Does your Kid Need a Tree Kiss this Summer?

March 8, 2024 · 5 minute read
Does your Kid Need a Tree Kiss this Summer?

I only hoped my wife Amy wouldn’t look out the window the first time I put a harness on Brooke and sent her climbing into a tree on a rope.  Brooke, a seasoned 5-year-old, and her older sister, Anna, were my guinea pigs for testing out the concept of sharing the tree-climbing experience with Richmonders.

Truetimber was still a very young company when we founded Riverside Outfitters in 2005. Even before smartphones and social media, I was already concerned that kids didn’t seem to be spending as much time outdoors as they used to. I also noticed that our amazing park system was not being fully embraced and enjoyed. The main thrust of the new business was the establishment of Richmond’s first Recreational Tree Climbing program, which at the time was one of only a few of its kind in the nation.

Since then, thanks to Outdoor fun expert Scott Ross and world-class competition tree climber Jocelyn Lohs, our camps and programs have helped many thousands of Richmond youth develop intimate relationships with their natural world, and the camps have expanded to include environmental education and river skills.

If you have a young one in your house, and especially if you have a young one who is wrapped around their phone like a vine on a tree, be sure to let us do our part to help! 

 How do I know, you might ask, how much these fun and challenging experiences in nature can do for your kid? 

 I’ll let Brooke tell the rest of her tree-climbing story in the essay she wrote for her college applications. Don’t worry. Brooke helped me work out the kinks. It’s mostly just light tree kisses at camp these days:)

Tree Kisses

There’s a tree in my backyard, a magnificent silver maple. Or I guess, there was a tree in my backyard. It was taken down a while ago, once it started dying and was much more likely to fall on our house. There’s a sapling growing in its spot now, from a seed my dad saved from trying to sprout in our gutter.

For a while the yard felt empty without Silver there; even the sunlight fell through our windows differently. My sister and I used to run under her limbs when a breeze came through and try to catch all of the falling “helicopter” seeds. It was also the perfect tree for climbing, with low branches and a sturdy trunk. My dad would set up ropes and try to teach me how to climb. A foot there, grab that limb, pull yourself up, adjust your ropes, and find the next step. It was a somewhat painful skill to learn and to teach. A misjudgment of traction, losing balance, making the wrong jump, and leaving too much slack on your rope, could lead to scrapes and bruises that lasted for weeks. Trying to convince an eight-year-old to do something that more often than not ends in injury is quite the challenge. 

It was never an obstacle for my dad. I could be halfway up Silver and start crying because I scratched my knee, and he would yell up “It’s just a tree kiss! She’s saying hi!” Whether or not I truly believed him, I would always let out a laugh. And then I would keep climbing.

Once I landed back on the ground, the pain was forgotten and the blood had dried; only later would I remember I had a scrape to address. At that point, I didn’t remember the fear that came with it. It had become a reminder of my accomplishments, of working hard, of messing up, of getting better.

Tree kisses led me to grow up turning the innate fear of pain into pride. Every time I got a new injury with a good story I waited anxiously for my dad to come home so I could show it off and hear him tell me that I must have had a good day. I once busted my knee open scootering in our driveway, and, sobbing, said to my dad “This must mean I had a reallllly good day.” 

This mentality has altered my life in ways that I don’t always realize until later. I never back down from an experience for fear of getting hurt. When I was younger, it only applied to physical things—catching that humongous wave on my boogie board even though I might tumble. Jumping off the rope swing we found on the river. Paddleboarding the rapids standing up. So many of my greatest experiences (and scars) come from accepting pain as a part of a good day. 

As I got older pain took on many more forms, such as embarrassment, rejection, failure, heartbreak, and disappointment. Learning to embrace these was even more difficult than the fear of blood. These things can’t be fixed with a bandaid; they take time and energy and sometimes a really, really good hug, but you can’t see them. You can’t watch them heal or ease the pain. You have to give it the space and time to hurt and trust that it will get better. The worst part about these emotional pains is that you make the decision that causes them. Choosing to take the risk emotionally and facing the fallout carries more guilt and regret than any scrape or bruise could. The bad seems to cancel out the existence of good, and you wish we could go back and never take the chance in the first place. 

Despite our unavoidable tendency to regret, the truth is that we would be nothing without failure. So much of my life is made up of decisions I never would have made if I hadn’t been taught to accept it. I wouldn’t have started playing softball in my junior year of high school. I wouldn’t have been rejected by the guy I liked. I never would have discovered my best event in swimming, or gotten that scar on my elbow, or found my best friend, or been turned down by my dream school, or and or and or. There is a lot of pain that I could have avoided, but there are so many good days I would have missed out on.

-Scott and Brooke Turner

Riverside Outfitters Youth Camps