A Fortress in the Treetops
A North Georgia writer remembers a childhood mission accomplished—and reminds us how simple life can be when you’re only eight years old.
Do kids still sit on their front porch steps? Do they tarry for hours on end—or even for a few minutes—pondering their future and dreaming big dreams? I did. Short-term pondering, in the moment of that day’s adventures. Where would I go, and what would I do today? Not “what will I be when I grow up?”
The three of us–Mother, Mitzi and I–lived in a tiny frame house on West Main Street in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Back then, Blue Ridge was a pre-tourist town and life truly was simple. Our house was on the “other side of the tracks,” but not in how that phrase usually implies. The railroad tracks literally divided East Main and West Main. We lived in a time when we rarely had our doors locked and we knew our neighbors. Our curfew to come in from playing outside was when the streetlights came on. And the seasons came and went, each holding its own wonderment and possibilities.
Just beyond the front porch steps of the little house on West Main were two postage stamp-sized patches of yard separated by a hopscotch-able sidewalk. Each patch of grass was home to a perfect-for-climbing tree, the exact tree most kids long for. At eight years old, I appreciated these maples not for their beauty, but more for their strength and their role in my play day.
It was late spring, early summer in 1967, and the day held all sorts of potential. School was out, and Carefree was my middle name. I bounded outside in my best play clothes: cutoff shorts and sneakers. I plopped down on the steps to contemplate where the day would take me. I remember the sky was blue, the mountain temperature perfect. The trees were full in their unassuming splendor. And at that moment, I saw the perfect hideaway, a fortress of sorts.
I wondered…what could I do while sitting perched like a bird up in that tree, hidden away from the world? And that’s when a brilliant idea came to my eight-year-old self. A covert mission of sorts: I would climb the tree and then change my clothes—well, at least my shirt so as not to fall and break my neck—without a single passerby ever being the wiser.
Before I could change my mind, I ran inside to get an extra shirt. I'd like to tell you I had a camo shirt on standby, but that was not the case. With no time to waste, I just chose one from the top of the stack. It was a brightly colored, hand-me-down V-neck popping with 1960s hippie-like flowers. If I had been trying to hide in a field of wildflowers, it would have been perfect!
"That’s when a brilliant idea came to my eight-year-old self: I would climb the tree and then change my clothes—well, at least my shirt so as not to fall and break my neck—without a single passerby ever being the wiser."
I went back out to the tree. I looked to my left and then to my right and waited until I was sure no one was watching, and extra shirt in hand, up, up, up I went. I climbed far enough up to scope out the absolute best dressing room available, inside a green-leafed cocoon in the branches of that glorious tree. I took a deep breath and set about making the switch.
Safe in my little world, I hurriedly changed my kid uniform and sat there smiling sneakily. I had done it! I had just pulled off the most elaborate scheme. Now, I wondered, do I take it one step further and go back inside, get a snack and climb back into my fortress? Or should I just consider my mission accomplished and move on to the next big thing?
With so much daylight left, I chose the latter.
To this day, I see the springtime maples as so much more than splendid shade trees to carry us through the heat of summer. I’m able to recall the winds of fall stripping it of its leaves, fashioning a carpet of red and gold and brown. I see it naked and leafless in the winter but standing ever so proudly as a backdrop for the best built snowman on the street. I feel the joy of my imagination, like the warmth of the sunshine falling softly on my face.
I see my front porch steps. And I yearn for the simplicity of my eight-year-old existence.
Born and raised an hour north of Atlanta in once sleepy Ellijay, Georgia, Cyndi Green lives in nearby Calhoun with her husband of thirty-two years, Mike. With two children raised and retirement within arm’s reach, taking a breath and slowing the pace are first on her list.