Sunday, January 23, 2011

C is for...

not 'the' trestle

C is, concussion, canoeing, courage, climbing

C is for...climbing. And courage too but that comes in later.

I don't remember if I was much of a climber when I was a kid. I remember we had a chinese tallow tree in our backyard because in the summer we would have chinaberry wars. I think the tree was probably pretty young and so was I and I may or may not have climbed in it. As vivid as some of those memories still remain, there are not many of them. I know we were forbidden by our mother to climb in the young mimosa tree in the front yard. I remember I was furious with one of the neighbor boys and I went over to his house and 'climbed right up him' as I heard it described later but I don't know if that counts. Billy Hughes. I don't remember why I was so mad but I still remember his name.

When I was six or seven we moved to the house I did the rest of my growing up in which was carved out of the piney woods at the edge of the city. Our street paralleled a railroad track, took a 90˚ left turn, another 90˚ right turn and then lazed off to the right running parallel to the bayou and ending in a cul-de-sac. Minimum lot size was one acre and most people had several. On the other side of the bayou was (is) one of the largest city parks kept undeveloped except for a few areas.

We had only one acre and half of it was kept wooded with a thick layer of pine needles on the ground (and pinecones, you went barefoot out there at your own peril) and though these trees and I were definitely big enough to climb you can't really climb pine trees. Everyone else mostly kept their extra space wild as well, so we kids had lots of woods and ravines to roam around in and though our house was not one of the ones that backed up to the bayou, no one minded us kids cutting through their properties to go play down there. I imagine I did my share of clambering and climbing.

One day when I was about 12 or 13 I think...I don't remember exactly how old I was. Before I became a 'teenager' I'm sure because by then I had abandoned that kind of play in the woods. Young enough to confuse stupid with invincible but old enough to be out there by myself without worrying anybody about being gone all day...I decided for whatever reason...I could have wanted to explore on the other side of the bayou or I might have wanted to get to the top as a short cut to the 7/ climb to the top of the train trestle I had finally come too as I had wandered along the bayou's edge. This was the same train track that our street ran parallel to when you first turned off onto it and this was the trestle that bridged the bayou for the train.

I was out there by myself and with no one to dissuade me from this bone-headed idea, scaring me with how dangerous it was, I started climbing up. There is a big new modern trestle over this spot now but back then it was one of those old timber creosoted bridges. Lower down the cross pieces were closer together but as I got higher they got farther apart until finally I could go no higher. The track above me was out of reach. And then I looked down.

I don't know how high that trestle was. 30 feet? 40? I don't know what the grade slope of the land was at that point where I was on the bayou in relation to street level. But from where I was crouched looking down, it was pretty damn high. It might as well have been 60 feet or 100. High enough that if I fell it would seriously injure me if not outright kill me so I did what any respectable kid would do. I froze with fear and cried. Couldn't go up and couldn't get down. I don't know how long I sat up there. Long enough to get bored and over my initial paralyzing fear. Long enough to talk some sense into my head. No one knew where I was and I wouldn't be missed til dinner and then no telling how long it would take for them to find me. Long enough to convince myself that if I had gotten up there, I could get myself back down. Long enough to know that if my parents had to call out for my rescue, they'd kill me themselves.

And so I finally gathered up my courage and started my shaky descent down. Obviously I made it. I was so glad to be on the ground again I sat down and cried a little more. I got home, no one had missed me and I never mentioned it to anyone. I knew that it was a stupid thing to do in hindsight and telling about it would only bring me grief.

Later in my adult life I found myself in many a scary and precarious situation boulder scrambling in mountains and in river canyons, scaling cliff faces and middens, following goat tracks to get up to the paleo-native american shelters to look at the pictographs and paintings they left behind.

I'd like to say I had learned some sort of lesson that day but apparently not. Maybe it was the courage that stayed with me.

*I have changed the font.


  1. Hi Ellen!

    I know your new font reflects your unique and artistic nature, but I have to tell you that it makes me a bit dizzy, and invariably I quit reading before the end - leaving me frustrated at not getting the whole story! Am I the only one voicing a problem with the font?
    Just wanted to let you know why my comments have been sparse of late. This is not meant to offend in any way - just wanted to give you my honest feedback. :)

  2. Hi Bonnie. No offense taken. I'm sorry to hear you have trouble with it. I was thinking about changing it again. I had done a post recently where I said I was trying a new one but I didn't like it so edited it back. I'll have to try something else.

  3. ellen i have this idea that scaling heights on a physical object is a metaphor for the non physical challenges that come along. i'm scared of heights. really scared - jelly leg scared. but i get the need to be up there. just because. such a cool story telling. thanks. by the way - i like the font. i use it myself on work for my class. steven

  4. Holy cow. You are so brave! I would never have had the nerve to climb up there. Thank god you were ok!

  5. Reya, I'm not sure 'brave' is the right adjective.

  6. I'm sure there's a lesson somewhere in there that you learned ... As far as you went one way, you can backtrack, or courage comes in time, or you'll think of a way out of a situation. Some wisdom came from this day that stays with you still.

