That tall pine looked out of place there in that little patch of woods behind the Sexton’s garden. That whole hilltop had been timbered and plowed when they started farming back in the Thirties and had only gradually gone back to wilderness as the old man lost the energy and strength to keep the place cleared.
Most of the trees there were scrubby: sumac, sassafras, locust, post oak, wild cherry. And then there was this white pine, right in the middle of things, a good twenty feet higher than everything else around. All the kids were afraid to climb it. Someone would go two or three branches up, equal with the other trees, and then chicken out and come back down. I waited one afternoon until nobody else was around. I knew what I was going to do, and I didn’t want anyone around to razz or try to scare me or get me to fail.
I was really good at shinnying up trees back then. Skinny as a rail, and the contralateral movement – right arm, left leg; left arm, right leg – was more natural to me than walking.
It was a hot August afternoon and very quiet and I went into the woods and up the tree to the spot where I had been dozens of times before – where everybody had been before – but then I kept going. I wasn’t scared at all, even when the narrowing trunk swayed with me as I moved from branch to branch.
The view from the top was even better than I had expected. I could see all the way down the hill and into the town. I stayed there for a long time, sitting relaxed on one branch with my arms resting on another, watching the cars and the people moving along the streets of the town in the distance, seemingly in slow motion. All the world was unaware of me.
I took a bag of marbles from my pocket and wrapped the drawstrings around a high branch and left it there as my flag. Years later I climbed there again, this time in mid-winter.
My bag was still tight to the branch.