Every time I read this particular story, a new detail stands out that I might have missed the last time I read it. Writing it took no time at all since I just let the words out and they fell where they may; but somehow, even now, I still have to appreciate my parents and the blessings that I kept stumbling into. While I originally wrote this for a particular lesson I wanted to pass on to my son, I’ll leave that to your imagination, and hope the story tells you whatever you need to know today.
“And it’s done!” I crowed, my voice a proud echo amongst the rustling leaves. Stepping back, I let my gaze travel up the sturdy trunk to where my latest feat of engineering perched precariously. The tree house loomed about twelve feet high, nestled in the embracing arms of the grandest oak, or whatever this tree was, on the block. Sunlight filtered through its leaves, spattering the wood with shifting patterns of gold and green.
My hands, marked by slivers and calluses far beyond my eight years, found their way to my hips as I admired the structure. It was my kingdom in the sky, spacious enough for me and my four comrades-in-arms, with room to spare for our wildest adventures. Having just secured the ladder—a twisty concoction of planks and baling wire—I felt a surge of satisfaction warm my chest. Kadi might be younger by a mere nine months, but even she couldn’t match my handiwork.
“Time for the moment of truth,” I murmured to myself, eyeing the ladder with both anticipation and a hint of mischief. My fingers, small but deft, wrapped around the bottom rung, squeezing as if to challenge its strength. With a hearty laugh, I jiggled it roughly. “Ahahahahahah, whew! That one’s on tight,” I announced to an audience of chirping birds and swaying branches.
I straightened my shirt, feeling the fabric stick to my skin—evidence of the day’s labor—and stepped up. My boots thudded against the wood as I climbed, each step met with another vigorous shake. “Not bad, Cree, not bad at all,” I thought, a grin spreading across my face like wildfire. Each rung was a testament to my determination, spaced nearly a foot apart, just how I’d planned it.
“Mom should see this,” I mused, picturing her shaking her head with that mix of exasperation and pride she wore like a second skin. Dad would’ve whistled through his teeth, impressed despite himself. But they weren’t here, not right now—it was just me and my creation, two forces of nature meeting in a test of wills.
“Almost there,” I whispered, counting the rungs under my breath. “Nine, ten…” With every heave and ho of my frame, the treehouse drew closer, and my heart raced with the thrill of conquest. “Cree Dalene, king of the high castle!”
“Wait ’til I show Weston and the gang,” I thought, the names of my friends lighting up in my mind like fireflies at dusk. We’d have a proper fortress, a place where our laughter could mingle with the wind, unbound and free.
“Almost… there…” My breath came out in short puffs, the exertion mingling with excitement as I reached for the next challenge, ready to claim victory over gravity and childhood ambition alike.
“Eleven… and twelve.” My fingers curled around the final rung, a grin tugging at the corners of my mouth. This was it, the crowning moment. With a hefty tug, I intended to seal my ascent with the satisfying clank of metal on wood—a grand finale to my solo performance. “Here goes nothing,” I murmured, summoning every ounce of strength left in my eight-year-old arms.
“Yaaah!” The word morphed into a high-pitched shriek as the world tilted violently. A sudden rush—no, a plummet—backward, and the blue sky swapped places with the blur of green leaves and brown branches. “Uhh,” the air whooshed from my lungs in a startled gasp, my body enveloped in a cloud of dust that danced in the sunlight’s lazy beams. It coated me like flour on a baker’s apron, settling into the lines of my palms and the creases of my clothes.
“Whoa, that was scary,” I thought, lying there in stunned silence, pebbles prickling against my skin through my shirt. I blinked rapidly, trying to make sense of the stillness that had befallen me. “Move, Cree, move,” I willed silently, but my limbs didn’t respond. They lay oddly twisted, like the roots of the very tree that had been my perch moments ago.
“Okay, okay, don’t panic,” I whispered to myself, the words barely escaping my lips. But panic was creeping in like ants at a picnic, uninvited and persistent. “What if every bone’s busted? What if I’m… dying?” The questions darted through my mind, fast and frantic. “Why’d I have to build this so far from the house?”
I tried to yell, to call for anyone who might hear. “Heeelp!” The cry was more of a croak, my throat dry and constricted. Silence answered back, thick and oppressive. The backyard seemed to stretch on forever, meters of solitude. My neighbors’ houses loomed in the distance, empty and quiet, their occupants unaware of the drama unfolding in the Dalene’s yard.
“Mom, Dad…” Their names hovered on my lips, a plea, a prayer. Would they know? Could they sense that their little builder, their daring dreamer, lay grounded, a fledgling fallen from its nest?
“Help,” I tried again, weaker this time, my voice drowned out by the rustling leaves above. A bird chirped merrily, oblivious to my plight. I squeezed my eyes shut, imagining what Kadi would say if she saw me now. She’d probably laugh, toss her head back, and tease me with that annoying sing-song voice, “Cree can’t climb!”
But I could climb. I did climb. And I’d climb again. Just… maybe after a little rest. Or a lot of rest. Maybe after Mom’s cookies, and Dad’s stories. Yeah, that sounded nice. Very nice indeed.
The hum of the lawnmower’s engine was like a distant buzz in my ears, growing louder as it neared. “He must be emptying the grass! Yea!” I thought, a flicker of hope igniting within me. I tried waving an arm, but it flopped back to the ground, limp and uncooperative.
“Cree, get out of the way!” Dad’s voice cut through the haze of my pain, sharp and urgent. His figure, astride the riding mower, loomed larger as he approached, the smell of freshly cut grass preceding him.
