Learning how to climb trees, particularly fruit trees was another interesting episode in my growing days. It would not be a complete series in our lives if boys my age could not climb a tree. However, climbing trees was not only confined to boys, even girls dared to indulge in this rough undertaking and some did better than few other boys in my neighbourhood and both Kak Arah and Kak Fuzi were among them.
The compound of our grandparents’ house had few fruit trees that we could climb. We had rambutan trees, mango trees, one ciku tree and one nangka (jackfruit) tree. The only tree we could not climb was the coconut tree although at times we tried but we always got stuck halfway. Once I tried but as I reached halfway, I could not go further and remained at the spot for quite sometime because suddenly I was scared to climb down. I had to shout to my three ‘sisters’ and requested that they monitored my movement down.
Learning how to climb trees need certain skills too but living in an environment during my days, such indulgence came with an instinct. When we grew old enough to run around the house, climbing trees became part of our growing system.
Behind our house was a ciku tree and that was the first tree I climbed. Apparently this ciku tree had a short trunk making it easier for me to begin my climbing lesson. Immediately after the trunk, there were few branches strong enough to sustain my weight. However, the fruits of this ciku tree were always hanging at the smaller branches making it difficult to get them. Sometime we used our legs to get hold of the fruits but that was of no help either because our legs were not meant for plucking fruits.
In any form of practical exercise that we do, it is the constant practice that makes our performance more and more perfect. Climbing trees too need constant practice and we had many trees at our disposal. To start your tree climbing must first begin with the objective. What is the purpose of climbing the tree? Of course in most cases is to get to the fruit of our choice. The second is the method of climbing and to do that we need to strategize and ascertain our accessibility to the branches. These branches must be strong. If you happened to step on a rotten branch, you would be the one falling, not the fruit.
The house of my late uncle Mohd. Noah Abdul Hamid (Wak Tan) in Jalan Khalidi had more fruit trees. Wak Tan was a ‘planter’ in his own ways and had quite a number of rambutan trees planted by the side of the house. There were quite a number of mangosteen trees as well and these mangosteen trees were already there before the house was built. Climbing mangosteen trees was quite easy actually because the branches were sprouted one after another and quite even making it easier for us to climb higher as well as descending.
Whenever I went to Wak Tan’s house, my four male cousins were always my companion. Nordin (Tamal) the first boy was my immediate junior followed by Zainuddin (Zainol), Razip and Halim. The five of us were truly close during our growing days and I always stayed overnight at most weekends. When we climb these trees we were like monkeys swaying from one branch to another. Once we went around the house looking for some unused wooden planks and placed these planks upon some branches and sat on it enjoying the height. At times when we played the game of ‘hide and seek’, some of us would climb these trees and hid ourselves in between the leaves of these branches.
Of the four boys, Zainol was the most efficient in his climbing skill and he could climb to the highest top of every tree that he climbed. He was the naughtiest and it was common for those naughty to be able to climb tall trees. At the side of their house was once a pokok kundang (don’t know what this fruit is in English) and the colour of the seed is purple which is kundang in Malay. It was quite a tall tree and during our first attempt to climb it we were hardly seven or eight years old. When the fruits were ready to be eaten, we all tried to climb the tree but this tree was not easy to climb. The trunk was too big for small kids like us to hold. Zainol volunteered to climb but only if one of us was willing to allow using his shoulder. The one volunteered must first squat to allow Zainol to sit on the shoulder and then he would stand up making it easier for Zainol to hold some branches to start climbing. Since I was the eldest, I volunteered. True to his colour, Zainol managed to climb the tree and got us quite a lot of the kundang fruits. When coming down, Zainol just jumped from the lowest branch.
Most of the rambutan trees around their house were not too tall and small kids like us could climb them easily, even Halim the smallest could climb. There were quite a number of the rambutan species; the red colour, the yellow colour and the orange colour. These rambutans were very sweet although at times we tend to get those bitter ones. When the harvesting season was at its peak, we could see these trees full of colours and they were pleasing to the eyes. We would then begin our climbing and collect as much as we could. For the ones not accessible, we used the galah and placed a kacip at the top end. A long rope was tied at the handle and to cut the fruit branch, we must pull the rope. The harvest was them distributed to the neighbours and I would bring some home for grandpa and grandma.
Staying with my four cousins was full of ‘adventures’ and had given me so many fond memories.
Climbing trees was not only for the purpose of getting the fruits. At times we climb a tree simply to enjoy the climbing. I remember one day I saw a bird’s nest on one of the branches of our ciku tree and the position of the nest was not too tall. When I climbed the tree to inspect the nest, I found three eggs inside it. From then on, I began to keep a watch on these eggs and was eager to see the day it would be hatched. One morning I heard a chirping sound and when I climbed the tree I saw three chicks. As a young kid I was so excited and so I informed my three ‘sisters’. Later Kak Arah and Kak Fuzi would climb the tree to see the chicks for themselves but the mother bird was not too happy. She flew above their heads like telling them get away from my babies you humans. But we never disturbed the chicks and let them grew until the day we noticed they were already learning to fly.
When I was slightly older, I would climb a tree to look for any branches suitable to make my catapult. Normally the ones with the ‘Y’ shape would be the most sought. I would climb the tree with a parang and get the one I had chosen.
The experience of climbing trees would not be complete if we did not encounter with some other visitors. Once I encountered with a snake but such a small snake and it was green in colour. We Malays called this type as ular daun. It was in fact a harmless snake but a snake is a snake and I am always paranoid when it comes to snakes. It was at my bottom when I noticed it. I was wondering where it was when I climbed the tree and now climbing down was a problem. I broke some small branches and tried to attract its attention so that it would move away but it didn’t. It just stayed motionless. I must have stayed for almost an hour up on the tree until finally it moved away.
Lizards too were quite a lot and some of them were really big and geckos were the most common. Sometimes I saw a sumpah sumpit and cicak koben resting on some branches and they would just stare at me thinking to themselves what species of animal am I.
Another amusing part of climbing trees was when you get yourself bitten by red ants (kerengga). Most of these red ants could be found on mango trees. Once I accidently disturbed their hive and within seconds hundreds of them came out attacking me. It was quite painful for a single bite but when the whole army was on your body, that was the most excruciating moment. I had to take out my shirt to drive them away and it was no easy feat.
Bees and hornets too could be fatal if you happened to meet one. Don’t try to be a hero fighting away these small creatures because they could be more witty than you. In no time you could get stung and that could be really painful and the spot would swollen almost immediately.
We had no monkeys in the neighbourhood, but to our parents we were the monkeys and there wasn’t any need to go to the jungle to find one.