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Tom Waltz

Copyright © 2001
All Rights Reserved


My cousin Chris grew up in a large city (at least by my standards) on the outskirts of South Detroit. I had always lived in a small farming community whose population often threatened, but never quite reached, 3,000--livestock included. Being from two entirely different environments, my cousin and I were always anxious to explore each other's domain. His, with the shiny lights and noisy streets that are the universal symbol for fast city living, was always a great curiosity to me; I found my adventures at his house to be exhilarating--if not a bit intimidating at times. And mine, with the cornfields and red barns that showcase Midwestern farm life, was a source (I believe) of great relaxation for Chris; a chance for him to get away from the city's gritty reality and experience life in the slow lane.

But, just as they say you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy, the city, too, leaves a permanent mark on its occupants, following them no matter where they might find themselves throughout their lifetime. This was certainly true for Chris, a born risk taker from off the streets. Not always happy to idly sit and let the world pass him by like I was, my cousin thrived on finding a new challenge every day. These challenges usually involved some risk of bodily harm, and many times--much to my dislike--I was the one to receive the resulting damage. None of the pain I experienced during our visits together, however, could compare to the injuries Chris sustained one crisp, spring afternoon when the grass was green, the puddles were wet, and the trees were ripe for climbing.

My parents owned two and one half acres of land, of which the last 20 yards or so was a steep sloping hill that acted as a bank of a large pond. This pond had been manmade in order to allow the county's largest river--the River Raisen--to pass uninterrupted into the next town. Much of my time was spent on the shores of that pond, capturing whatever aquatic creatures I might be lucky enough to get my hands on--frogs, turtles, crayfish and such. My cousin, being from the city as I mentioned before, never ceased to be amazed at the wonders the pond had to offer. How could I blame him? After all, it truly was heaven-on-earth for any young boy fortunate enough to be near it.

At the top of the pond's bank grew a large White Birch tree. The tree had grown at a curious angle, almost perpendicular in relation to the slope of the hill. This odd angle placed the tree's trunk and lower branches above the bank's ground, while the upper portion hung directly over the edge of the pond. As long as I could remember the tree had been there--never smaller or never bigger. Just there. Beyond that, it never really meant much to me. Until, that is, one day when my visiting cousin decided that it would be fun to climb and that I should join him.

I, being obedient to my extremely anti-tree climbing parents--not to mention afraid of heights--immediately refused and informed him that he would do well to forget the idea. Why did I waste my breath? No sooner had the warning-filled response left my mouth when my cousin, using his best alley savvy, turned his plan into a dare and labeled me a "chicken" if I failed to follow through.

Peer pressure is a potent weapon, especially amongst family members. Knowing that he would never let me forget my "yellow back" status should I refuse the dare, I had only one choice: I would have to join him in the tree climb.

Sensing victory, Chris walked to the base of the tree, straddled the trunk with both his arms and legs, and shimmied to the first branch. He knew it was only a matter of time before I would give in to his ploy and follow him up.

By the time I reached the first branch (a rather large one), Chris had already ascended to a position a good ten feet above me. My fear of heights caused me to move at a near snail's pace up the side of that old birch tree, and my cousin had nearly made it to the top before I even struggled my way to the third branch. One thing I can say for him: he sure was a good tree climber for a city kid. He moved quickly, with a reckless abandon I have yet to attempt with anything to this very day.

With nowhere to go but down, Chris decided to occupy his time by taunting me. Could I go any slower? He asked. Did I want my mama? Did my little handsys hurt? He was pushing all the right buttons--we both knew it. But what could I do? The further I got, the more paralyzed I felt, until I could finally climb no more. Halfway up and I was through. Yellow back or not, I was not going to continue.

I swallowed my pride and looked up, sure I would see the most disgusting look of smugness on my cousin's face. I was wrong. What I saw made my jaw drop.

Apparently, during my labors, Chris became bored and decided

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