Tree-Climbing Days

My earliest tree-climbing memories date back to my preschool years in Missouri. Our back yard boasted several stout, smallish trees, their lower limbs invitingly close to the ground. These were the “bunny slopes” of the tree-climbing world. I remember delighting in my lofty perspective of the earth… though I’m pretty sure my head was no more than seven feet above the ground. Even better than the bird’s-eye view, I got a sense of being invisible, safely hidden among the branches. I was hooked on climbing, always swarming up something for a better view.

When I was in the fifth grade, we moved to a house just outside the loop around Palestine, Texas. A little strip of woods stood between the highway right-of-way and the back yards along our street. It was the perfect playground: my brother and sister and I explored around and played Hide-and-Seek on an epic level. We also staked out territory, created our own imaginary countries and engaged in international negotiations/warfare. I’m not sure how long we lived there before I discovered The Tree.

It had to be a hundred years old. I never measured, but even with my 5½ foot wingspan I could not reach halfway around the trunk at shoulder height. In fact, the first limb was thicker than most of the tree trunks I had seen. And the first branch off that limb would have made a respectable tree on its own. Sprouting from the main limb about twelve feet above the ground, it grew horizontally for a yard or two and then sloped clear down to knee level. It ended in a cluster of smaller branches that reached back up toward the sunlight. Seriously–this was Some Tree.

The Tree seemed to hold its hand down, inviting me aboard. Naturally, I could not resist stepping up onto the lower end of that branch and walking up onto the huge limb. From there, I could walk farther out from the trunk and then climb higher, or step downward toward the trunk and sit astride the base of the limb. I still enjoyed my bird’s-eye view: whatever might be going on at ground level, I sat above it all. And talk about invisible… as I recall, I could not even see the highway except where the bridge crossed the nearby railroad track. It was just me and the birds, safe and serene.

I spent a lot of time in The Tree, my refuge of quiet and solitude. It was a great place to read, study, or just think about life – even after high school graduation and during breaks from college I would slip out there and climb up. But then I married Brent and moved away for good. Life went on just fine without The Tree.

Back in April of this year, when Brent and I visited Palestine, we drove by to see my former home. Then I asked Brent to go east on the Loop and look for The Tree. A new hotel stands above the railroad track now, and everything looks very different from my tree-climbing days when weeds, yucca and wild plum trees reigned. I just could not tell where The Tree should be. I hoped it might still stand beyond the new parking lot, so we drove around behind the hotel to see whether I could spot it. Anything that big, surely I would see it…

… I guess it’s gone.

It was probably silly to even look, but this is an extraordinarily overwhelming time for me. It would have been so nice to scramble up there one more time, feel like a carefree teenager again and see from that higher perspective. Or even just look at The Tree and remember.

Well, even big ol’ oak trees don’t last forever. What I really need is a refuge that I can always count on. A place of safety and rest. A loftier view, where everything will appear in perspective. Then I realized: I already have that refuge available any time, because:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1, NIV)


The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10, NASB)

My safety does not depend on any created thing, but on the Creator. He is unchanging and all-powerful, full of love and grace. He knows what we really need, and he wants people to trust him so he can help and protect them. He wants me to trust him so he can help and protect me.

Tell you one thing, though… Given a good-size oak and half a chance, my tree-climbing days will resume in a heartbeat.

Thanks for reading!

PS: Today I am linking up with my friends at Soli Deo Gloria.

About Jan C. Johnson

Welcome! If you like food, reading, laughing over life's little disasters, and maybe thinking about the bigger things of life, you have come to the right place. Besides blogging, I write humorous fiction, though real life tends to leave fictional humor in the shade. But I'm not a total goofball. No, really. I'm also working on a biography project. I live in North Texas with my husband, Brent. We enjoy bicycling, Mexican food, and traveling to visit our kids and grandkids.
This entry was posted in A Page From My Journal, I Remember When... (my OWN stories). Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Tree-Climbing Days

  1. Jenny Forgey says:

    LOVE this Jan! As a native Texan, I can picture that ol’ oak something awful. I have a hankerin’ to start climbing myself. I love trees.

    And I love the way you gave me a word-picture for God my Father. He is like the big, grand, ancient oaks of our native state – the ones that hold you in and keep you safe while letting you observe the passing world. The ultimate safe place.


  2. Jen says:

    Oh, Jan. As soon as I read this: “but this is an extraordinarily overwhelming time for me” I literally felt your grief. But your tie in with The One who provides true, real, and endless refuge was simply beautiful. Hope renewed. Restored. Beautiful words, Jan.


  3. What a beautiful story, I felt like I was in the tree with you! Praying you find shelter in the tree branches of His loving arms girly! Blessings!


  4. Debbie says:

    I can completely relate to this and the feeling when you looked for and could no longer find your tree. I loved the way you brought it all home scripturally. Excellent!


  5. Pamela says:

    Isn’t it wonderful that we can carry our Sheltering Tree with us? He’s always there to shelter us with love and care. When life changes His sturdy branches are ready and waiting.

    Praying for you, Jan.



  6. Kathy Falley says:

    On highway 67 10 min so of Cleburne is camp Arrowhead. This church camp has an old lg Pecan tree. My 2 girls went to camp there during summer vacation for several yrs.Under this tree they whispered prayers of rededication to the Lord. Met for meals or met new friends!Thanks for your special memories of your Oak tree. God Bless you!Kathy


  7. Tiffini says:

    Jan – this is just beautiful. You write like I could only dream of. I often turn to those verses..I love them.
    I never really climbed trees as a kid. Even then I didn’t like to play but your story lures me because I DO like the idea of sitting up there..hidden..thinking about life. Now that is my kinda thing:)


    • Jan says:

      Tiffini, your words mean a lot coming from such a beautiful soul.
      Sometimes a physical place of refuge really helps us get in touch with the Refuge of our hearts.


  8. Mrs. M. says:

    I know that it is disappointing, but your memories are with you for the rest of your life.

    How wonderful to know that you have them close to your heart.

    Mrs. M.


  9. Jeannine or Grandma Johnson says:

    I too climbed trees as a child and when I was older too. Enjoyed it so much looking over everything.
    God created these wonderful trees; they reach out to us and teach us to reach out to others and to share God’s creation.
    God is good.
    Love, Grandma Johnson


  10. Abby says:

    This is beautiful Jan…I drank in your words, too, today. I remember the cherry blossom tree we loved to climb…it was not nearly like The Tree, but you took me back to those days. And for it to be such a treasure, I love this sense of place and meaning there…and now with your sister gone, I’m sure the loss of the Tree punctuates the loss of her. I am praying for you in your grief…thanks for coming and reading the tribute to Mom…the remembering can bring tears, but it is so good for these lives lived…and a sister, oh, I can’t imagine losing a sister…sending love!

    p.s. don’t know if this might bless, but thought even more of it with your Tree post:


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