Branching Out


Published in Country Magazine 2008

Our treehouse turns fourteen years old this year, now lonesome and empty in our front yard, a constant reminder of abandoned Swiss Family Robinson dreams. It has been the setting for a local children’s TV show, laser tag wars, sleep overs and tea parties, even a writer’s retreat with a deck side view of the Cascades to the east, the Canadian Rockies to the north and Puget Sound to the west. Now it is a sad shell no longer considered safe, as the branches supporting it in our 100 year old walnut tree are weakening with age and time.

The dream began in February 1995 when our sons were 8 and 6 years old and our daughter just 2. We had plenty of recycled lumber on our old farm and an idea about what to build. My father, retired from his desk job and having survived a bout with lymphoma, had many building projects to his credit, and a few in his mind that he was yet to get to. He was eager to see what he could construct for his grandkids by spring time. He doodled out some sketches of what might work in the tree, and contemplated the physics of a 73 year old man scaling a tree vs. building on the ground and hoisting it up mostly completed. I got more nervous the more I thought about it and hoped we could consider something a little less risky, and hoping the weather wouldn’t clear enough for construction to start any time soon.

The weather cleared, but my father’s health faded. His cancer came back with a vengeance and he was sidelined with a series of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations and treatment courses. He hung on to that hope of getting the treehouse going by summer, still thinking it through in his mind, still evaluating what he would need to buy to supplement the materials already gathered and piled beneath the tree. In the mean time he lost physical strength day by day.

His dream needed to proceed as he fought his battle, so I borrowed library books on treehouses, and hired two young college age brothers, who lived down the road, to get things started. I figured if my dad got well enough to build again, at least the risky stuff could be already done by the young guys. These brothers took their job very seriously. They took my dad’s plans, worked through the details and started in. They shinnied up the tree, put up pullies on the high branches and placed the beams, hoisting them by pulling on the ropes with their car bumper. It worked great until the car bumper came off.

I kept my dad posted long distance with photos and stories. It was a diversion for him, but the far off look in his eye told me he wasn’t going to be building anything in this world ever again. He was gone by July. The treehouse was done a month later. It was everything my dad had dreamed of, and more. It had a deck, a protective railing, a trap door, a staircase. We had a open tree celebration and had 15 neighbors up there at once. I’m sure dad was sipping lemonade with us as well, enjoying the view.

Now, fourteen years later, the treehouse is tilting on its foundation as a main weight bearing branch is weakening. We’ve declared it condemned, not wanting to risk an accident. Daily it remains a reminder of past dreams as I look out my window. Much like my father’s body, the old walnut tree is weakening, hanging on by the roots but its muscle failing. It will, sometime, come down in one of our frequent fierce windstorms, just as its partner did a few years ago.

The treehouse dream has branched out in another way though. One of the construction team brothers decided to try building his own as a place to live in his woods, using a Douglas Fir tree as the center support and creating an octagon, two stories, 30 feet off the ground. He worked on it for two years and moved in, later getting married to a delightful woman who decided a treehouse was just fine with her, and now they are raising their two children there (one was born in the treehouse!). The next generation is carrying on with the Swiss Family Robinson dream that began in my father’s mind and our front yard.

I have a whole list full of dreams, some realized and some still only in my imagination. I feel the clock ticking too, knowing that time slips by me faster and faster. Some day, if I’m blessed, I will be watching others live out the dreams I have held so close. Though I may be teetering in the wind like my old tree, barely hanging on, and ready to fall to the ground, I’ll reach out with my branches and hand them off. The time will have come to let go.


2 thoughts on “Branching Out

  1. My dad grew up on his family’s farm/fish camp on the Lost Creek backwater of the Warrior River in Northwest Alabama, Emily, and had handled every kind of boat one could imagine — he had helped his dad push logs with a towboat and, during World War II, helped convert fruit boats into troop carriers as part of the effort to kick Hitler’s butt, as he encouraged me to put it.

    Oh, there was ONE kind of boat he never owned or even handled. A canoe. But he always wanted one. Well up into his ’70s, a friend moved next door to a lady who had one for sale. And Dad bought it. For the next three or four years, he and I had that thing out every opportunity and we had some wonderful times. After he died, I took a variety of friends out from time to time and would have continued doing that but the closest river access got closed and I simply didn’t have big enough blocks of time to go to some other access. So like your tree house, my canoe is in the back yard. A couple of people have offered to buy it and two guys borrowed it, but it stays put. Some day I’ll find somebody in or close to the family who can use it, or maybe I won’t — maybe it’ll be part of what has to be hauled away after I am. It needs new paddles and new life vests, but the canoe is ready. Maybe … well, maybes keep me going.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.