Two Towers, Part I

To be completely fair to my parents, it simply never occurred to them that they  might actually have to TELL me not to climb the tower.  Who might have thought that a five-year-old would suddenly get a yen to see the tops of the trees?  It never occurred to me either that this long-abandoned windmill tower set behind the main house on our eight-cabin resort on Second Crow Wing Lake was anything but just another thing in the landscape….

Until the day it did.

I think it started when I stood at the base of it and looked up its length and saw that it kept going up through the oaks that surrounded it.  What was up there?

We had an old A-frame swing set which, when I was five, was still a challenge to me physically.  No, not the swinging part, the “treat the frame as a set of monkey-bars, grab the side bar and somersault around to hang by your knees, pull up and stand” part.  My older brother could do it, and it was something to ridicule me for that I struggled with it.

These braces, all triangular construction for stability, even at their largest near the ground, were closer together and nowhere near so intimidating to my shorter limbs. Plus, it looked like they got smaller and closer as they got higher.  I should be able to do this.   All I had to do was put this hand here, then this foot, then that hand, then that foot, and back through the cycle, moving just one at a time, in order.  Only one.  The other three stayed put until the fourth was solidly secure in its new position.  At five, I was smart enough to know that.

It wasn’t scary. A few steps up led to a few more, then more, each ease of success breeding more.  Finally I was nearing branches, and looked back down at how far the ground was below me.  I had never been this high before and the world started to look different.  This was great!

Moving up through the trees, my world narrowed to the bars and braces and the branches and leaves of the trees.  It was like my own secret world up here.  Suddenly I had the power of knowledge of a place nobody else had ever been.  Well, certainly nobody else in my family, and at five, that’s pretty much the world, except for the customers of the resort.  I knew THEY had never been up here!

Gazing raptly through the maze of zigzagging oak branches, I could imagine myself as a squirrel in the most marvelous playground ever, running, jumping, hiding, finding all the secret places available to something of that size.  It was one of my favorite imagination games, telling myself if I were tiny, I could….

It got lighter as branches grew sparser, and suddenly I was above the tops of the trees!  What a view!  And what a surprise!  The tree tops, in my imagination, would be spread out flat around me, but here they were in rolling hills and valleys, occasional tall ones poking above the rest.  Oh, of course, the ground was hilly, especially around all the lakes, and the trees just followed the land.  I got it.  And there was our lake, what little I could see of it, since I wasn’t that far above the trees.  The tower’s braces were significantly smaller at this point, and it was less comfortable finding hand and foot holds to climb higher.  Not that there was much “higher” left on this tower.

Let’s see, over there, that lake must be Palmer Lake, where my dad would go fishing when he could get away from the resort.  Almost nobody fished Palmer, and the crappies and bluegills were enormous compared to what came out of Second Crow Wing, with three active resorts surrounding it.  I was nowhere near tired of the view, when….

“Heather.”

It was my mom, missing me.  Oops. Maybe if I didn’t answer, she’d stop calling?  Not a chance!

“HEATHER!  WHERE ARE YOU?”

Oh-oh.  Somehow, I knew that even though  nobody had ever told me not to climb the tower,  I’d be in trouble if they knew I had.  Maybe I could wait until they went away so they wouldn’t know where I’d been?  But I’d be in so much worse trouble if I ignored that call.  Mom was a champion worrier, and every minute that passed was fuel to another disaster scenario, me drowning in the lake, lost in the woods, eaten by bears, run over by a car…. Realistic or not, the longer she got to worry, the more I’d get to pay for it. The problem just wasn’t going away, because now my Dad had joined in.

“I’m here.”

“Where’s ‘here’?”

“I’m up here.”  I was climbing down, even as I spoke.  Still safely, one foot, one hand, other foot, other hand.

As you might imagine, once they located me, they freaked out.  Of course, nobody’d ever heard that expression yet, but it really fits.  The more they insisted I come down immediately–I already was, wasn’t I?–they more they also got scared I’d fall, and told me so.  What’s the big deal?  I figured out how to get up, I can figure out how to get down.  Can’t they see that?  How stupid do you have to be to fall off one of these things with all these  great places to hold on to, anyway?

Well, while there apparently are people that stupid, since those kind of falls happen, I wasn’t, and arrived in one piece on the ground to face my punishment.  I didn’t complain too much over it, figuring I must have earned it even though I wasn’t really breaking the rules.  It was much like when I wasn’t really breaking the rules–except for wasting things–when I lifted a box of strike matches to see how they–and the oak leaves next to the house–would burn, in ones, and twos, and head-to-head…  Nobody had thought then to tell me not to play with matches, either. And by they time they did, I’d learned that fire isn’t as easy to control as you’d think.

But that’s another story.

I never did either again.  I also never forgot the glory of climbing that tower.  Even as a parent when I told my kids the story and told them that they must never ever do what I did as a kid, I never conceded for one minute that I had ever been unsafe up on that tower.

I still haven’t.

