Fall is my favorite season.
Tending to the final details in preparation for our upcoming Camping/Climbing weekend, I find myself trying to figure out what I enjoy most about this time of year.
Part of the excitement is the anticipation scenic drives through the Wisconsin countryside. With each passing day, we the trees take a step closer to peak color. However, my love of fall goes far deeper than scenic drives, a trip to the apple orchard, and cooler weather.
Fall overwhelms my senses as each one is stimulated simultaneously.
The colors of fall are beginning to pop up around our area. The color contrast is striking when the yellows, oranges and reds of the leaves are set against the green grass and blue sky. The colors are further enhanced thanks to the lower angle of the afternoon sun.
Fall’s approach is announced with the sound of crunching leaves beneath my feet, chatter of the chipmunks and squirrels preparing for the winter, and the sound of geese heading south overhead.
The smoke from backyard campfires wafts throughout the neighborhood. The earthy smell of the fallen leaves during a stroll in the woods sends chills down my spine.
I am tantalized by the feeling of cool breezes brushing against my skin. Inhaling the crisp autumn air, my thoughts turn to reflection and contemplation.
We experience a wide range of weather patterns in Wisconsin, many times in the same week and sometimes even the same day! It is this variability in the weather and the change of seasons that I enjoy.
The rainy weather pattern we have seen over the past few weeks and warmer temperatures triggered an unwelcomed flurry of activity from mosquitoes, but they also provide a huge benefit to trees as they head into winter. Thanks to those rains, one piece of the puzzle is laid leading up to what is likely to be a season of optimal fall color in many areas.
With summer fading away, this period of transition triggers a feeling of excitement for the one ahead and a sense of closure on the one we are leaving behind.
I am particularly excited as fall is still my favorite time to be in trees.
I spend time reflecting upon the experiences of the past year. I am tuned into Nature’s rhythm, which puts me at peace. I feel a spike in my creative energy as I look towards the future and begin identifying ways to enhance my life energy in the coming year.
Falling Leaves & Climbing Trees
Getting my feet off the ground and the freedom of being on rope heighten my sensory perception. Simple pleasures I enjoy on the ground are enhanced while climbing trees. Come fall, they turn into bursts of energy felt throughout my body.
Laying on a branch in a sugar maple allows you to bask in the tree’s red-orange-yellow aura. Sitting within the pool of light emitted by the surrounding leafy mosaic, it is easy to get a sense of why John Muir referred to trees and forests as Nature’s temples and cathedrals.
Your view is obscured when a tree is in leaf. The foliage acts as walls between the rooms and levels of your climbing tree and those of neighboring trees. As the balance of leaves covering the ground increases from those remaining on branches, your depth of visibility increases to reveal the structural beauty of scaffold limbs.
The sound of crinkling leaves carries across the distances, enabling you to envision the playful nature of squirrels even if they are out of sight. If you sit long enough, the leaves may signal the approach of deer. It is a neat experience to sit above and watch grazing deer meander by without being alerted of your presence.
Despite the lower temperatures, the physical nature of climbing warms your body. Even a slight hint of perspiration is enough to energize you when a cool breeze passes by.
Once the leaves have fallen, you are able to enjoy shades of brown, gray, and black. You can focus your attention on the details and variety of leaf shapes strewn about below. The ground provides a canvas as the shadows cast by the trunks and branches convert the three-dimensional world into a dynamic line-drawing.
Enjoying this abstract art work of shadows and leaves, you’ll eventually find your silhouette projected on the ground.
The realization of looking down upon myself is a type of out-of-body experience that brings me back into the present moment and my sensory system back into check.
On a Friday evening in late August, I headed out early in order to get an hour of personal time in one of my favorite trees before I had to set up for the evening’s climb.
As I pulled up I noticed a woman sitting at a picnic table beneath the tree. In order to install the ropes, I need to have people out of the area, so I was going to have to ask her to move.
This tree and its nearby companion are a pair of mature white oaks that have a special presence about them. Their large size and branching structures are quite a contrast to the younger neighboring walnuts and hickories. It is no surprise to me that someone else enjoys time beneath these trees as I do.
In walking up to her, she appeared to be at peace and had a positive energy about her. I paused for a moment with reservation given I had arrived early solely for the intent of spending personal time in the tree. I thought maybe I should hike a nearby trail and allow her to enjoy her time with the trees until it was time to set up for the climb.
While these thoughts ran through my head, the woman turned and greeted me with a warm smile and cheerful, “hello.” In front of her a wooden flute lay on the table. With pencil in hand, it was apparent I had interrupted her in the middle of journaling.
We were immediately engaged in a conversation about what I was up to, as I was carrying a colorful rope and wearing my climbing helmet.
I was there to enjoy time in the tree. She was there to enjoy time under the trees. That was enough for us to form a bond.
Bonding Under The Trees
For the next hour, we shared stories from our lives. I found myself sharing topics I seldom discuss with anyone other than my closest friends and family. She talked about her life experiences and valued memories. Together, we enjoyed conversations about family, hobbies, life and dreams.
The reason we had met was simply due our appreciation for the two trees above, which is why I think the conversation kept returning back to them.
Together we found that their energy has provided comfort and aided in self-reflection in our both of our lives.
I told her what the trees have meant to me for the 2 years I have been coming to visit. Some of my encounters were from above. I pointed out the branches which cradle my head as I lay back to gaze upon the branches and leaves above. I shared stories of climbers who had successfully challenged themselves at different places in the tree.
She has been coming to these trees for many years. Journaling and playing her flute in their shade, she too has formed a bond with them. They have become close friends to the both of us. It was enjoyable to hear her perspective and memories of the trees.
Given how private I am with my own journaling, I was touched when she opened her journal to me to share a story and a hand-drawn picture of the night’s climbing tree.
With colored pencils she had captured the character of the tree in her drawing. Without ever climbing the tree, she noticed and had detailed some of my favorite branches. Two people from separate generations and backgrounds, yet we appreciated some of the same details of this amazing tree.
Giving Them A Name
I like to name trees once I get to know them. It was time to name these two oaks, which is what I was hoping the day’s climb would reveal to me.
We name trees because they are living beings and companions, much the same as why we name pets. It is a display of respect, gratitude and connection. It takes a special person to not only name a tree, but to tell other people that you talk to trees by name.
At the conclusion of our conversation that afternoon, she shared with me that she had named the trees years ago. The Grandfathers. Our climbing trees had already been named.
This encounter reminded me of the beauty and role trees play in people’s lives. I appreciate my personal relationships with individual trees. She gave me insight into what these two trees mean to her.
We can all look at the same trees, yet they will reveal the different aspects of their personalities to people who are ready to listen.
As our time together came to an end, it was time to prepare the tree. My intention that day was to get to know this tree better through time in its branches. I gained a greater appreciation and connection to The Grandfathers thanks to my new friend sharing her private time with them.
As a G.O.T.C. Recognized Facilitator & Master Instructor, I.S.A. Board Certified Master Arborist, and T.C.I.A. Certified Treecare Safety Professional, Curt has spent over 30 years dedicated to the study and care of trees.