Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Tree Swing Incident

The tree swing incident is an event in my life that shaped my future. 

My family spends the day at two farms, one that our neighbor’s grandmother owns, everyone calls her Granny and the other that my aunt, uncle and cousin live on. The day is beautiful; the sky is sunny and the air is not too warm and not too cool. It is perfect summer day. 

At Granny’s farm, half way up a steep hill is an ancient oak tree; its branches reach for miles to the sky. Two tattered lengths of hemp rope hang low from one of the branches twenty feet off the ground sloping steeply away from the tree, connecting the branch to a two by four board. It is a scene from the cover of a magazine. A shaded oak tree swing lit by the warm summer’s light. 

My mom and I walk up the steep incline to the tree swing. Our legs start burning a little, much like they would if we had just like we walked up six flights of stairs. She sits on the swing to catch her breath. I look up and notice a branch that is providing us some cooling shade. 

I say, “Hey look up there,” pointing to the branch. “I bet you can’t touch that branch with your foot.” I know that my mom is afraid of heights and I don’t believe that she will take the challenge. But today is full of surprises. 

“You’re on”, she says. “Give me a push start.” 

I step behind her and pull back and the swing as I step back several paces. As I reach the perfect arch, where I cannot take another step backwards without losing my grip on the swing, I start a mad dash forward, the seat of the swing gains momentum in my outstretched hands. The swing leaves my hands at the other end of pendulum and my mom is launched skyward in her effort to complete the challenge. 

I walk back up the hill to the tree and root for her, even though I bet she couldn’t do it. As the swing comes back again, my mom folds her legs back to gain more momentum on the back swing. Then as the swing starts moving forward my mom throws her legs out propelling herself forward with just a little more momentum. 

Again and again she flies past me each time getting a little closer to the goal. Just as I thought she was about to give up, the leaves on the branch above us rattle and she lets out a little victory shout as her foot makes a solid connection with the branch. 

My mom drags her feet on the ground and with much less effort than it took to reach the branch, she comes to a stop. She stands up, takes a step away from the swing and points to it like a woman on a showroom floor, showing off a brand new sports car, and says with a little cockiness in her voice, “Let’s see you try it.” 

With the cockiness that only a twelve year old can muster I reply, “Piece of cake!” 

My mom provides me with the same start, although not nearly as effective as mine, and cheering the support I gave her during her successful attempt. Because I weighed twenty-five pounds more than my mom I was able to build my momentum faster than her. 

It wasn’t but four swings and my feet come within six inches of the branch, but no closer. I put my whole body into the next swing. On the backend of the swing, I throw my legs back as hard as possible and rock my upper body forward to gain the maximum momentum. The swing reacts appropriately. 

On the forward swing, I kick my legs out with all my might and rock my upper body back and the swing rockets forward and then up towards my goal. I watch as the branch comes closer and closer. 

Ten feet, I know that I have more than enough momentum to reach the branch. 

Five feet, I extend my toes out as far as they will go. 

Two feet, I let out my victory yell at little early in anticipation. 

Six inches, the branch moves away from me. 

I watch in slow motion as the branch passes horizontally in front of my face as I start slowing dropping away from it. I am not going to the target. I am now falling away from the branch in the wrong direction as my momentum carries me away from the tree and further out over the steep incline. 

I never heard the old hemp rope break, probably because it is rotted after twenty rainy winters in Oregon. It all happened so fast that I did not even realize that I was falling. 

I open my eyes and my family and the neighbors are standing over me. The only thing I hear is my mom, laughing and talking at the same time, “Thank God it was you, because that would have killed me.” I am lying on the ground taking inventory of my pains, which is everywhere, as everyone starts asking me if I am alright and our neighbor bends over, looks me in the eye and says, stone cold and straight faced, “I built that swing when I was fifteen years old and you broke it. You broke my swing.” Everyone laughed but me. 

I sit up and look back at the tree. I am over a sixty feet away from the tree. There is a twenty foot long skid from where I hit the ground to where I am now sitting. I feel like I was just hit by a freight train. I get up and hobble my way back to the pickup truck and lay down in the back. 

An hour later we arrive at my Aunt and Uncle’s farm. I am still feeling like I had been drug through a knothole and ran walked over by heard of elephants, but still I go to find my cousin out in the field to say hello, because he is my favorite cousin and I don't get to see him very often. He is riding his horse and is being a snobby little butt, so he ignores me. Since he is being a jerk and I am feeling a little less than myself, I walk over the fence to tell my mom I am going to go back to the truck. 

I feel a jolt, like lightning just touched me on the head. I scream out in pain and jerk back. I look and much to my amazement there was a little silver line running in a few inches in front of the real fence. I had just walked into an electric fence. I just walked away, with my head hung low. After that I spent the remainder of the day sleeping in the front of the truck. I was never taken to the doctor's office to get checked out, never had any checkups or exams or x-rays. That was the way things rolled in those days I guess; if you could get walk away from a three story fall your were good to go.  

I spent a day falling at least thirty (or more) vertical feet (since I fell away from the tree that was on a steep incline when I was a mere inches from kicking the branch that was at least twenty feet in the air) and then I was shocked by an electric cattle fence. I probably had a concussion because I lost consciousness when I landed on the ground, flat on my back. I was most assuredly in shock immediately after the fall and my body, although nothing was broken, felt like it has been put in a trash compactor. My body was put through all of that and still to this day the worse thing about that day is the fact that I lost a challenge to my mom, because I never touched the damn branch. I am defeated. 

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