My earliest tree-climbing memories date back to my preschool years in Missouri. Our back yard boasted several stout, smallish trees, their lower limbs invitingly close to the ground. These were the “bunny slopes” of the tree-climbing world. I remember delighting in my lofty perspective of the earth… though I’m pretty sure my head was no more than seven feet above the ground. Even better than the bird’s-eye view, I got a sense of being invisible, safely hidden among the branches. I was hooked on climbing, always swarming up something for a better view.
When I was in the fifth grade, we moved to a house just outside the loop around Palestine, Texas. A little strip of woods stood between the highway right-of-way and the back yards along our street. It was the perfect playground: my brother and sister and I explored around and played Hide-and-Seek on an epic level. We also staked out territory, created our own imaginary countries and engaged in international negotiations/warfare. I’m not sure how long we lived there before I discovered The Tree.
It had to be a hundred years old. I never measured, but even with my 5½ foot wingspan I could not reach halfway around the trunk at shoulder height. In fact, the first limb was thicker than most of the tree trunks I had seen. And the first branch off that limb would have made a respectable tree on its own. Sprouting from the main limb about twelve feet above the ground, it grew horizontally for a yard or two and then sloped clear down to knee level. It ended in a cluster of smaller branches that reached back up toward the sunlight. Seriously–this was Some Tree.
The Tree seemed to hold its hand down, inviting me aboard. Naturally, I could not resist stepping up onto the lower end of that branch and walking up onto the huge limb. From there, I could walk farther out from the trunk and then climb higher, or step downward toward the trunk and sit astride the base of the limb. I still enjoyed my bird’s-eye view: whatever might be going on at ground level, I sat above it all. And talk about invisible… as I recall, I could not even see the highway except where the bridge crossed the nearby railroad track. It was just me and the birds, safe and serene.
I spent a lot of time in The Tree, my refuge of quiet and solitude. It was a great place to read, study, or just think about life – even after high school graduation and during breaks from college I would slip out there and climb up. But then I married Brent and moved away for good. Life went on just fine without The Tree.
Back in April of this year, when Brent and I visited Palestine, we drove by to see my former home. Then I asked Brent to go east on the Loop and look for The Tree. A new hotel stands above the railroad track now, and everything looks very different from my tree-climbing days when weeds, yucca and wild plum trees reigned. I just could not tell where The Tree should be. I hoped it might still stand beyond the new parking lot, so we drove around behind the hotel to see whether I could spot it. Anything that big, surely I would see it…
… I guess it’s gone.
It was probably silly to even look, but this is an extraordinarily overwhelming time for me. It would have been so nice to scramble up there one more time, feel like a carefree teenager again and see from that higher perspective. Or even just look at The Tree and remember.
Well, even big ol’ oak trees don’t last forever. What I really need is a refuge that I can always count on. A place of safety and rest. A loftier view, where everything will appear in perspective. Then I realized: I already have that refuge available any time, because:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1, NIV)
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10, NASB)
My safety does not depend on any created thing, but on the Creator. He is unchanging and all-powerful, full of love and grace. He knows what we really need, and he wants people to trust him so he can help and protect them. He wants me to trust him so he can help and protect me.
Tell you one thing, though… Given a good-size oak and half a chance, my tree-climbing days will resume in a heartbeat.
Thanks for reading!
PS: Today I am linking up with my friends at Soli Deo Gloria.