It’s gone. Fittingly, the news came from the kids. A freshman at VHS, who walks home even in the chilliest weather, sent out the alert on Twitter: “Climbing Tree R.I.P.” and the news flitted, like a bird in the tree, from cell phone to cell phone.
We all knew this was going to happen. We wrote about it in December, and it was clear to anyone who saw the 300-plus-year-old European Beech. It was looking pitiful, about as sad as the sawed-off but loyal stump in Shel Silverstein’s children’s book The Giving Tree. But somehow we didn’t feel prepared for the hole in the landscape, and in our hearts. One girl said she was sorry she didn’t stop for one last climb when in the park with her brother on Sunday. Another wished she could have a piece of its remains. Yet another wistfully recalled congregating in its branches with her group of friends “every half-day in middle school.”
This mother of three felt flooded with memories, too. I didn’t have anything like this amazing fagus sylvatica where I grew up, but I did have the vicarious pleasure of watching my kids grow up on Verona Park’s iconic climbing tree, and that’s almost as good. I can remember hoisting my girls up to the lowest branches and supporting them in their brief early attempts to climb. I blinked, and they became as agile as monkeys, my youngest still in his stroller, neck craned back and watching intently, waiting for his chance. One of the monkeys fell once, landing flat on her back on top of a hard root, and her caterwauling brought a young man running to help. Thank goodness that when my daredevil nephews visited and climbed to the very top of the tree–and I mean so far up that their bodies were visible against the sky, above the highest branches–they didn’t fall. That may be thanks to Father Mike Hanley, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Church, one of the flabbergasted spectators who happened to be walking in the park that day and surely murmured the prayer that saved them. I blinked again, and my oldest is heading off to college soon.
Thanks for the memories, Climbing Tree.
For every pair of initials carved in the Climbing Tree, there must be dozens more stories. Add yours to the comment box below.