The Sweet Gum Tree ~ by Stanton Lanier (Copyright 2012, not to be re-published without permission)
I loved to climb trees in North Carolina as a boy. Our yard had pines, dogwoods, a few tall hardwoods and a persimmon tree. But across the street was a giant sweet gum tree. This was the dream climb.
The sweet gum tree towered above the rest. The little green, prickly round balls were captivating. They were brilliant green in the spring and summer, and turned brown and fell to the ground in the fall. The trunk was way too big to put my arms around. The top seemed a hundred feet higher. Once you reached the highest branch you could sit on, the world seemed so much smaller down below. You would sway a foot or two in the wind up there. It was only pleasure though – no fear.
It was always fun throwing the sweet gums from up in the tree. “Projectile DNA” is just hardwired into boys. One time some friends and I decided to see if we could hit a car as it drove by. My heart raced. What would happen if we actually hit one? We found out. The screech of tires skidding scared us half to death. A man got out, shook his finger up at the tree yelled something. It sounded like he was saying “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I recall butterflies in my stomach as I was throwing the balls – followed by a gasp as I feared death at the hands of sweet gum road rage! Thankfully the driver decided not to climb the tree to get us. As the car drove away we all sighed with relief and started to retell the story to each other. We didn’t need to throw any more that day.
My soul was stirred every time I climbed that sweet gum tree. There were secret things I discovered up there… freedom from worry, the independence of a bird, the choice to pause and take in the beauty, the awesome power of nature, the wonder and simplicity of childlike faith. I was part of something a lot bigger than myself. It was like I had a part in the story. There did not seem to be any limitations on what was possible in this life.
Did you have a sweet gum tree or favorite childhood hideaway? Where do you find simplicity?