The Tree Tag Adventure

“Don’t show your inferiority by climbing a stunted tree.
Show your superiority by climbing the longest and crooked one.”

Author: Unknown, but I was able to isolate  it to not-me. . .

I don’t think you’re normal if you did not, as a child, ever want to escalate a reasonable game of tag up into a good climbing tree.  Well, my buddies and I actually did it one day with Rick Van-Bebber serving as our leader du jour. Rick was an audacious and charismatic kid who often came up with ideas that took us to where too-much-fun turned into downright-dangerous. Thus, we often made him our leader. Today, the gang included Mike Stoffel and his younger brother, Jimmy (both from the Giant Inner Tube Adventure), and Bill Lee, who was shorter than me but fast as lightening and could outrun any of us so proved to be very hard to catch and harder to escape from, along with a few others.

Our default playground was Grant School, on the west side of Petaluma, California.  In its earliest days, it had an amazing climbing tree on the eastern edge of the parking lot.

That tree is long gone, but it was huge, large enough to deserve its own area code. It had a reasonable access to young climbers despite someone’s attempts to cut away lower branches that we could reach. They left a fence post we could stand on to reach the lowest branch. This tree had wonderful, strong, long horizontal branches we could bounce up and down on while howling and screaming like tortured members of the species, Atelidae, (howler monkeys).

We were up that tree constantly and had established paths with names like:

    • “The loft trail” because it led up to the highest spot above this one-tree canopy, where the branch ends unfolded into a bed of thick comfy leaf covered nests where several boys could gather in council to discuss the challenges of society (apparently Beatles trading-cards were a huge threat to us in those days) or lean back and enjoy the panoramic views and suck up some downtime or,
    • “The elevator path” consisted of a horizontal branch that you could step on to which would bend down under your weight to lower you along a vertical guide branch that also gave the rider something to hold onto for the (yes!) 6-foot drop, stopping when it stopped against a third horizontal branch. Stepping off allowed the elevator to snap back up to the position for the next ride down. We thought it was pretty cool.

shade tree

One of the best things about this tree were the numerous branches that allowed a young boy to run out to some point that crossed near to another branch – so that boy could scamper about various trails, rarely going back the way you came.

We made it our business to thoroughly explore and know each path, trail, and dead end.

So, in short, this tree was perfect for the day when we were playing some duller version of terrestrial tag, and Rick, had the brilliant idea of moving the whole game up into the tree.

Yes, I thought, an excellent idea. This is why we let him lead us.

In short order, we had moved our small herd over to beneath the tree and were streaming up that fence post, where only Jimmy, needed a push up to reach that first branch because he was so short. Within moments we were scrambling up and down and around the various branch paths, chasing each other – tagging, dodging and cheering others as we watched someone avoid a tag and screaming when we were avoiding being tagged.

We quickly realized that in this version of tag, trying to take shortcuts between actual branch crossings could not allowed and in fact, was enforced by gravity itself.  So, unless you could jump your shortcut – which even we didn’t often attempt – the rule of staying on the established paths was strictly adhered to.

Tree Tag 65 pct cropped

I recall one path that was not working when it was Bill who was after me. As the fastest in the bunch, he would certainly catch me unless I went somewhere he would be afraid to follow – but where?

Then I realized my answer – my salvation. It was a newer path that started with a thick leaf pattern out at the end of the branch I was on where you could NOT clearly see what was past and below it. It was the scariest path I’d ever tried but now I was desperate to not get tagged

But I had tried and survived it  once before so I scrambled up and dove through that thick leaf pattern and…

…rolled out the other side with no branch in either hand – apparently out into open space …

…where I tumbled down and out of sight for about 3 feet to where there was a small, well placed and sturdy branch, that I knew was there and once reached, would keep me in the tree.

It all happened so fast.

I caught it before my fall had picked up any real speed. It bent and slowed my descent, allowing me to twist and get my feet below me so I could land safely on a large lower branch, from where I paused to thank the God of small boys for once again keeping me alive.

Then, I scrambled back towards the main trunk of the tree where all the most solid branches and alternate paths could be found and glanced back.

As expected, my fast friend, Bill, who was not present when Mike and I discovered this path so had never seen it, was unwilling to dive into the unknown. He was and still is a wise person and thus remains alive to this day, so he had stopped at that leaf pattern, now way above my head, amazed no doubt, that I was still alive.

Predictably the crowd went wild as we always did when a great escape was executed, accomplished, and survived. I smiled as my eyes met Bill’s. Gotcha!

But, as in life, tag goes on. Bill was now looking for his next target. He’d saw and now targeted the younger and smaller Jimmy, who was a great climber, but in his desire to keep up with us older and more mature and experienced and wiser boys, was not known for making the best decisions.  Jimmy chose to scramble out a path we all knew would not take him anywhere useful.  It was a dead end with no way to avoid being tagged.

The branch he chose was one of the lowest branches, about 13 feet above the ground and smaller than I would have chosen for a tag-dodge – but there he went followed by Bill who was very keen on making a quick tag.

Jimmy should have stopped and admitted that he was going to be tagged, but he was determined to be the bad example for a story, told years later by that guy who got away.  Instead, he tried to go out to the smallest end of the branch and hang by his hands to stay as far away from Bill as possible.

Bill approached carefully, being much wiser and not as willing to go out on such a small branch.  The branch was bending beneath their combined weight. Bill was carefully reaching out to tag the nearest fist as Jimmy kept moving slightly out of reach, when the branch, as you must already expect, broke — sending Jimmy tumbling to the ground while leaving Bill swaying safely above.

The whole armada of players went silent.  Falling out of the tree was NOT part of the game.  It wasn’t supposed to happen, and this was a high fall, even for polished tree climbers like us.

Is Jimmy okay…?

As the branch slowly stopped swaying, we watched as Jimmy moved and groaned enough for us to know that he wasn’t dead,.

Rick modeled the most sympathetic thing any of us could think of and yelled to Bill, “ Hey – did you tag him or are you still it?”

210702: Shared on #TreeSquares:

GW bio card 4

10 thoughts on “The Tree Tag Adventure

    1. They were certainly different times. I’m so pleased that you are enjoying my adventures. Sharing them is the only way I’m ever going to do stuff like this again. I don’t bouce as good as I used to.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As you progressed through the story I could feel the thoughts in your mind showing how wise you were at playing this game. One line made me laugh so hard “Rick was an audacious and charismatic kid who often came up with ideas that took us to where too-much-fun turned into downright-dangerous. Thus we often made him our leader.” This last line where you said thus we often made him our leader just shows your desire to go on the most dangerous paths to have your wild fun. Hahahha well it was really intresting to read. Eveb though I cannot connect with the tag game, through your story I can imagine it all happening and also realize how much dangerous it was to play the game. Bit I guess as Kids until you are having fun who cares right haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Smriti and thanks for giving this story a read and I’m so glad you laughed so hard. For me, that is a big payoff. We were overall good kids, but we sure did take some crazy risks that I would never let my own children do today.


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