I consider myself awesomely manly. In the past few months alone, I’ve replaced the radiator on my truck, stained a fence and chainsawed a tree stump. Going back a little further, I’ve driven a monster truck and impregnated a woman (admittedly, not at the same time). But even a paragon of masculinity like myself isn’t 100 percent meat, and every now and then I ding my credibility by taking a bubble bath or buying something on Etsy. And then I have to redeem myself by building a treehouse.
The idea came from my wife, Heather, who proposed that we should have a treehouse but openly doubted my ability to build one. “I want the kids to have a treehouse,” she said. “Do you think we could hire someone to do that?” Hire someone? Why, the very nucleotides in my DNA spell “T-r-e-e” and “H-o-u-s,” a mutation that explains why I’m so handy and also maybe why I was born with a vestigial tail. I told Heather I’d build this thing myself. She asked if I had plans. I said yeah—plans to build an awesome treehouse.
So, it was a mistake not to have plans. When erecting a large aerial structure, it’s probably good to have some kind of blueprint other than an idea in your head that looks vaguely like something out of Popeye Village but in a tree. Because no matter how smart, creative and downright handsome you are, you’re going to forget to buy a tool or piece of lumber that you’ll need at a critical junction. Then you’ll have to go back to the hardware store, where you’ll stare at racks of metal bracket thingies and wonder whether you need the self-correcting Feldman joist or the contractor-grade knurled fargle grommets. You’ll get the wrong thingie and have to make another round trip, repeating the process until it’s dark out and you’ve spent $986 total but $3.82 net after returns.
Meanwhile, back in your yard, the tree judges you. “Look at this clown,” it says to the others.
“There’s never gonna be a house in me. He sucks.” Oh yeah? We’ll see who sucks when I get the Stihl and turn you into firewood, pal. I’ll rent a stump grinder and disappear a chump. Developing an acrimonious relationship with an anthropomorphic hardwood is a normal step in any treehouse project.
After roughly a week of work with little to show for it, I visited my friend Rich’s house and noticed an enviable platform perched between two pines in his backyard. It turned out that this was his second treehouse, the first attempt having been crude, ramshackle and primarily erected to annoy a neighbor. You see, a few years earlier, he’d built his kids a backyard fort and a neighbor complained to the town, which has a rule against whimsical ground-based structures. So Rich went to the town office and threatened a Freedom of Information Act request to find out which neighbor reported him (why yes, he is a lawyer!). The clerk duly ratted out the butthead abutter and slyly disclosed that the town has no rule against treehouses. And thus was born a treehouse built of wood, nails and pure spite.
Rich’s second effort looked pretty good, but he was obviously just getting started, since there was a floor but little else. I asked how long he’d been working on it. “About a year,” he said. “You get all fired up at first, but it’s hard to sustain that pace.” I vowed that I wouldn’t let that happen to me. In another month I’d have the Berenstain Bears knocking on the door and looking to sign a lease.
So anyway, it’s been about two months and I’m still finishing up the platform. Then it’s just walls, a roof, siding, windows, paint, trim and a short stint in debtor’s prison. But what price can you put on childhood delight? And I’ve got to say, so far I’m exceeding all expectations, by which I mean Heather’s, which were nonexistent. The platform is level and sturdy and has a cool trap door, and I’ve only come close to maiming myself a couple of times—hammering your fingers is bad enough on the ground, but there’s an extra challenge when you crush a digit and have to will yourself not to simultaneously fall off a ladder into prickly bushes, as slapstick hilarious as that would be.
Despite the time, cost, frustration, mess, danger and ultimately futile impermanence of this endeavor, it was really gratifying the first time my boys climbed up there, stood at the edge of the platform… and started peeing down onto the lawn. That important mission accomplished, they climbed down the aluminum ladder that I’d propped under the hatch. I was reminded that, in addition to everything else, a proper tree fort needs a rope ladder. That part, at least, is no challenge at all. I already found some great ones on Etsy.