Birches

He always kept his poise

To the top branches, climbing carefully

With the same pains you use to fill a cup

Up to the brim, and even above the brim.

Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,

Kicking his way down through the air to the ground. —Robert FrostBirches (Bartleby)

When I was five my family moved from the world of sidewalks and fenced-in backyards to an underdeveloped area where, at night in the winter when all the leaves were down, you couldn’t see the lights from any neighboring houses. We had a gravel driveway that led up from an unpaved, very bumpy road that had no official speed limit. The shoulders of the road were very high, so that the road really ran in a kind of a trough, and I could play in the woods and climb up the trees and watch the cars go zooming by, far beneath me.

I have no idea if it was a birch, but one tree in particular had long, smooth limbs that stretched out over the road.

I’m stunned as I think back on it, but I did sometimes climb out across the road and ride a tree limb down to the ground. There really weren’t all that many cars on the road, but the shoulders were little cliffs, that loom in my memory two or three times my height. I picture them as 20 feet high, but I was shorter then, so maybe they were only about 12 feet.

I loved the freedom that this image suggests.

It was great to be a kid when I had that much space to move around in. My son doesn’t have that kind of freedom. We do have a nice backyard and friends in the neighborhood. In a pro-videogames article, ““Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces” Henry Jenkins writes,

My son, Henry, now 16, has never had a backyard. He has grown up in various apartment complexes, surrounded by asphalt parking lots with, perhaps, a small grass buffer from the street. Children were prohibited by apartment policy from playing on the grass or from racing their tricycles in the basements or from doing much of anything else that might make noise, annoy the non-childbearing population, cause damage to the facilities, or put themselves at risk. There was, usually, a city park some blocks away which we could go on outings a few times a week and where we could watch him play. Henry could claim no physical space as his own, except his toy-strewn room, and he rarely got outside earshot. Once or twice, when I became exasperated by my son’s constant presence around the house, I would forget all this and tell him he should go outside and play. He would look at me with confusion and ask “Where?”

But, he did have video games…

Not quite the same thing as dangling by a tree branch over the road, but serving much the same desire to explore and to take risks.