The street I live on has no grass verges, no creeper-clad houses, no planters or leafy squares. Hurrying to work or home again, you could easily see the city as nothing but cement and steel.
Yet look up and growing above it all is a lofty lime, its upper branches scratching at the sixth floor windows of a tower block. I daydream about standing in that high apartment then stepping out into the canopy of the tree, the branch a wooden tightrope into another world.
Even in the most crowded parts of our towns and cities, trees provide aerial playgrounds on every street corner. In spring and summer they offer a rare urban phenomenon – a hiding place. By escaping into their branches we perform a magic trick, a kind of everyday vanishing act. It only takes a few skyward leaps and we can travel from the inner city to deep country. Climbing higher we forsake the 21st century entirely, entering a primeval world of leaves and lichen.
Alone in the treetops we can find inspiration and space to indulge our imagination. The new perspective a branch gives on familiar ground is surprising - you only need remove yourself a little from the world below to see it anew.
Trees also offer infinite variety. The urban climber will discover different traits in different species, like the sturdy branches of an oak or the elastic arms of an ash. We learn as we climb and our intent focus reveals hidden details; the insect life hiding in the bark or the birds nesting above.
In a risk-averse age, children are more likely to climb trees on their phones than in reality.
Adults are also constrained, by irrational fears and social conditioning - most of us are too embarrassed to be seen climbing trees.
If we cease to climb our personal connection to the trees will be lessened and in a few generations, the instinct to reach for the branches may pass away altogether. Next time you make your way across the city, remember to look up.
Jack Cooke is the author of The Tree Climber’s Guide, published by Harper Collins in April 2016.
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