My neck hurts from looking up so much.
“It’s high,” I whisper to my husband standing next to me.
“It is,” he says more confidently than me.
My shaking hand grips the cold metal rebar and I start to climb a tree that is higher than Niagara Falls, a twenty story building or the Statue of Liberty.
There are no ropes or nets to catch me if I slip through the bars and there is no guarantee I will make it all the way to the top or back down to the bottom.
Prior to coming to the South East forest of Western Australia I had no idea that fire tower trees even existed. Instead of cutting down trees to have the space to build fire towers, the Australia Forest Service decided they would embed metal pegs into the trunk of the tallest tree in the forest, the Kari Tree. In doing so they created a living adventure for those whom wish to free climb the highest tree in the forest.
Walking up to the base of the massive Dave Evans Tree for my first climb I felt my stomach tighten, hands sweat and breathing increase. I questioned if I were ready to ascend this giant, not freeze half way up nor succumb to the fear of slipping through the pegs. The top is so distant I cannot see it from the ground. With a deep breath and intense focus I stepped up onto the first peg and away from the security of the ground. Numbness soon overcame my hands as they tightly gripped the cold steel pegs. Despite the early morning dampness, sweat ran down my back. I found myself leaning into the tree as I developed a slow yet steady rhythm of removing one hand to pull myself up while the other hand remained firmly grasped to the peg. Not wanting to look down my shaky leg would then search the air until it found the next unevenly spaced peg. It was as if the physical touch of leaning into the tree provided me an illusion that my entire body weight was not suspended by one piece of metal stuck into the tree.
I was less than half way up the tree when my foot failed to find the peg on its own. Some of the peg distances were so far that it required my body to be fully extended reach to the next peg. With hands grasping tight I looked down to find the peg. I distinctly remember not wanting to look down until I had reached the top, yet in that moment I felt as if all time had stopped as I stared down this massive tree trunk to the ground below. There was such an energizing stillness to the forest. There was no one else in the forest, no sounds of cars, streets or shops. I was privileged to be suspended in this giant tree with this unique and amazing perspective.
There were three climbable trees and the final assent was slightly different for each. The top of the fire towers had a basic metal floor, wire mesh on the sides, a roof and enough room for a maximum of six standing people. The branches came out from under the metal floors like the arms of an octopus extending their reach for maximum sunlight. Yet each top offered an almost unobstructed view of the forest surroundings.
Although I had some anxiousness before each climb I was surprised at how quickly my confidence and ease of heights steadied as I climbed the third and final tree. My stomach gave me little to no butterflies other than a healthy adrenaline kick to remind to stay sharp and focused. My hands firmly grabbed each peg and my legs did not shake as they found each peg to stand on. I had now transformed into a tree climber. I was reminded of how much experience and repetition can bring confidence to life activities. Whether the action is to play the guitar, think positive thoughts about oneself, or in this case climb to the top of a fire tower tree – repetition and habit play a huge role in how we react to the world around us.
To me traveling parallels the act of climbing those kauri trees, an unknown challenge with no guarantee of success; a calling that I must try to answer or I will be burdened knowing I did not try. Travelling to new places and pushing my boundaries gives me the biggest freedom I could hope for: freedom of my mind knowing I tried to achieve a goal I set forth with no guarantee of the outcome.
About the Author: Tiffany Soukup is a freelance writer working her way around the world with her husband Chris. Together their goal is to live on all seven continents. Follow their stories at www.vagabondway.net.