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….
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 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.