My Father’s Treehouse

photo by Dan Gibson










My father’s treehouse is twenty three years old, lonesome and empty in our front yard, a constant reminder of his own abandoned Swiss Family Robinson dreams. Over the years, it has been the setting for a local children’s TV show, laser tag wars, sleep overs and tea parties, even my writer’s retreat with a deck side view of the Cascades to the east, the Canadian Coastal Range to the north and Puget Sound to the west. Now it is a sad shell no longer considered safe, as the support branches 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 recently survived a lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, had many previous daunting 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 a project less risky, and hoping the weather wouldn’t clear enough for construction to start any time soon.

The weather cleared as simultaneously my father’s health faded. His cancer relapsed 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 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 pored over the books, took my dad’s plans, worked through the details and started in. They shinnied up the tree, put up pulleys on the high branches and placed the beams, hoisting them by pulling on the ropes with their car bumper. It was working great until the car bumper came off.

I kept my dad updated 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 all these 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.  It remains a daily reminder of past dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled 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 strength is failing. It will, sometime, come down in one of our frequent fierce windstorms, just as its nearby partner did a few years ago.

The treehouse dream branched out in another way. 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 marrying someone who decided a treehouse was just fine with her, and for 16 years, they’ve raised five children there.  The treehouse kids are old enough to come work for me on our farm, a full circle feeling for me.  This next generation is carrying on a Swiss Family Robinson dream that began in my father’s mind and our front yard.

I still have a whole list full of dreams myself, some realized and some deferred by time, resources and the limits of my imagination. I feel the clock ticking too, knowing that the years and the seasons slip by me faster and faster. It would be a blessing to me to see others live out the dreams I have held so close.

Like my father, I will some day teeter in the wind like our old tree, barely hanging on. When ready to fall to the ground, I’ll reach out with my branches and hand off my dreams too. The time will have come to let them go.



















13 thoughts on “My Father’s Treehouse

  1. Immeasurably touching, Emily. Oh my, thank you. Lovely photos, too. The image of the family raising five children in a tree house—unique, delightful, courageous, splendid.
    You enlarge my life.
    Amrita Skye

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You fill my soul with love and with a vision of hope and courage, Emily.
    A sturdy, living example of your father’s love for you and his grandchildren
    as he tries, even with a weakening body, to leave something
    ‘tangible’ to remember that love — proof that, in the end, it is very often the
    seemingly small things – through the giving of self – that will survive in our loved-ones hearts
    and memories..

    Your hope that you will have the courage (and just plain recognized reality) to realize
    that there will ultimately come that time when you must let go — hand off your unfinished dreams
    to the next generation. In so doing, dear Emily, the ‘circle will indeed remain unbroken’!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love seeing the treehouse in person and now knowing the background. We had a “playhouse” growing up built by my Dad but it was on the ground since we were living in a new subdivision in 1951 and no trees available. In addition, we could never have gotten my handicapped brother up in a tree, not that we as kids wouldn’t have tried!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So poetic! Slightly similar to the one we started building years ago on a tree along our riverbank, hoping to entice more visits from the grands. It languishes now, as they all pursue other interests than visiting Pa and Lolo.


  5. Emily,
    Your wistful reminiscence and the stunning photo tale arrived on my birthday. Such a grace-filled way to close out this day.

    Decades ago we had a sour cherry that procuded 95 pounds during its most fruitful season. In time it began to list. A brutal, fall wind felled it completely. And still in spring it blossomed and produced cherries! Despite a hollow trunk, the bark alone kept it fruiting for several more seasons. Only when the sapling a bird had sown began to fruit did the elder finally let go of its responsibilities, not unlike some of the people I cared for as a chaplain.

    Thank you for all the memories.

    Liked by 2 people

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