A couple of weeks ago Marica and I took a day trip to see my Mum. We all jumped in the car and did a cruise to a legendary corner of the river where – for as long as I can remember – there’s been a rope swing that takes you right out over the water below. Years ago, some brave (or foolhardy) public minded soul had climbed the huge cottonwood tree, swung a wire rope, and added a simple branch seat/grip at the bottom. It was all deceptively simple and easy. You grabbed the branch, ran out until the rope tightened, the bank sloped away, and away you went – lifting up, flying, you – the weight at the bottom of the pendulum, arcing around over the water and back to the shore.
Frighteningly, because the rope was long, the arc took a surprisingly long time to scribe. Your hands began to sweat and slip. Your muscles began to strain, then ache, then plead for release – and that would mean dropping into the uncertain green waters below. I never did – a) I can’t swim that well, b) I’m not given to dropping into unknown, and c) it would’ve meant giving up the struggle – and by which stage you were back on the bank. Or mostly so.
Today, the tree has been replaced with a single (possibly taller) pole, reinforced with wire rope struts, a long steel rope, a nice padded hand grip, and a sturdy (comfortable) seat. Who would’ve thought health and safety legislation would have anything other than a compliance demand?
So, without much further ado, I climbed on board, and with a flutter of fear, launched. The arc was as long as ever. That silent, meditative scribing of invisible lines in space. Body memories flooded back in – fear of heights, ground speed rush, the thrill, the change of visual perspectives. I’ve swung of a similar length of rope we installed under the Whangaehu Bridge. Spent hours straining muscles, and days aching afterwards. It’s a fantastic exercise. But mostly, I love how everything seems to go silent, once you leave the ground, and the rope takes over.
The image above is from a video I made at the time. I think it’s sad how in our rush to protect kids from harm we don’t allow them the opportunity to build tree huts, yell like Tarzan, fall out of trees, and get blistered hands from rope swings. We do allow them to live in all kinds of violent and vile situations and then pretend to be surprised and hurt by the damage that befalls them. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t protect our kids, what I am suggesting is that we can make stimulating and engaging environments for them – usually the more economically (not cheaper) the better – leaving room for their imaginations and spirits to soar. There’s learning and values for a lifetime to be gained there.