It seemed my body could do anything I wanted it to. How much I dared was the only question. Climbing, I felt surefooted to an almost mystical degree. I was with the tree or rock I was climbing on, I was married to it. There was no reason for me to fall, any more than someone standing on solid ground would suddenly topple over. I knew how much weight I could put on something before it tipped or cracked; like a spider, my mind was in the center of my body, conscious in all directions. I seemed to know where I was with my very skin. In this exalted state of confidence I descended the steep shingled slope of the roof of my grandparents' house on the downhill side, which was forbidden, because the house was wedged into the slope, like many houses in the Berkeley hills, and the downhill side was three stories to the uphill's one. The shingles were silvery with age and so dry on this, the sunnier side, that they crumbled to powder rather than rotting. Some were loose, and the whole roof was strewn with slithery pine needles; I was conscious of all this, but not of the possibility that something might go wrong, and I went down the metal rain-gutter in a half-sliding crouch, plowing up a wall of pine needles before my feet. I sat at the very edge of the roof, not relaxing, still balancing, looking out over the valley. I felt my thoughts contract and harden in the center of a vast dangerous emptiness that I held at bay just by being sure who I was. When I heard voices I scurried back like a monkey, using my hands, to the safe side of the roof, but this undignified retreat only slightly marred that proud and distant feeling.

At more or less the same time I dared myself to step out my window - also on the downhill side of the house - onto the cracked roof of the dog run my grandparents had built onto the house, a rickety affair of chicken wire nailed to a wood scaffolding, with a slanted roof of wavy green fiberglass that reached the wall four feet below my window. I knew that it was possible I would crash through the fiberglass into the shitty, dirty dog run and hurt myself, though probably not die. I also knew it was possible, another class of disaster but almost equally dreadful, that my grandmother would at that moment lean into the African Violets clustered into the little windowed corner above the sink, which projected from the side of the house, and see me doing deadly wrong. But neither of these things happened; further cracking the fiberglass, I crept down one of the support beams, marked by a line of nails, to the edge. I had known, charting my course from the bedroom window, that this would be the hard part, but it was harder than I had anticipated. Somehow I lowered myself onto my stomach and edged down until I could dig my toes into the chicken wire, and on my stomach let myself slide farther down until I was able to catch one hand in the wire, and then, in the moment my weight slipped off the roof altogether, transfer the other hand to the wire as well. From there it was playground stuff to monkey-climb to the ground. I stood looking up with shaky thighs, considering the unusual idea that it might not have worked. I shouldn't have done that, I thought. It was a grave thing to carry alone, the feeling that something terrible had just whisked by, brushing my shoulders, but leaving me unharmed. But I was guiltily jubilant as well: I knew I could do it, I did it.

I climbed innumerable rocks and trees as well, but it is these forbidden feats I remember most clearly, because I knew something about my body and what it could do that the grown-ups did not. I had many theories about my body at that time. I remember expounding my thoughts about Strength and Flexibility to my sister, very gravely, while practising maneuvers (made up and incorporated into my plan on the spot) on the trapeze bar, which was a treasured feature of the rusty swing set down below my grandparents' house, in a little clearing in the poison oak. To my embarrassment and furious annoyance my father appeared from behind a bush, offering to show me the real, grown-up exercises to do "if you really want to get strong." I kicked my toe into the dirt and felt like crying. Of course I knew my exercises weren't real exercises. In a way we were playing a game. At the same time I thought I might be discovering things the world didn't know yet. I didn't want to be strong in the world's ordinary way. I wanted to be strong like a hero, like Pippi Longstocking.

It was in this same period that my sister and I held Olympic Games in our room, behind a locked door. Well-informed by Kenneth Clark's book on The Nude, which I perused for hours in the partial concealment of the top bunk, we did our broad jumps and push-ups naked, like the Greeks, and if I had sweated enough I would have squee-geed myself dry with a scraper, which I imagined looked something like a metal shoehorn. The chill on our naked bodies as we threw ourselves through the air felt racy and unfamiliar, and we kept our voices down, knowing complicatedly that if we were caught our nudity would be questioned, and that while the real answer would exonerate us, the game (but it was more serious than that) would be ruined by exposure to the grown-ups' humorous gaze.

Later, entertaining the dangerous theory that I would never be able to fly unless I jumped off something high enough to prove I really believed, since if I only jumped off little things, then I must be secretly planning to hit the ground, I threw myself off the neighbor's garage roof. Even as I did it, I knew my faith wasn't steely and absolute enough: I bent my knees, I crouched, I landed perfectly.

I don't know if this was before or after the most terrible fall from grace. I had climbed up what had become my favorite tree (I rarely climbed the old tree now, which was scratchy with little dead twigs and crowded around by other trees which shaded it and blocked the view, while the new tree stood a little apart, and I had groomed it for climbing, with my father's approval - I think he thought of it as a safety measure - breaking off all the dead branches that choked the open channel around the trunk and hurling them down, to be collected and wood-chipped). I had climbed higher than ever before, up to the young branches at the top. I was in a state of exaltation, gazing desperately around me at the soft brilliant green needles with the sunlight sifting through them, the hot sky overhead, the space around me which seemed to rock with the wind as one mass while the tree stood still. The branches were terribly real, their brittle bark crumbling in my hands, the sap sticking my fingers together, and their flexible presence behind my back and underfoot seemed knowing and even encouraging. The very top of the tree was a cluster of three or four new branches radiating out like spokes from a central point, and suddenly it came to me that I could lie in the saddle they formed, if I was very careful. Trying not to put my whole weight on any single branch, I manouvered myself into the top, and lay back along the strongest of the spokes. The tree swayed under me. It was just as I had imagined. There was nothing but sky above me. Turbines rolled in the blue.

When the branch under me split off from the trunk, it made a terrible, raw sound. I plunged downward. For a minute I hung half upside-down, then I righted myself. My whole body was shaking and I knew I had just nearly died. In that moment I knew that my feelings of entitlement and sympathy with the physical world were a fantasy. The world was still wonderful and I was still eagerly a part of it, but I was not the world's privileged daughter and suitor. I had no magical insight into the will of things, and I would be doled no special favours. The broken branch hung by a hinge of bark, and I felt ashamed and full of rage at myself for breaking it. I had been shown up: I was stupid and brutal in my pride, just like everyone else.