Magazine article American Forests

Rite of Passage

Magazine article American Forests

Rite of Passage

Article excerpt

Life takes on a special clarity when you're 17, way up a tree, and everybody's watching.

It looked easy enough. I would just climb up there, move along, and come on down. No problem. Still five kids in line ahead of me. But my turn was coming. Maybe it wasn't actually as easy as it looked way down here on the ground.

I finally finished tying the harness around my waist. The man in charge inspected it and didn't approve. Thought it was unsafe, I guess. He retied it so tightly I felt neutered. Apparently it met his approval now, so he moved on to the next individual.

Only three kids in front of me now. I could still back off and lose myself in the crowd of those who had already endured this stupidity, but I had to do it. I had always had a real problem with heights, and this exercise, I told myself, would show me who was boss. Maybe, though, it would be better to start on a smaller scale than playing on a jungle gym 50 feet in the air in the middle of a forest.

I nervously watched my warm breath spew out of my cold body. I fumbled around in my jacket pockets for my gloves. They didn't help my already frigid hands.

One kid now.

I let my eyes climb the rope ladder almost in front of me and bounce along the cables. A boy, younger than the rest of us, was having some kind of trauma way up there in the tree-tops. Well, at least it would stall the one-man line a bit. Two older kids were consoling the boy with the height problem. Immobilized, he desperately clung for dear life to a clump of tree limbs. I began to worry that this would happen to me. But, hey, I was two years his senior, how could it? Deep in the back of my mind, though, I could see myself frozen way up there, too.

Hey, where did he go? The boy in front of me had shot up the rope ladder and given me the sign to climb on up. The kid behind hit me, urging me to get moving. I could still run off into the forest and forget about this insanity. While I was thinking about this, my body somehow started me up the ladder. It was impossible to climb the way it swayed in the wind. I looked down. This was the stupidest thing someone like me could do. I felt like lead, and it became very difficult to move.

Eventually I reached the top of the ladder. People were yelling at me to speed up, but the yelling only made my situation worse. Well, I was there. At the top. I fumbled around with my safety ropes and attached them to the first taut cable, about five feet above the cable I was supposed to tightrope along. As I gripped the upper cable befriending my safety ropes, my feet inched along the lower cable--a five-millimeter-wide sidewalk for crazies. …

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