In memory of a tree house

Ingratitude must be a universal emotion among children, and the primary manifestation of this is that despite free room and board, they’re constantly looking for alternate accommodations to call their own. Couch forts, play houses, tree houses, secret blanket and furniture constructions in basements or attics – the want of an independent domain is one that assails our young ids at some point before puberty.

At our first cabin on Big Lake, Alaska (that’s the one in the picture up top) there was always some sort of construction project at hand. There was the time Mom and Dad paid some obscene amount of money to have the entire cabin picked up off the ground and moved back from the eroding lakefront. Also ostensibly in aid of the eroding lakefront, but much to my Hawai’i-addled brain’s delight, we later had beach sand trucked in and dumped onto the shore, so that the lake muck in the wading area off the dock was replaced with gorgeous, gorgeous sand, that ultimately didn’t survive the winter (but it was nice while we had it). Another delightful construction project was the time we had a well drilled for fresh water to the side of the cabin. I had just slipped into my wooden clogs and handmaiden’s rags to sing the opening number to Snow White when I discovered that the decorative wooden structure did not contain the open well, but was merely  cover up for what resembled a concrete pylon without any of the romance and singing birds that I had imagined a wishing well would attend.

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Dreams: crushed.

At some point, the need for a “home of my own” took hold (or Dad got bored and convinced me I wanted a tree house) and we decided to build one (I was five, so my job was essentially to get out of the way). Dad went to the lumber yard and bought some high quality planks and set to work building the treehouse.

I didn’t really appreciate until I was an adult how much of a pain in the ass this was. Get in the boat, go to the marina, dock, get in the car, drive to the hardware store, buy lumber, drive back to the marina, load it on the boat, motor back to Long Island, unload the lumber from the boat, drink gin, build tree house.

At this point I’d rather gone off wishing wells and alternated between digging up carrots out of Mom’s garden in a cardigan and a pair of Peter Rabbit ears (I vaguely recall overhearing that one of the neighbors was in fact named MacGregor) or being scared to fucking death of the meadow out in back of the cabin because we all know what happened to Bambi’s mother in one of those.

But, alors, the treehouse was finally finished, and I was a horrified. Instead of the Berenstain Bears tree house, which amounted to a wooden platform built on top of a sawed-off tree top with a quaint quonset style shelter at one end made of bark, I was faced with this bizarre triangular platform wedged between three trees overlooking the vegetable garden and the outhouse (which at this point was “just for fun” because the cabin was plumbed following the digging of the aforementioned well).

Great, Dad, a makeshift open air platform in the middle of a wooded jungle. It’s got this glamorous Vietnam War aesthetic to it. I’ll be sure to let you know if I spot Charlie hiding in the underbrush from my lookout.

Le sigh. To get up to the tree house, er, patrol platformthere was a series of two-by-fours haphazardly nailed to the trunk of one of the three trees. So good luck getting up there with anything worth having, like a lawn chair or a slingshot or a cable television splice. Nope – you go have fun by yourself, and enjoy the view of the outhouse.

I think at one point we also tried to rig up one of those can-and-string telephone things, but we used coffee cans. I don’t know if the distance was too great or if coffee cans were what killed it, but those telephone things are bullshit and nobody can understand what you’re saying.

That winter there was heavy snow, and one weekend we arrived to find that the platform had collapsed under the weight of the snow, although the triangle frame between the three trees remained. We never bothered to remove either the fallen planks or the skeleton by the time we’d sold the place. Although I never appreciated it as a child, for the sake of continuity like to think that whomever purchased the place has left the ruins intact, lawn chairs and slingshot and coffee can telephones in a jumbled pile on top of ancient vegetable beds.

At the very least, I hope there’s still a board or two nailed to the tree trunk.

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