Magazine article American Forests

The Tree That Gave Flight to a Dream

Magazine article American Forests

The Tree That Gave Flight to a Dream

Article excerpt

In the first decades of the last century, a spirited young girl growing up in her grandparents' farmhouse in Kansas loved to sit at her bedroom window and look out at the trees. She especially loved the sugar maple and linden that grew in the front yard.

To her imaginative mind, these weren't just any trees; they were Philemon and Baucis--the couple in Ovid's Metamorphoses whom the god Jupiter turned into an oak and a linden after their deaths so their branches might be entwined forever.

In my mind's eye I picture young Amelia Earhart in her bedroom window studying those trees, dreaming, watching as the propeller-shaped maple seeds gracefully winged their way to earth. While it might be too much to suppose that those maple trees inspired her to flight, it is clear that the memories of that happy childhood gave her good preparation for the challenges she would embrace as a woman.

Amelia Earhart's pioneering ancestors had settled in Atchison back when it was the last outpost of civilization before the Wild West, While her father was in Kansas City trying to eke out a living (he wasn't talented with money), Amelia and her younger sister Muriel lived with their grandparents in Atchison--where Amelia was the favorite of the neighborhood.

"We always waited for her to decide what we were going to do," said her friend Katherine. "All I knew was that Amelia was more fun to play with than anyone else," seconded Lucy Challis.

Amelia, it seems, was full of ideas and never one to think that boys should have all the fun. In the winter of 1904 the 7-year-old decided to try out the sled she and 4-year-old Muriel had gotten for Christmas. Their grandmother, determined to instill "proper" values in the two girls, had instructed them only to ride sitting up, like young ladies.

But Amelia wanted speed. She surveyed the hill and positioned the sled. Then she ran and threw herself on it, in "belly-slammer" style. Halfway down the hill and going faster by the second, she saw a horse wearing blinders turn onto the road in front of her.

The owner, bundled against the elements, didn't hear her urgent cries. There was nothing to do but go for it. Amelia put her head down, and shot straight underneath the horse, coming through unhurt on the other side. …

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