When I was growing up, in Huntersville, North Carolina, the kids in the neighborhood all claimed one treehouse. It was actually maybe three boards, nailed across a forked Sycamore branch hanging parallel to the ground. The host tree was immense and beautiful with its outsized leaves and white skin. We would collect there, suspended over the creek that threaded through our neighborhood, known as “the Pasture” because that was what it had been.
Back then I was transfixed by the movie Swiss Family Robinson — mostly because of the house they fashioned in a tree. I loved the family’s ingenuity and creativity in the face of adversity. Not only did they construct a home out of scrap, but it was better than a normal house! There was a life lesson in that movie that I embraced right then and there, and never let go.
In 1988 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, David built a treehouse for our little boys to play in. He used scrap lumber of every description– some painted, some not. Some treated, some not. He conceived, in a flash, an eccentric structure to support the little platform up in a hundred year old pecan tree. It was strong enough to hold an adult, so we all went up there occasionally. I took to making lunch and pulling it up in an egg basket on a pulley after preschool many days.
When the boys grew up and started driving and dating, and bemoaned their lack of funds I suggested they invite girls for dinner in the treehouse. Each boy, in his turn, learned to cook and serve dinner on high, complete with candlelight. I occasionally took friends up there for dessert after dinner on ground level. Grown people always got a kick out of being invited to climb a ladder for their dessert. Once up there, they usually wanted to stay. I like, too, to have very young friends up for tea parties. It’s fun to wonder what I might have thought when I was 5, had an old lady had invited me to tea in her tree…
Lately the much-loved treehouse has been showing its age. Due to its creation at the hands of a construction pro, it lasted way longer than its parts would have predicted, but, after 25 years it had reached an existential juncture. As the universe around me seems to operate, I discovered just the composite flooring I wanted for the treehouse, damaged and reduced to almost nothing at the lumber yard, so I bought it and set about planning the resurrection. Stewart, my youngest son, had some time off, so I asked him if he’d be on board for the treehouse project. He was completely enthusiastic, because he too has the gene for wanting to make things.
By the time he arrived I had done some of the obvious demolition in normal power-through mode, but Stewart stepped in, and as naturally as drawing breath,took over most of the strategy and the three dimensional thinking. I did the cutting, he did the structural repairs, holding me to very strict standards. Climbing up one of the 40 times I ascended yesterday, I flashed back to earlier days, and having sandwiches in the treehouse when he was little. I rejoiced to be re-experiencing just such a summer afternoon but with grown Stewart. Increasingly he was excited about the job he was able to do, and about the fun of problem-solving, as was I. He told me his older brother may have redone the barn but that the treehouse remodel was going to be his.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about our little farm is and always has been its collection of derelict buildings. They call out to our creativity and invite us to reimagine what they might be, how they might look, and how they might serve us. They school us. We have all learned amazing lessons in creative thinking, self sufficiency, the use of tools and follow-through from tackling our various projects. Had we lived in a modern house I doubt we would have explored some of the things that now bring us so much pleasure.
I used to be terrified of circular saws. My beau at the time, was helping me by repairing my rotten kitchen floor. Saturday came to a close, and we had a disagreement. I found he’d left his saw behind. My ferocious self-sufficiency kicked in to keep my anger company. I became determined in that moment to prove to myself (and him) that I didn’t need a man to run that saw for me–that girls can handle their own problems. Not long after I became the proud owner of my own circular saw, purchased at a garage sale for $5 from a lawyer who had sawed through its electrical cord. I repaired the cord, and we — my saw and I–have become very good friends, spending many hours locked in common cause. If I’d had a normal kitchen floor I’d have one more fear to haul through life!
Marked as a child, the first time I saw Swiss Family Robinson, I can’t imagine any home more apt for me and my offspring than the “island” of our little farm where we landed and had to figure things out.