My earliest memories of childhood involve a tree.
Well, probably not the earliest memories, but my earliest memories of independent childhood, when I was old enough to be outside and play by myself.
I wonder what age that began for a child in the 1980s. I feel like it never begins for many children now. There is something important and sacred about children being left alone, individually and with each other, to be who they are without any adult’s intervention or assessment or influence. Adult presence—even an unspeaking, uninvolved one—brings some measure of all those things.
Back to the tree.
It was a giant magnolia tree which maybe wasn’t as giant as I remember but it seemed giant, so tall, huge, a world.
I could climb it and be in the sky. I could cling to the trunk and be completely hidden by the massive reaching branches, the glossy thick green leaves. The peculiar soapy fragrance of magnolia blossoms came and went in a rush, and for a few weeks the sick-sweet smell of falling and rotting petals. Then back to the clean earthy homey smell of bark, the freshness of growth and green.
I would climb to the very top branches and the trunk would be swaying and I would feel this exquisite mix of terror and awe, adrenaline and joy. A knowledge that I could fall, could get hurt, maybe die, maybe I would this time, and the ground so far away, the sky so big, even my Mom wouldn’t know what to do, even my Dad wouldn’t be strong enough to help, anything could happen. Anything could happen.
Anything could happen: awe. The world is so big, everything unfolds, there is so much beauty and mystery, look at how things work, look at the worlds we keep uncovering, feel the smallness of yourself in the midst of it, feel the changes, the wonder.
Anything could happen: terror. The world is so unknown. The world is so full of danger. There is so much to take in, look at how little we know, bad things happen, so much pain, so much tragedy, feel the heartbreak of it, feel the grief and the risk and yourself helpless in the midst of it all.
Anything could happen to me. To you. To all of us.
Anything could happen: freedom. The mix of terror and awe, joy and fear. It’s risky, being alive. Anything could happen.