Over the Thanksgiving weekend, my friend Peter had more than fifty visitors to his tree house. At one point, there were seventeen people up in the tree. Peter had not planned the weekend that way, but several people decided to cash in on open invitations. Everyone was enchanted and I guess I should not be surprised; I was watching a new show a week ago on HGTV; “Look What I Did”, which featured Peter and his tree house. I found myself getting sucked into the story and forgetting that I had been part of it.
I don’t know what it is about tree houses that so many people connect to, but the connection is there. Peter’s book, Treehouse Chronicles, the story of building his tree house, has won seven book awards. Part of the reason for this is that Peter is a wonderful storyteller and photographer, and I flatter myself that my illustrations bring something to the book as well, but it is more than that. There is some sort of inexplicable draw to tree houses. There have been a number of newspaper articles in the last few years that have dwelt on the trend of adults who are building themselves tree houses. They speak of adults trying to return to childhood, of “midlife crisis”, of the innocence of a simpler time, but I don’t think that’s it.
I am thinking of another tree house adventure that took place more than a decade ago. Some friends who live down in the town asked me to build their children a tree house in a large pine behind their house. The idea was that once I got the basic platform up, their children would help with the construction of the rest of the edifice. Since they live in a populated neighborhood, I suggested that we side the building in tongue and groove pine, rather than plywood, so that if other neighborhood children wanted to help, there would be plenty of nailing to do. I pre-fabricated the structure for the platform and quite a lot of what would become the stud walls. The last thing I did before heading down to their house was to stitch up eight or nine simple nail aprons out of old canvas and collect every hammer I could find. Sure enough as soon as the platform was up and the hammering began, neighborhood children began to appear out of the woods as if by magic. Usually they would stop and stare, utter something like; “Whoa’, or “Cool”, and then came the inevitable question: “Can I help”? By the end of that first day, virtually every kid in the neighborhood was involved and I had run out of nail aprons and hammers.
These children were not having a “mid-life crisis”, and they certainly were not looking back to childhood, they were there. Not all of them knew me before the project, but everyone of them, boy or girl, from the shy kid who never spoke, to the neighborhood tough-guy; wanted to be part of building a tree house. So what is it? Is it being off the ground? I don’t know, but I do think it has something to do with escape to a “safer” place. I remember one of the themes of that neighborhood tree house project was that the kids all seemed obsessed with how we would keep “other” kids out of the tree house. I thought this was odd at the time because I could not imagine who these “other” kids were. Perhaps there is something primordial about coming together and creating a place of safety, or perhaps it has to do with hiding in the trees. I don’t know, but I can tell you one question I never heard from any child throughout that whole project: I never heard the question; “Why”?
To see my other tree house post click here.