Up a Tree
Anyone who follows me knows how much I love a good hike. Add a bit of wildlife and I’m in heaven.
A few miles from my home is an open space containing a set of trails which are my “go to” when I want to hike-walk outside of my neighborhood but do not have time to drive a longer distance to another trailhead.
In addition to its close proximity, It is my favorite for several reasons - one, being a haven for certain Northern California birds. For instance, I relish the experience of sitting on a bench near a creek located at the halfway point within a two mile loop which circles the perimeter of the space. If I catch the rest stop at the right time of day - 10:00am or around 4:00pm - I can hear the faint rat-a-tat-tat of the Acorn Woodpecker hard at work.
Since “Woody” is high in the treetops, I am unable to see him without my binoculars; however, I know he is up there. Sometimes, I am able to catch a glimpse of him in flight. With his black and white underbelly soaring from tree to tree, it appears he mostly enjoys the Live Oak. I’m guessing it’s an easy spot to drill holes for his acorn stash; perhaps this particular tree has the tastiest all-you-can-eat insect buffet.
One particular day, I made my way down the path and as usual, sat on the bench by the creek bed. Soon, I could hear Woody going about his woodpecker business at his construction job. However, he soon stopped short when a young family of four approached the area. A Mom, Dad, a little girl whom I guessed to be about nine years old, plus a little boy who appeared to be a year or so younger happily strolled on the path. The parents chatted as the siblings ran ahead, giving chase and gleefully shouting challenges back and forth to one another.
I knew Woody would resume his activity as soon as they passed, and enjoyed the momentary music of children’s laughter.
So, I waited.
But the family did not pass. Instead, the little girl (I’ll call her Chelsea) spied the Live Oak where Woody now sat silent on the highest branch, and exclaimed, “I bet I can climb up there!” and proceeded to do so. Her younger brother (I’ll call him Luke) remained grounded with a look of skepticism as he watched his sister scramble up the trunk to the lowest branch and scoot out to its middle.
Not far behind their children, the two parents soon arrived on the scene. At first, they expressed delight at Chelsea’s adventurous spirit. However, when the time came for Chelsea to descend, she froze. Without a second thought that she would have to come down at some point, climbing the tree had initially seemed so simple. Now, regretting her impulsive action, Chelsea began to cry.
Her father stood beneath her feet which dangled from the branch just above his head, held his arms up, and urged her to jump. Chelsea shook her head and continued to cry. No amount of coaxing from her dad could convince the little girl to release her death grip on the branch.
“Pretend you’re at the swimming pool,” her father tried a new tactic. “Remember? You jumped from the diving board into my arms and I caught you every time. This is no different.”
Chelsea wasn’t having it. In fact, she only became more upset.
At this point, the mother decided to climb the tree as well and help her daughter down, or at least provide consolation. The strategy that they could descend together seemed like a good idea. However, the Mom got her foot stuck in the fork of a branch halfway up and couldn’t move.
Dad tried one more time to get Chelsea to jump. If he could manage to get her down, he would then go help his wife and the family could proceed with their hike.
Too frightened to move at all, Chelsea could not comply. So now, the father decides to climb the tree and talk his daughter down. He crawls over his wife and up to the branch where Chelsea still sat, frozen in the same spot in which she’d been cemented for what now seemed an eternity.
Once the father reached Chelsea, he sat down on the branch beside her, put his arm around her shoulders to comfort her, and wiped her tears. In doing so, he lost his balance and slipped a little. This further unnerved his daughter and she began to panic.
Dear Hearts, I don’t mind telling you that as I sat no less than fifty feet away watching this scenario unfold, I was about to call the fire department for help. At this juncture, young Luke was the only safely grounded family member. He also was the only one who wasn’t losing his marbles as it now appeared that even the dad was questioning his own decision and abilities.
Hoping for available cell service and just as I pulled my phone out of my pocket, Luke called out to his family above him, “Hold on! I’ll be right back!” - then took off like a shot.
Because there wasn’t a thing the parents could do about their son’s decision, I found Luke’s action both gutsy and amusing. However, I was not without compassion for the concerned mom and dad as they watched their son take off and run completely out of sight.
We were located at least a half mile away from the parking lot and trailhead, so it took Luke some time to reach his destination and return.
Meanwhile, Chelsea continued to cry, Mom’s foot was beginning to swell, and Dad was hanging on for dear life.
After what seemed like hours but was probably only about fifteen minutes, Luke finally returned after sprinting all the way to the family vehicle and back. The boy happened to have possession of the family’s car keys because he was the only one with zippered pockets in his jacket. He took it upon himself to go to the car and retrieve the one thing he thought might help his sister.
Out of breath, Luke stood underneath the tree branch where his sister and father remained. Huffing and puffing, the young lad pulled Chelsea’s favorite stuffie - a raggedy pink bunny - from inside his jacket, held it up for her to see and, mimicking a high-pitched voice, Luke squeaked, “It’s okay, Chelsea. You will be alright. Dad will come down and you can jump. He will catch you.”
Not only did Chelsea stop crying, she smiled, let go of her white-knuckled grip on the branch and held out her arms. Luke tossed the stuffie up to her and she caught it. Clutching the rabbit, she profusely thanked her brother. Even from where I was sitting, I could see Chelsea’s shoulders relax..
I holstered my phone as the dad found a way to roll over onto his stomach into a dead hang and safely drop to the ground. He then held up his arms in Chelsea’s direction once more in a beckoning motion.
Within seconds, Chelsea shouted to her father, “Ready or not, here I come!” And with a broad grin, still holding her bunny, Chelsea propelled herself into the air and straight into her father’s safe embrace.
With three quarters of the family now safely grounded, the dad’s attention turned to his wife who had been quietly watching her family go from distress to heroics inside of about twenty minutes. I thought about offering some help, but decided against it when I noticed the husband gently maneuvering his wife’s foot so as not to induce any discomfort.
“Rest your hands on my shoulders,” he instructed. A sense of warmth came over me as I watched the wife completely trust her husband while he slowly and expertly freed her foot from its prison. Both climbed down from her perch and landed unscathed.
As hero of the ordeal, Luke was praised for his quick wits and valiant efforts. This little boy could easily have panicked along with his sister. Instead, he kept it together, took a chance on a solution, and acted upon it.
After hugs all around, the family proceeded with their hike. The parents resumed chatting and the children returned to chasing one another, running ahead.
Meanwhile, Woody, who had been patiently waiting for all the human drama below to cease, resumed his work. Soon, I was rewarded with the sound of his light jack-hammering, and all was right with the world . . .
. . . up a tree.