The little brown ranch house where I lived as a boy in Manchester-by-the-Sea had more than 50 acres of woods, streams, ravines, and rock formations just out its front door. Because of those woods, I often say I had a “Huck Finn childhood.”
I spent endless hours in the woods, exploring, wandering, and playing “war” or “manhunt” with my friends. In my child’s mind, they seemed vast and unknowable, and I found adventure, mystery, and peace in them.
One activity I loved as a kid was building tree forts. Many forts I built with a neighborhood friend who was three years older than I and who knew “stuff,” like how to find lumber and nails and use a hammer and saw. Construction was straightforward: Find three strong trees forming a triangle, spike in three beams along the trunks and a cross board to form the floor frame and three more about eight feet up for the roof. The floor, sides, and roof were enclosed by anything we could scavenge — plywood, random boards, and plastic sheeting.
After they were built, I loved occupying the forts. They were all ours, a child’s place away from the adult world and where other kids might not bother us. We filled them with items like candles, matches, firecrackers, wrist-rockets, Frito bags, penny candy, soda, old blankets and ratty chairs, books, Rolling Stones posters, my friend’s father’s old magazines, and whatever else we could get our hands on.
I remember one bright June morning, my friend and I had an idea: What if we took two wood pallets and hoisted them up high into the treetop above our fort? We’d have a view and could watch for any “enemy” neighborhood kids making an approach, spy on them, and then perhaps rain down rocks and acorns to scare them off. Maybe we’d get a glimpse of Singing Beach or spot cars whizzing by on 128. The possibilities seemed endless.
So we set out to build our treetop perch — a kind of crow’s nest on a ship. To build a ladder to our perch, we nailed shortened two-by-fours up the side of one of the trees, cutting away obstructing branches. We tied a rope to the wood pallets and as my friend climbed high up, he yanked and pulled, I lifted and pushed, and, with a great deal of effort and grunting, the pallets were lodged in the tree’s uppermost branches. We used the rope to lash the pallets together and to the branches. And we were done, sweating from our labor and proud of our accomplishment.
We then rested as the tree swayed in the summer wind, enveloped in green and above us blue sky. Surrounded by leaves and the rustle of air, we laid on our backs in our treetop perch, satisfied, blissful, smiling at each other in the dappled light and not saying much.
When I practice at Treetop Yoga Studio, I’ll often look out a window, focus on a treetop in the distance, and recall this childhood memory. I joined Treetop about six months ago, and I am rediscovering my breath, my strength, my balance, and an inner sense of peace here. At 53, I have aches and pains, both in body and mind, but yoga has taught me to go toward the discomfort, breathe through it, and let it go, over and over and over again.
“Transformative” is a word that gets tossed around with frequency these days. For me, yoga deserves the descriptor, and Treetop Yoga Studio and its people have played a big part in the transformation. As I see it, the transformation with a yoga practice is ongoing — it can be life-long and you do not receive a diploma. It happens every day.
When my limbs are quaking in a difficult pose, sweat is dripping off me, and my mind is muttering “really?!” to the yoga teacher, I think of the treetop perch I built in the woods with my friend in Manchester-by-the-Sea in the early 1970s. And it helps me through. In yoga, I learn to root down, feel the Earth beneath my mat, balance, listen, focus, breathe, and open up. With ongoing practice, I am expanding into those uppermost branches of self, where the light is, where the breezes blow, and where bright green leaves bud and unfurl in all directions.