People have been climbing trees for as long as there’s been people. Whether to harvest food, scout unknown terrain, or to have a secure spot to shelter for the night, climbing a tree has been a pretty consistent best practice.
As human food caching has pretty well moved out of the forest and into a pantry, and shelters evolved from simple huts to permanent and taller buildings, the utility of trees for reaching our stuff had to evolve too. Instead of using the tree in situ, we instead cut them down and turned them into various forms of assistance for the…vertically challenged amongst us.
Think of how many trees have been turned into tools for vertical ascent! The stairs in your home, and millions upon millions of buildings through the ages are probably cut out of trees, from the stringers to the treads. How many millions of ladder rungs do you suppose that trees provided, before the recent adoption of aluminium and fiberglass? If you’ve ever scooted a kitchen chair over to reach something on a remote shelf, then a tree gets partial credit. Before the late 1800’s, every ship out there used wooden ladderwells to get from deck to deck. If you were assaulting an enemy fortress, you had to gin up some ladders to get over the walls. Even the trenches of the Great War had wooden ladders propped up in the mud.
When I decided to make a wooden stepstool, I immediately thought of the iconic Shaker “steppers” that were an essential bit of kit to fully utilise their floor-to-ceiling cabinets. I eventually decided on a slightly different design that we’ll start on tomorrow. But today I thought it worth a ponder on how trees provided our ancestors with a leg up through the centuries.