The List

40. Spend the Night in a Tree.     Photo: Corbis

40. Spend the Night in a Tree.

40. Spend the Night in a Tree
By Katherine Dunn
There are times in every life that demand a modest act of penance—you have made needlessly cutting remarks to your mom or your sweetie, or been caught pretending to know the difference between wines or trout flies or Carolingian poets. When, in short, you've made a petty fool of yourself and are suffering from well-deserved shame, a cheap remedy is to spend the night in a tree. If executed with rigor this exercise offers a graduated out-of-body experience that approximates attending your own funeral. One such interlude should do you for a lifetime.

Avoid rural or wilderness trees, which may ennoble you undeservedly by their surroundings. For the proper effect, choose a large tree in some lively suburb or urban neighborhood. A city park or a cemetery near a lighted thoroughfare might offer the right tree, tall enough, strong, with crotches to straddle and a view of normal human activity. The tree in your own front yard is out of bounds unless you have run away from home and actually want a view of your distraught loved ones calling and searching for you, pacing the floor in agony, etc. We do not condone this selfish practice.
For the true penitent, invisibility is crucial. The view is important but secondary. Dress darkly, and for the weather. Wear a big coat that buttons in front. Bring a six- or eight-foot bungee cord with hooks at both ends. Do not bring food or drink. A single box of Tic Tacs is permissible for moistening the mouth, but carry the mints loose in a pocket to prevent rattling noises.

Climb up well after dark, making sure no one sees you. Get above the reach of car headlights.

Find your perch. Embrace a sturdy branch that can support you. Open your coat and button it around the branch so you won't fall if you doze off. If the branch is too big, strap yourself on with the bungee cord. Hold still. Be quiet. No dropping of twigs, leaves, or bodily fluids on those below is allowed. Watch. Listen to footsteps, conversations, snatches of music from passing cars. At first you feel superior, even scornful of the measly humans below. You delight in your secret spying. This will pass. As the wind rises and your circulation slows, as traffic thins and passersby become rare, you discover the chill of isolation. Confront the vile pettiness that brought you here. Self-pity intrudes. You may think you've had enough and can go home shriven. Resist.

Only at the first stirring of the birds before dawn, allow yourself to climb down carefully. Your eager smiles and greetings may alarm the delivery folk and newsboys on the street who don't recognize an exile returned. Go home and take a long hot shower. Phone those you've offended and apologize. You will already have forgiven yourself.

Katherine Dunn is the author of Geek Love, a novel.

41. Should It Come to That, Be Able to Navigate by the Stars

42. Having Fathered the Neo-Fauve Movement in European Painting, Move to the Unspoiled Paradise of Tahiti, and Paint Lovely Naked Natives

43. Speak Spanish


You could just cozy up to a tape deck with Senor Berlitz. But immersion doesn't get much sweeter than Mar de Jade, a school/resort 60 miles upcoast of Puerto Vallarta (415-281-0164)—three hours of class three days a week, for 55 bucks a night plus tuition. And between sessions... extracurriculars! Beach slumming, sea-kayaking, jungle prowling. Plus lots of lab work: "Senorita—una mas cerveza, por favor. Ãndale!"

44. Master the Bowline
Good for tying off to anything you loop through: grommets in sails or tarps, mooring buoys, etc. Make a loop with the running end over the standing end. Holding that loop in your left hand, thread the running end up through the loop (the rabbit goes out the hole...), underneath the standing end, and back down through the loop. Learn it this time!

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