A tree house. Is there anything that more perfectly embodies the dream of the ideal childhood? Nestled high in branches, like a castle in the clouds, insulated by dozen of feet of height from the reach of authority, leaving an overalled, dirt-smudged child free to dream and scheme.
We have spent close to twenty years refining our little Wallingford craftsmen to be the home we want, but there’s always been a sad lacuna. Without a sizeable tree on our property, we can never have a treehouse.
If we can not have our own, we will live vicariously.
This past Saturday, we buckled Baby Z into a bike trailer and set off for a short tour of two beautiful tree houses here in Wallingford. Our first stop was at the Gaylords, over on Ashworth, just up from 40th, where Peter built a cozy little cottage 20′ up in his back yard.
“When I was growing up, I had a tree house, and climbing trees is just something you always want to do,” he explained. “Then my daughter and I went to a place down by Mt. Rainier called the Cedar Creek Treehouse. It’s a complex of treehouses, and you can spend the night down there. There’s a two bedroom treehouse that’s 50′ up in a tree and then one that’s a lookout that’s a 100′ up. It’s just amazing. So when my daughter and I got back, we had this big Red Leaf Maple tree. So, I said OK, let me see if I can build a tree house.”
To get in, there’s a plank that acts as a drawbridge from the back porch to a small platform lower down on the tree. Baby Z gamely led the way across the chasm and then up ladder (boards bolted into the trunk of the tree) and through a trapdoor onto a tiny little railed patio outside the front door. One by one, we followed until we had all ducked into the little windowed cottage, furnished inside with a small desk and chairs. There, Peter explained how we went about creating his little slice of summer.
He had no particular background in construction, no book and no blueprints, just a few Internet searches to guide him, so he took it one step at a time, letting the results of the last step guide the next.
“This treehouse is only supported by four bolts,” he said. “When you’re building a treehouse, you want to be careful about doing damage to the tree. You can run a bolt right into the side of the tree, and it won’t hurt the tree, but you don’t want to put a ring around it.
“When I put the 2×6 up, you have to be careful about bolting both of them to two separate trunks, because as the tree starts to sway, they’ll start to buckle, it will stress it out. So underneath these 2×6’s, it just sits in a trough. So when the tree sways, it just slides back and forth. And then I’ve got the trough bolted to the tree. So it’s actually only bolted to the tree in two places,” he explained.
“Oh, oh, there’s a tree in here! Is it outside?” interjected Baby Z.
“Yes, there’s a tree in here, isn’t that crazy?” Peter agreed, pointing at the trunk that ran up through them middle of the room. “It goes through the floor, up through the room out and through the roof.”
As we spoke, the house rocked in the wind.
“Ever come up in a storm?” I asked.
“No, that would be fun, though. The kids come up for sleep outs. Or did anyway. They’re 15 and 18 now, so on to other things. We have nieces and nephews that still use it. It’s got wifi, so it’s a nice place to come and just sit and read or write or think. And in the winter, with the leaves gone and snow on the ground, it’s something magical.”
Peter showed me how the walls had been assembled on the ground to match the platform that had grown over the trough, and then how he’d used his mountaineering gear to protect himself as he installed the asphalt roof. The house had a number of beautiful touches, including glass windows that could lock open and close and even electricity running up from below.
Reluctantly, we made our way back down through the hatch, down the ladder and over the drawbridge.
If you’d like to take a gander at Peter’s treehouse, he used Microsoft’s Photosynth, a tool that allows you to explore something from different angles built from dozens of photos. We’re embedding it below, but if you’re reading in e-mail or elsewhere, you’ll have to click through to the Gaylord Treehouse Photosynth page itself.
Baby Z was reluctant to leave, insisting we go back up to the house in the tree. The only way we could tear him away was with the promise of another tree house.
We’d spotted this the previous weekend when it was still under construction over by 44th and Bagley. We hadn’t phoned ahead, but luckily, it was a warm Spring day and the treehouse was occupied.
This one was the creation of Adrian Ozinsky, who, when he’s not building treehouses, is developing “high-resolution mRNA and protein measurement and imaging tools” that can help “purify and characterize human breast cancer stem cells, murine macrophages and T cells” at the Institute for Systems Biology.
Speaking in his soft South African accent, Adrian explained that the platform of the treehouse was a gift from colleagues, erected while he was away following his mother’s death.
“Why a treehouse?” we asked.
“Oh, well, doesn’t everybody want a treehouse,” he answered, somewhat dismayed at the question.
Adrian’s simple platform, overlooking the street was getting heavy use while we there, with kids from around the neighborhood (including Baby Z) joining his children up in its aerie. We watched as Adrian carefully explained to them how to tie a knot for the bucket to haul material up into their fort.
“It is my greatest ambition,” he explained, “that all children in the world should learn how to tie a bowline.”
Indeed, the world would be a better place.
If Peter and Adrian inspire you, please drop us a line (and a photo) and let us know. We know there are treehouses sprinkled around Wallingford, but there need to be more.