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12 October 2011

The Joy of Climbing Trees

There is, in the yard, a couple of guava trees that in season bear fruits like there is no tomorrow. Passers-by, whether children or adults, invariably look up longingly at the tree which as fate would have it years ago one bird must have dropped a seed for it to grow and flourish right next to the front gate.

As I seem to have left behind my fondness for guava in childhood, the guavas inevitably ripen on their twigs and drop to litter the yard or the short driveway. The ants and other insects feast upon them; but there do not seem to be enough ants in the world to help clean up the litter because the falling guavas are just too many.

Sometimes, passers-by would approach the gate and reach up to pick the guavas that hang from the lower branches. Sometimes, they would summon the nerve to ask to come in. I am always more than willing to oblige, as each guava picked not only makes one person happy but also is one guava less to later sweep away.

Then, there are the children. What is it about children and guavas that they almost instinctively forget that they are Homo sapiens and frequently give in to a primal instinct to climb the guava tree? I have lost count of the number of times when I had to come out of the house to admonish the little rascals.

Sometimes, to be able to reach the lower branches, they daringly climb up to stand on top of the post that supports the gate. The surface is just a little over a foot long and even less wide. Some would, or so they think, clandestinely open the gates and sneak into the yard. Then, they would happily climb up the tree, all the while thinking they are being quiet; but the rustling of the leaves is always a dead giveaway.

I always fear that one kid would lose his grip and fall onto the concrete driveway. Hence, I am probably the tallest scarecrow in the neighbourhood. Albeit, sometimes when I am not busy, I let the kids in; but I discreetly supervise and always make sure I stand underneath the rascal who climbs on the off-chance that he will lose his grip and fall.

One afternoon, one of the neighbourhood boys politely asked to come in to pick some guavas. I said yes, and since I more or less know the boy, I thought it would be wise to come out just to see that he would be alright. The boy is probably about 6 or 7; skinny but, like many boys his age, wiry and with a spring to his step.

Did he have a pole with a hook, I asked him. No he did not. Before I could even tell him to go find one, he had grabbed the trunk of the guava tree and was up among the branches in a millisecond. Had I not been so preoccupied with playing the role of the adult, I would have applauded.

With his tiny fingers, the boy swung from branch to branch, picking the guavas as he went along. The resilient branches would sag as they took his weight; but the branches held on steadfastly to the rest of the tree as the boy held on to them. As I looked, fascinated, it seemed as though tree and boy were perfect for each other.

You are only picking the green guavas, I thought out loud. “Masarap pô, eh!” was the boy’s smiling and matter-of-fact reply. I did not have to say anything more. I understood.

For a moment, my thoughts streaked back decades gone by, to when I myself was the boy’s age. We had a small yard backside of the house where we lived inside the Base. Dad was the sort who would stuff anything into the ground because he found great joy in seeing things grow.

We had a guava tree there as well, along with two star apple trees beside and behind the house. Now that I come to think about it, I do not know why I fear so much for the kids who climb the trees in my yard when, once upon a time, I was frequently the one who Mom sent up to pick the guavas and the star apples.

Like the boy in the neighbourhood, I so loved the hard green guava fruits, which you had to laboriously gnaw at till you got to its sweet pink core. Although I loved climbing the star apple trees, I was not really fond of eating the star apple. I just loved climbing; and would boldly work my way towards the brittle branches near the top of the star apple tree just for the sheer pleasure of being there.

Among the things I loved most about growing up inside the Base was the number of trees that adorned its grounds. There were narra trees to climb when it was cicada mating season; mango trees to climb and shake for beetles; and the colourful muntingia calabura, a.k.a. aratilis, for its sweet little red fruits.

Ah, to be a boy again and not have to think twice about climbing trees!

My brief reverie was broken by the sight of the boy hanging dangerously onto a particularly fragile-looking branch and making hard labour of reaching out for one invitingly green guava. I bade the boy to come down and look for a pole instead.

As he sprinted off, though, I was thinking to myself that, if only I could shed the years – along with the size and weight that naturally came with them – I would have given that little boy a run for his money and gotten to the green guava fruit that he struggled to reach.

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