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Human slingshot: Learning how not to fly from trees

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Children are indestructible (at least from my experience the older we get, the more fragile we get). Mother Nature’s planned obsolescence is best observed in how kids blindly get themselves out of risky situations.

Between the ages of 8 to 12, I spent most of my life in trees. I climbed trees while waiting for the school bus in the morning, I climbed trees as soon as I got home from school, I climbed trees at night when the branches were barely visible. The summer after fifth grade, my feet only touched the ground 20 times.

I wasn’t the only one. All the kids in the neighborhood climbed trees. Nymphs and dryads spent less time in trees than we did. While in the trees, we used to slingshot each other, and I don’t mean attack each other with silly rubber-bands tied to sticks. Slingshotting was the term we used when a group of us would all hang from the same branch to bring it down to ground level and then all but one of us would let go at the same time. The kid who held on was propelled twenty feet into the air at escape velocity (depending on the branch).

Most of the time slingshotting was harmless as long as the launchee held onto the branch or the branch was springy enough to hold onto the tree. The thrill of the slingshot was one of the few reasons anyone would ever get down from a tree. Flying through the air was definitely one of my favorite things to do with a tree (mostly because all the kay-eye-ess-ess-eye-en-gee never happened).

I don’t remember whose great idea it was to grab hold of the oak tree’s low branch — probably mine — but soon anyone who was anyone took to the branch like ancient Egyptians dragging a limestone slab. Ethan and Nathan, the new kids on the block, quickly found places towards the edge of the branch. Zach, the half-giant worth at least ten 12-year-olds, grabbed hold of the meaty part of the branch right next to me. Cyclops (his name was also Zach, but we called him Cyclops on account of his glass-eye) was on my other side, and Toby took position at the end completing the phalanx. So in total we had the strength of 15 children pulling at this branch. Now I know trees can’t move, but I swear this oak was twisting the other way because I could feel my feet slipping as the tree struggled to keep us from breaking its arm.

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Photo provided by Brandon Taylor

Everyone started counting down from “THREE!” — I lowered my center of gravity and loosened my knees to prepare. Then “TWO!” — my stomach dropped, and I started having reservations. “ONE!” — I blacked out.

I woke up 60 feet from the tree.

It felt like my left wrist had been pulled apart and someone had taken a sledgehammer to my ribs. For the first time in my life, I realized just how fast the Earth spins.

Everyone ran towards me, telling me I looked like a Frisbee as I flew through the air. I would have come up with a witty remark, but if I opened my mouth I would have thrown up the shaken concoction my organs had become.

Zach and Toby helped me limp my way home. I told my mother I fell from a tree (which was technically true), and she took me to the hospital where I was relieved to find out I only sprained my wrist and bruised ribs.

The next day when I went to see if Cyclops could come outside, I learned he also sprained his wrist and bruised his ribs. I haven’t climbed a tree since.

Photo provided by Brandon Taylor

Brandon Taylor, journalism student, spent his childhood falling out of trees and battling as a samurai warrior.