Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ladders Are For Climbing

I grew up in a big old house. When my mother brought me home from the hospital, it was to this big old house, built like a cracker box, and when I went away to school, I left that big old house behind. But sometime in there, I developed this love for climbing ladders. Inside the house, the rooms were big and there was a long staircase that would get you to the upstairs bedrooms.
My bedroom was the smallest and it was at the top of the stairs. I loved running up the stairs as fast as I could and I loved my east facing room which I shared with my sister until she left home. The sunshine came in all morning and the breeze from outside made the thin white curtains flutter. Often I was in a hurry and I would leave my room, put both hands out to touch the wall and run down the stairs as fast as I could. My father, if he were home, would stop me or catch and remind me firmly that he didn’t want me to run down the stairs because I might fall. He was right, of course, and his instructions stuck in my mind.

A couple of times a year, my father would get out a big long ladder and set in up against the house in preparation for cleaning the chimney. I knew he dreaded this task. He was a man of few words seldom complaining, but when he got the ladder out, he went about his work grimly. He would climb the ladder holding his equipment in one hand, the other hand gripping the side of the ladder so tightly his knuckles would turn white. I would stand at the base of the ladder head all the way back, wishing so very much, I could go up with him. Up, up, he would go so slowly, finally reaching the edge of the eves. Ever so carefully he would maneuver his body and feet so that he could stand up on the roof. I would be down below cheering him on, and waiting the long wait until he would creep back down the ladder with the same carefulness that he had gone up with. He was afraid and I knew it, and he never did let me go up with him. He was right about that though because I was much too careless a child for quite some time.

There was another ladder in the house though, that I also loved, and I did get to climb it. Beside my bedroom was a door that led a closet. On the walls of the closet were two ladders and the ceiling in the closet was actually a hatch door that would open via a pulley, if you pulled on a rope that was attached to the back of it. One had to pull really hard until the door reached the tipping point, then hold back so that it wouldn't slam down too hard. It was a big door, and heavy, but it opened into the attic, which was a large space, full of so many interesting things, as attics often are. My mother went up there every so often to look for something, or to get something that she needed like metal berry buckets, and I longed to follow her up there. I would tag along behind her into the closet and watch her as she tugged on the rope, hoisting the door up and around so that it lay on the floor of the attic, and then she would climb effortlessly up, using a separate ladder for each foot, and disappear from my sight up there. As soon as I could, I learned to climb behind her using only one vertical ladder. At first she had someone stand below me to catch me if I fell. When I got to the last rung she would reach out her hand to help me make the last step without falling backwards. What a victorious sensation – to have climbed high, and now be in this different place with all sorts of trunks and boxes and furniture and books to delight my curiosity.

I found other ladders to climb as well – the barn had a ladder too that went to its’ attic, and that was free game. Once up there, I could swing open a large square door and look out over the yard. There was lumber stored up there and boxes of tiny little wooden furniture made by a family friend that had died long before. I remembered him as a strange fellow, but marveled at the patience and attendance to detail his work revealed. My brothers had tacked small pieces of wood horizontally onto the large trunk of an ancient apple tree in the field, making a ladder of sorts that would take me up to the sprawling crotch. If I could make it up without falling, I could view my kingdom from there and decide which limb I’d like to climb out on, or I could read a book, or listen to the birds or spy on the movements of my family, whatever they happened to be that day.

Well, I did grow up,moved away, got married, and had children of my own. David and I built our own house, and joy of joys, the day came when we were ready to put on the roof and then shingle it. That was the best few days of the whole project. I got to climb ladders all day and be up high. Often, when we were living in that house, the snow would fall deep and build up on the roof, and if the roof needed to be clean off, I was always eager to do it, climbing the ladder joyfully.
I’ve gotten a lot older now, but the love for ladder climbing has not diminished. I still love climbing the spruce pole ladder to the loft at camp. I’ve discovered there are sometimes ladders built to help hikers negotiate difficult mountain trails. Canon Mountain in the White Mountains has one, as does Moosilauke. And in the Adirondacks there are some near Avalanche Lake. Yes, ladders are for climbing. There is a charm about going up, each rung a pleasure not to be skipped over. Up, up, up you go, excited to reach the top. Who know what you will find above you? Who knows what views you will have.

The Bible talks about a ladder stretching from heaven to earth in Genesis 28, referring to Jesus. It's an interesting analogy that holds as much pleasure, charm and excitement as those that captivated me in my childhood.