Allen Point: Tree Topper
Moving to Allen Point was, for a five year-old boy, like moving into Christopher Robin’s Hundred Acre Wood or onto the island of the Swiss Family Robinson.
“The Point,” as we called it, was a magical world of its own. Nearly an island, it jutted out into Henderson Bay with tall firs spiking up like the masts of a ship bound for adventure. I joined its eccentric crew, and for the next seven years came and went along paths that wound through the hundred acres of hinterland to the uncivilized hierarchy of the bus stop or to other magical places.
One of my first tasks, however, was to climb the trees. The large Gravenstein by the grape arbor was easy (apple trees are practically made for climbing). So was the fir next to our house. On the other side of the house, towards the water, taller firs rose up from a bed of rhododendrons in the lawn. These trees were impossible to climb because the first branches were far too high for me to reach. Someone had limbed them up to reduce their wind resistance, making them look even more like masts with sails unfurled.
A huge Madrone clung to the bottom of the bank in front of our house, slung out over the water like the Point’s bowsprit. It presented a different kind of climbing challenge: Madrone bark flakes off like old peeling paint, and is very slick. Easy to get to get on, but not easy to stay on. But, if you made it out to the branches along the trunk, you could hover over the crystal-clear water and wait for fish to swim by.
Mrs. Basden, next door to the north, had a huge maple that was a good climber. And between her house and ours, near the high bank over the beach, there was a thicket of young firs. One day I discovered an older tree rising from the middle of the thicket. Like the trees out in the lawn, this one had also been limbed. But unlike the others, the smaller tress growing around it provided a means to reach its branches. Crossing from one to the other was a bit like crossing a cable bridge.
Once on the large tree, I made my way up, up, and up, until I broke through the canopy of smaller trees. And there, the old fir came to an abrupt end. Someone had topped the tree.
My grandfather, my mom’s dad, was a tree topper in his early logging days. He loved climbing the pole tree (the large tree chosen to use as a winch pole for dragging other trees to a central location) with his climbing spikes (like the Oysterman who came to get the crow), belt, and saw. Once up, he cut the top, and then hung on, literally, for dear life. The force of the top falling away would make the tree sway and buck like a reed in the wind. It was thrilling, he said, and the view was magnificent. And indeed, it was. The view opened up to look out over the bank and Henderson Bay towards the Olympic Mountains.
The flat top of the old fir looked like a large dinner plate glazed with darkened pitch. I sat on the highest branch, just below the cut, counted the tree rings, and looked out at the view.
And then, for some inexplicable reason, I got the urge to stand on the top. When I had my balance, I raised my hands up over my head, as if I were saluting the mountains across the bay, or a radio tower gleaning the skies.
Why do we do such things? What possesses us to place our little feet on a small wooden disk three storeys off the ground, four over the beach, at the end of a gently swaying trunk — and then let go of all else? Was I simply trying to get as high as possible? Did I imagine being the missing trunk? I don’t know — I have no idea. But given that, what unconscious surge compels such risky, and yet somehow sympathetic, stupidity? Was some archetype pulling me — like Oden to Yggdrasil, Christ to the cross, or the serpent to the Tree the Knowledge of Good and Evil — into alignment and to the place where binaries collapse into unity and nothingness and something-ness combine?
Whatever it was, it was interrupted by the concerned, but purposefully cheerful, voice of my mother, from down below, calling me back to earth, coaxing me back to solid ground. I lowered by arms and considered how to get down, which, as you probably know, is more difficult than getting up.
And so I returned to earth. But far, far away, a seven year-old girl had also been up in a tree, being questioned by her older sister. “What are you doing?” the sister asked. “I’m talking to the boy in the other tree,” Susan told her. “You’re crazy,” the sister declared, “Crazy as a loon.”
Crazy. But was that when we first met? Did something careen through the ether, like the faint and far away radio signal that you pick up late on a Sunday night, and first make the strange and wonderful connection that we now share?