“Wh-what happened?” Dad’s tone dived from annoyance to concern in a split second as his gaze landed on the sorry state of the ladder—and me.
“Da-ad,” my voice came out in a pathetic whisper, “I can’t move.”
“Whoa there, buddy.” Dad’s shadow fell over me, his blue eyes wide with worry beneath the brim of his well-worn hat. He killed the engine and the sudden silence felt heavy. “Let’s have a look at you.”
He leaned down, and those hands—the ones that had taught me to hammer a nail and catch a fish—were now gently probing around my limbs. “Well, I should think not… you probably got that whole bag of wind knocked out of you.” His voice was calm, but I caught the glance he shot towards the house, likely calculating how fast he could get help if needed.
“Bag of wind,” I mumbled, wanting to chuckle, but it hurt too much. Dad scooped me up with ease, cradling me against his chest. The scent of his aftershave mixed with the earthy aroma of soil and sweat, a combination that spelled ‘Dad’ in my young mind.
As we headed toward the house, I watched the clouds skitter by overhead, fluffy and white against the brilliant blue. They looked so solid, like you could jump on them and bounce around. Not that I’d be jumping anytime soon, I reckoned. The backyard shrank away, my treehouse a silent sentinel to my misadventure.
“Mom’s gonna freak,” I whispered, half-worried, half-amused by the thought. Even climbers took a tumble now and then though.
“Your mom’s made of sterner stuff than you think,” Dad said, his boots thudding on the wooden porch steps. “Besides, you’re a Dalene. It’ll take more than a spill to keep you grounded for long.”
“Grounded, huh?” I quirked an eyebrow, trying to muster some of my usual mischief. “Accidental adventures seem to be my specialty,” I thought, closing my eyes for a moment. Inside, the familiar smells of home enveloped us—the lemony tang of furniture polish, the comforting scent of something baking.
“Here we go,” Dad said as he laid me down on the couch, the cushions embracing my aching body. “You just take a load off while I call your mom.”
“Here, drink this.” The water was a soothing balm on my dirt-encrusted lips, washing away the grit and the shock in one cool gulp. I never appreciated hydration quite as much as I did then, sprawled on our family couch with every muscle in my body singing an anthem of protest.
“Is Cree here?” The voice was unmistakable – Weston’s. It carried that perpetual hint of excitement, like he was always just on the cusp of another grand adventure.
“Yeah, come on in,” Mom called out from somewhere beyond my line of sight, and the screen door clapped shut with a familiar whack.
“Whoa, what happened to you, Cree?” Weston asked. He leaned against the door frame, hands buried deep in his pockets, peering at me with those bright blue eyes that seemed to dance with mischief.
“Ah, you know, just tested gravity. It still works,” I quipped, trying to brush off the incident with a bravado I wasn’t entirely feeling. A frisson of discomfort rippled through me, but I forced it down. Cree Dalenes didn’t dwell on mishaps; they laughed in their face and moved on.
“Tested gravity, huh? Cool, wanna go riding?” His words were casual, the offer hanging in the air between us like a lifeline back to normalcy.
“Sure, let me grab my hat.” The words were out of my mouth before I fully registered the ache in my limbs. But the pain was temporary; freedom awaited. I pushed myself off the couch with more enthusiasm than grace, ignoring the twinge in my back as I bounded toward my room.
“Ready?” Weston’s grin was infectious as we met again in the hallway. He had that look about him, the one that said he was game for anything, anytime.
“Born ready,” I declared, adjusting my hat with a flourish that bordered on theatrical. The adrenaline coursing through me was a welcome distraction from the earlier tumble, a reminder that life was waiting to be seized by the reins, no matter how many times you got thrown off the saddle.
The kitchen was a blur of motion and aroma, the scent of fresh-baked bread permeating everything. Mom was at the counter, flour-dusted hands kneading dough that would soon morph into one of her legendary loaves. My boots clomped against the tile floor, the sound a drumbeat to the rhythm of our hurried escape.
“Whoa there, boys,” Mom called out, her voice slicing through the chaos like a lasso snapping in the air. “Cree, Weston, don’t do anything dumb on those horses.” She squinted at us over her glasses, her eyes sharp as hawk’s, even as her lips twitched with a barely contained smile.
“Us? Do something dumb?” I parroted back, feigning shock while trading a conspiratorial glance with Weston. His chuckle bubbled up like a creek after a spring thaw, all mirth and mischief.
“Never,” Weston added, his grin wide as the Montana sky. We were partners in crime, he and I—nothing could tether our wild spirits when we set our minds to an adventure.
“Promise, Mom,” I said, raising a three-finger salute with the solemnity of a boy scout, though my fingers itched for the reins and the wind in my face. The promise was made of rubber bands and bubblegum, meant to stretch and bend as the day unfolded. But she knew that, the unbridled joy of youth.
“Be careful,” came her softer admonition as we slipped past her. Her worry was a shadow that danced around the edges of her smile, a mother’s love that wanted to protect yet knew the importance of letting go.
“Will do!” I shot back over my shoulder, already halfway out the door. The sunlight outside beckoned, each ray a finger curling, calling us to the endless blue beyond.
“Man, your mom always knows what’s up,” Weston said as we burst into the golden day, his admiration for her only slightly less than his zeal for the escapades we planned.
“Yep,” I agreed, feeling a swell of pride for the woman who, in her way, was as much a part of our adventures as we were.
As we raced toward the little corral, the earth firm beneath our feet, the promise I had made to Mom began to dissolve like cotton candy on the tongue—sweet, fleeting, and impossible to keep. Our laughter rose to mingle with the birdsong, two untamed hearts galloping toward whatever horizon the day would reveal.