The Treehouse that Never Was
It was a fine May afternoon when my oldest sister, my father, and her two kids were walking down in the woods. We planted the pines over 25 years ago, but it still seems like yesterday to me. She made a suggestion to my father, who is a retired teacher and carpenter.
“You should build a treehouse down here.”
I groaned when I heard the words later. My father would take the suggestion to be a missive, and start using whatever spare bits of scrap wood he found and start hammering into the nearest oak, poplar, pine, or ash tree on the family acreage that fit the bill. My mother would worry incessantly, not just over the safety of my father but for the scrappy grandchildren who would be using it. Then my uncle chimed in: you’ll need specially treated lumber, town building permits, and extra liability insurance.
The idea was squashed and reborn so many times I don’t care to admit it. I kind of wanted to see it happen. When I was a child, we climbed all the trees around the house until we were three stories off the ground. There was never a treehouse, but we had a fort in the woods made from a giant downed oak tree. In the small town where our school was, one friend of a friend had a treehouse that loomed over the Fox River. Attached to the roof was a zip line that streaked down some 60 yards. I survived an adventurous childhood, and see no reason not to let the current generation feel their mortality rather than giving a false sense of security. I’m not being reckless; I’m trying to be a guardian to children while not interfering in their memories and personality.
I bought a book during this saga, which so far has resulted in an understanding of the engineering aspects that go into a treehouse and how a simple, low-culture loved item (think: Little Rascals, Bart Simpson, Ewoks) can get out of control into an almost fantastic state. The instruction manual meets WTF is called Build Your Own Treehouse: A Practical Guide by Maurice Barkley. Like my father, it was written by a man who turned 65 and decided to start a hobby.
It ended up being a complex web of bridges, swings, and clubhouses among nine trees. It’s made of found and recycled objects — as it should be. It makes use of ingenious ropes and supports that doesn’t harm the tree. The book itself is very practical and forthcoming about issues you may face.
What the book does not discuss is the possibility that your corner lot is protected by neighborhood associations, village ordinances, and other such blather. In a day and age in which you have to fight to put clotheslines up, constructing a lopsided monstrosity that might block neighbors views might be verboten.
A recent trip to a New Berlin park revealed something I had never seen before. It was a playset designed to look like a beige treehouse. The panels that would be bark were soft plastic. Even the ground was made of that spongy, bouncy material made out of old shoes and milk jugs. The bolts were covered, the slats spaced enough so that small arms couldn’t become trapped. It was so … safe.
Luckily, we live out in the country and are not bound by ordinance. The woods are private, and in nearby neighboring woods there are plenty of rickety deer tree stands. We marked a tree with blue spray paint at the recommended heights (even though pine is considered a bad tree choice) and considered supplies at the local Menards. We made plans.
Money became an issue again, and the plans have gone nowhere. I wish I had a treehouse, though. I need a place without internet, cable, cell phones, nagging, pestering, and pressure. Kids would use it to hatch secret treasure hunts and examine bugs. The adult needs it as an escape with a view above it all.