All four of our daughters love climbing, but one of them has elevated climbing to a lifestyle.
I’m not talking about “climbing” in any metaphorical sense; I’m talking about actual climbing, defined in Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary as, “to draw or pull oneself up, over, or to the top of by using hands and feet.”
My climbing daughter has always scaled whatever was available, with the goal of getting as high as possible. She began, as a toddler, with the boulders and trees that filled the yard of our house; her first word was “rock.” At two years old, she amused herself during her big sisters’ swimming lessons by climbing the trees by the town pool. It was from one of these trees that she fell that summer, thankfully from a height of only about four feet – she was on her way down – thus earning the dubious honor of being the first of our children observed for signs of concussion.
In recent years, this same daughter has climbed rocky cliffs by the Maine coast. She claimed a willow tree in our yard (named “Willowbee”), in whose branches she sits whenever she needs time alone. She once scaled the six-foot-high, spike-topped metal fence that borders the library parking lot, rather than simply using the entrance. When we visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on a recent trip to New York, I found it necessary to warn her beforehand that the trees there were not for climbing. The friends we were visiting understood my warning the next day, when they watched her attempt to climb every city fence we passed.
Raising this daughter has made me curious about the human impulse to climb. What ancient code in our DNA compels us to lift feet off the ground, pull up with arms, and attempt to defy gravity? Was climbing necessary to avoid predators? Did an elevated perspective improve one’s success in hunting and gathering? Were climbers valued members of society because they could keep watch from the heights and be the first to spot impending danger?