The Importance of Climbing Trees
I have always been a climber. When I was young, I climbed anything that I could, including outdoor walls, fences, statues, and small buildings. However, nothing was as much fun for me as climbing trees. Tree climbing was a favorite activity of my childhood, and I spent a lot of time scaling trees and walking around the neighborhood looking for climbable trees. Much of what I remember about the homes my family had when I was younger involves the trees in the front or back yard. Although I no longer climb trees as much as I did in my youth, climbing trees meant a great deal to me because it allowed me to have fun while becoming acquainted with the outside world. Through climbing trees, I was able to establish a bond with nature that has affected my views on the environment to this day.
My tree-climbing career began with the dogwood tree in the front yard of the first house I lived in. Soon after I began to walk, I made it my mission to conquer the tree. The dogwood was not very tall and its trunk split into many branches not far from the ground. It almost seemed made for children to climb. My parents made sure to support and guide me while I climbed at first to make sure that I did not fall and hurt myself. However, after a while, I began to understand the tree so much that my parents no longer worried. My mom often talks about this tree and how I wanted to spend every moment I could up in its branches. Climbing this tree was a big part of my childhood, and the experience allowed me to become acquainted with trees and with nature at a young age.
Unfortunately the dogwood is no more, but what would become my favorite tree still stands in the front yard of the apartment building where my dad lived about ten years ago. The tree is a magnolia, a species often placed in lists of the best climbing trees along with apple trees, weeping willows, maples, and some birches (Haberman). As my tree was tall with low, thick branches, it was perfect for climbing. I spent much of my time exploring the tree, including every possible route I could use to get to the top. Although it has been many years since I last climbed it, I remember much about the details of the tree and the bird’s eye views I gained from different vantage points. For example, I can clearly remember one occasion when I climbed the tree after recent rainfall and saw puddles of water on the roof of our apartment building. Over time, this magnolia became more and more familiar to me until I felt like I had claimed it for myself. I began to establish an understanding of and connection with the magnolia tree that I would not have gained without such extensive experience climbing it.
I consider myself lucky to have had such a connection with the trees that I climbed when I was younger. My parents of course understood the possible dangers associated with climbing trees, mainly falling. However, they also understood the benefits of outdoor activities. Unfortunately, many parents today prefer to keep their children from exploring the outside world in favor of “safer” modern distractions such as technology. Although there is no danger of a child breaking his or her arm while playing games on an iPad, the associated dangers are hidden and much worse. I believe that I have become an environmentally conscious adult as a result of my childhood tree climbing experiences. Although I would probably not think back to these experiences in order to decide between two options of differing impact on the environment, I believe that my early connection with nature has ingrained in me an interest in and a love for nature. In this way, climbing trees as a child has allowed me to hold views and take actions as an adult that favor the health of the environment. However, the trappings of the modern world have begun to separate children from experiencing nature. Without experiences like connecting with a tree after climbing it hundreds of times, modern and future children may lose that ingrained interest in environmental health.
In Richard Louv’s 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, he describes the continually lessening interaction that children have with the outside world as ‘nature-deficit disorder’ (Louv, 10). Although he describes his own early experiences climbing trees in “the woods and farmland at the suburban edge,” he discusses the much-decreased relationship between children and nature that he came to notice while interviewing thousands of children and parents for a previous book (Louv, 10). One of the most unsettling examples he gives of this separation is a fourth-grader’s statement that “[he likes] to play indoors better, ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are” (Louv, 10). This shows that our relatively newfound interest in technology has begun to drive our children away from playing outside. As a result, children grow up spending less time experiencing nature through activities such as climbing trees, and this has scary implications.
In such a time when many aspects of the environment are on the verge of collapse, it is crucial that we reinforce the mindset that the natural world is something that we should focus on saving. Although this will likely have to be done through government policies and consumer demand, a more environmentally friendly outlook on the world is the first step. The National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There program is an initiative taken to begin this process. According to their website, “the nature of childhood has changed. There’s not much nature in it” (“Why Be Out There?”). With this campaign, the National Wildlife Federation stresses that spending more time outside not only improves children’s individual health by allowing them to lead less sedentary lives, but it also allows them to grow up into adults that care about the environment (“Why Be Out There?”). Similarly, David Sobel’s “Look, Don’t Touch” article in Orion Magazine discusses a study conducted by two researchers at Cornell University who “found that wild nature experience in childhood correlates with adult environmental values and behavior” (Sobel, 69). In this way, research has shown that spending more time exploring the natural world during childhood through activities such as climbing trees leads to a more environmentally conscious view in adulthood.
Climbing trees as a child was an experience that allowed me to establish an early connection with and interest in nature. This interest has driven me to learn more about the natural world, both in academic and personal studies. Many classes I have taken at UNC, particularly English 266: “Into the Woods, Literature and Nature,” have allowed me to expand my understanding of nature and trees. The structure of our English 266 class has provided me with both an academic and personal exposure to trees and related issues through the literary works we have studied and the project we conducted in Battle Park. As a result, the connection with nature that climbing trees allowed me to form as a child has led me to pursue an even greater understanding of and love for the natural world as I have grown up.
In our current world of preoccupancy with technology and human progress, childhood connection with nature is formed much less often, and ‘nature-deficit disorder’ is becoming the norm. However, as the National Wildlife Federation states, “the most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in ‘wild nature activities’ before the age of 11” (“Why Be Out There?”). With such environmental devastation looming if we do not change course, it is becoming more and more important for children to connect with nature so that they might grow up into environmentally conscious adults that would fight for the health of the environment. In this way, we need to renew our children’s interests in climbing trees; it just might save the world.
Class of 2014
Haberman, Margaret. "Expert Guide: Best Climbing Trees For Kids." American Profile. N.p., 17 Apr. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. <http://americanprofile.com/articles/expert-guide-best-climbing-trees-for-kids/>.
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2008. PDF.
Sobel, David. "Look, Don't Touch: The Problem with Environmental Education." Orion Magazine July-Aug. 2012: 64-71. PDF.
"Why Be Out There?" National Wildlife Federation. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.nwf.org/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There.aspx>.