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5 Responses to “Two Towers, Part I”

  1. August 28th, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    As a kid, I would have definitely backed you that you were “safe.” As a parent, perhaps, not so much.

  2. August 29th, 2009 at 10:33 am

    peter says:

    I as a parent never understand the panic parents get into after the kid is “up there”.
    How helpful is screaming and yelling to get your kid down?
    From my experience the paradigm today seems to be: keep the kids safe, under all circumstances, no adventure allowed.
    Yes, letting them do things involves risk, and a lot of silent agony – but do not let it show.
    Teach them to do things safely, what to watch out for and hope for the best. Kids have to learn on their own, and yes the risk of injury and even death is there – but you cannot raise your kids in a cocoon of “safe”.
    I know, I(we) went through this with two. My daughter started to parachute jump after maturing from tree climbing when she was eighteen, my son rides dirt bikes (put together from scratch) up steep hills, having had his first dirt bike at age ten.
    But they came by it honestly – I started to hitchhike across germany and northern europe when I was sixteen, and graduated to two several months treks following game and hunting trails through the foothills and rocky mountains of northern BC with my wife.

  3. August 29th, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Heather says:

    Hey Peter, can I go back and re-do my childhood with you as a parent? Part of why that incident is so memorable is that I was pretty much raised to avoid all risks. Our rule was obedience. Questioning was “sassing”. When in doubt, the answer was “no.” As an adult+ ( translation: geriatric) now looking back and knowing more about who my parents were and why, I’m much more understanding and tolerant, but there were a lot of lessons left unlearned by the time I reached chronological adulthood, some of which I’m still figuring out. Perhaps a bit more risk and exploration would have been better.

  4. August 30th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    peter says:

    “Hey Peter, can I go back and re-do my childhood with you as a parent?”

    Sorry, I have a sixteen year old to take care of, grew up sheltered in Germany and wants to spend a year in school here in northern BC…
    Unfortunately, going on to sixty and getting a new knee next year (part heritage, part rough working in the oilpatch) I can’t do as much as I used to do.

    I guess I was lucky when I grew up. Sure, there were sex offenders out there too, the press did report it too (remember the Haarmann case in the thirties?) but there was for some reason less panic when I grew up, to stop having kids do their “own” stuff. I started to bike (pedal) through the forests around Frankfurt alone and with friends when I was ten, spent all sommer holidays “outside”, got advise from my parents how to behave towards strangers – that was it. I learned to trust myself and others, learning early on how to interact, and when the alarmbells should go off.

    How you grew up yourself determines very much how you treat your children – trust them, watch them, but let them find out on their own as well how the world works.

    And believe me – it wasn’t smooth sailing with my two…self reliance and earned self confidence do not stop you from making stupid decisions – yes, drugs were involved too, moronic boyfriends – but it makes you quite capable to assess your strength, learn fast and get out of trouble quicker and healthier, the wiser for the experience. What my parents call: falling onto your feet.

    I absolutely loath the idea of constantly hovering over your kids, controlling all their moves, always engaging them on your term, not leaving them to run “wild”. How for f///s sake can they learn who they are, what they are capable of, experience their own boundaries, learn from their own experience?
    Yes, as a parent you agonize when they do not come home, what the hell happened, where are they when they do not show up where they were supposed to be. That is what parents do.
    But parents have to let the children grow up and find their own way, discover what they are capable of and how to operate in this world. This means you guide them, set some rules for their safety and for your sanity, help them and give them some protection – but you cannot protect them from everything; this the price of freedom.
    And that is how I myself grew up, only realizing how good a life I had as a child when I could pass it on to my kids, and they responded with the same zest and enthusiasm.

  5. September 7th, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    gwen says:

    When I was a young military brat, about 10 or eleven, my dad was stationed on a small island that having been involved in WWII, still had many unexploded bombs lying around the boonies. We were NOT allowed to wander in the very inviting jungle, as it was not safe to do so. There was a group of about 6 or 7 of us, led by yours truly that used to get together and scrounge up sandwiches and sodas, to go out adventuring. We would find mangoes, papayas to snack on, and someone usually had access to a machete (until a playmate cut off two fingers showing off). There was a limestone quarry about a mile and a half from our homes, that was regularly patrolled by easily evaded MPs. There was a path that led to the top of the quarry and if you walked along the cliff face, there was a ledge about 6 or 7 feet down that was about 12″ wide. the ledge went the length of the quarry cliff. There was a road at the bottom of the cliff where the MPs drove on their patrol, never dreaming to look up at what the crazy kids were doing. It was a drop of at least a hundred feet, the trucks looked matchbox sized from our vantage point. We would walk, shuffle, across the hundred feet or so to the other side. We thought this was great fun, not realizing how fragile the limestone really was. No one was hurt (actually, they would have been killed) in the five years we were living there, and I am sure that by now it has been closed down, either due to an inevitable death, or a sharp sighted MP who spotted the kids on the cliff face!

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