy clinic has opened right down the street.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]