  7. Beautifully written Ellen! I love when the young you hanging on the trestle realizes you have 3 options and the first two probably mean death!

    It was an exercise in courage - and a solitary one. You had no support or safety net and you did it! It must have emboldened you (after you stopped shaking) for future adventures. Glad you write about them here!

    This font is much easier to read - but perhaps a funky compromise is still possible, so that you can be that out of the box, unique stylist that you are! Thanks for this accomodation. I'm so happy to have been able to read it!

  8. I was a bit of a climber in my youth.

    I know too much to do that now. :-)


    p.s. I actually changed my font size to read a 14 (or is it 16?) quite some time ago. I figured if it was easier for me to see, it was probably easier for my readers as well!

  9. That bit about climbing until you can get neither up nor down I know very well indeed.

    I am not sure if it is always just a dream or if it is real, but it has happened to me many times. It is very frightening indeed.

    This story was extremely well told - you always write well - I won't say I 'enjoyed' it because of the feelings it awakens in me but I did read it with great attention.

    I have no problem with your font.

  10. I have a similar story, but I was a LOT younger, and it was only a stoop I couldn't get down from :) I should write about it on my blog. Heh.

    I like that you learned a lesson - that you thought about it long enough to reason your way to a solution. That's part of becoming an adult. Doesn't mean we don't continue to do crazy things though.

  11. This is exactly the sort of dumb thing I would have done (actually, I did!) when I was a kid. We would have been dangerous together. But if you're lucky enough to survive the exploit, it goes a long way towards confidence. (Not that I would recommend these kinds of antics to my children.)
    I agree w/Bonnie. This font is a little tough on these old eyes, or maybe I just need some stronger readers!

  12. Ellen - I enjoyed this read, it reminded me of things I have done, still do in fact (as you know!)
    Better to have tried it once than never know ...

  13. Ellen,

    Love this! Reminded me so some similar things I did as a kid. We were invincible then!

  14. Climbing UP is easier and more fun, encouraging- coming down is more perilous- gravity and nothing really to push against - coming down is difficult- not just metaphorically. Lately I would rather climb than descend.
    We did incredibly dangerous , foolish things in our youth- it's called learn or die, I think...

  15. Yeah, you're very brave. I can't climb. And if I do try, I feel like I'm soooo far up and I'm only a few feet from the ground. Meh.

  16. I'm the exact same way - I keep climbing places that terrify me, and have been doing it since I was a kid. The weird thing is that I'm afraid of heights, but I only seem to remember that once I'm already up way past the point of terror!

  17. You're like a superhero ;)

  18. That is amazing - I think we all did those kind of things as kids. But we survived. :)

    I only have one phobia and it developed later in life and that is of exposed heights. Roofs, catwalks, ladders and trestle bridges.

    I might have done it as a kid, but not now. Keep up the crazy courage. :) I envy you.

  19. "Young enough to confuse stupid with invincible" that made me think of me climbing to the top of a mango tree in the middle of a hurricane.

    You are a brave one, my lady.

  20. I like the font! Easy to read. Courage for me came and comes in doses of conquering fear. Though fear still comes, courage rises sooner... sometimes. I think the courage stays!

  21. I used to climb lots as a child and feel quite queasy when I think of what i did. All evaporated as an adult. Didn't seem to bounce as well. Loved this post.

  22. The narrator of my story "The Falling Lady" falls from a trestle. This made me remember that.

  23. Hey Ellen,
    One of my early jobs with MaBell was installer/repairman. In that job, I had to climb poles.
    I went to climbing school in Jackson, Mississippi.
    My class had one of the first women pole climbers in our company.
    The instructors gave us a headful of instruction on how not to "cut out" on a pole. The woman was a fearless climber. I was a little more tentative.
    But she cut out on the ten foot pole and somehow got a creosote splinter as big as a pencil in the calf of her leg. She pulled the needle-nose pliers out of her pouch and snatched the splinter out. I almost passed out, but somehow kept the blood flowing to my head and remained conscience.
    As strange as it sounds, seeing how that woman reacted that day, removed my fear of high places.
    Reading your story was kind of like that.
    Good job.

  24. I'm not at all good at climbing and the idea of even trying would never have occured to me. I like this story very much and can see your 12-year-old self sitting there having a cry, just stuck. A 12-year-old today would probably text her mom in the "I'm stuck up a train trestle" moment of panic.

  25. I remember being in that situation a time or two. Scared to move, but knowing if you didn't it would be much worse for you. I'm glad you make it down, safe and sound.

  26. Brave? or crazy? I (little brother) spent a lot of time down at the trestle although never tried climbing up it. We always just walked up the embankment. Of course, we DID on occasion walk along the tracks across the bayou. Which was REALLY stupid because if we got caught in the middle when a train was coming, there would have been no way to get off before the train arrived (much too long for a short legged 6 year old). The spacing of the ties was all wrong so you had to be REALLY careful walking or fall through.


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