In the 1950s, the Italian author Italo Calvino wrote a delightful novel called "The Baron in the Trees." It is little-known in the United States, but well-worth reading for the sheer delight of the concept.
Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo is a young boy fed up with his life in the cloistered walls of his Italian villa, where he must get tutored by the ancient Abbe and dine on the horrifying creations of his sister. One day, while facing a dinner plate filled with snails, he abandons his meal, climbs a tree, and declares that he will never come down again.
He stays true to his word. Removed from his family and his neighbors, he makes a life among the trees, snatching fruit with the local band of ruffians, befriending the peasants who work the fields, and falling in love with the tricky and headstrong Victorio.
The book is funny and quirky and completely original, but it is one we can all relate to. Who wouldn't want to spend their entire existence off the ground? Johann Wyss was on to something when he wrote "Swiss Family Robinson." To live, perched among the branches, is a child's greatest dream.
Climbing trees is one of the great pleasures of boyhood. It is the ultimate test of freedom and daring. In a tree, boys are untouchable. They are one with the birds. They can nearly scrape the moon, hidden in a cathedral of leaves. Trees are a child's domain, nature's first jungle gym.
A tree can be a fort, a lookout point, an escape, and a challenge. A child has to think where to place his feet and hands. He has to test his weight on a flimsy branch to see if it's going to bend under pressure. There is always the risk of falling, which is precisely what makes it so fun.
Last week my son declared that he wanted to spend an entire day in a tree. I was in the middle of reading "The Baron in the Trees" and I encouraged him to try it. He could haul up food and books and have a treetop adventure. I can't wait to see if he follows through on his plan.
Do you encourage your boys to climb trees? Do you have a good backyard or neighborhood tree for climbing? What's your own favorite tree-climbing memory from childhood?