View from the Trees

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2005. All rights reserved.

We're only about ten feet up off the ground, but the distance feels tenfold greater as I gaze out over rooftops and across the brush to fields and houses beyond. Here we are uplifted, held aloft by strong limbs, and separated from standard time.

Here we are eye-to-eye with the birds, as far removed from ground-level reality as an eagle in its aerie. Shrouded in leafage, we can peer out at passersby who never seem lift their heads above the horizontal plane; to them we are invisible.

Almost every kid who grows up in the country knows what it's like to climb trees. And nearly everyone who has ever climbed a tree has built a treehouse... or dreamed of one.

Most treehouses aren't much, just a few boards wedged between the trunk of the tree and some sturdy branches. All you need, really, is a platform to rest upon, but it's nice to have some walls and a roof as shelter from wind and rain.

Some folks get carried away, though. There are treehouses with multiple levels and electric power and even plumbing. These are being built, I suspect, by folks who didn't get to spend enough time in treehouses as kids.

Treehouse design specialist Michael Garnier has constructed a treehouse "Treesort" on the edge of the Siskiyou Wilderness in southern Oregon near Takilma. He rents out nearly a dozen treehouses as vacation lodging, including a Swiss Family Complex (a pair of treehouses connected by a swinging bridge), a Peacock Perch (sleeps two in romantic privacy),  an 18-foot tipi in the treescalled Treepee,  and a cavalry fort in the trees known as Cavaltree.

Garnier is credited with revolutionizing treehouse design among adult builders by inventing the "GL" (Garnier Limb), a device that securely fastens a platform to the trunk of a tree. "By screwing it into a tree trunk just right, until the collar is tight against the trunk, an immensely strong structural support limb is created, which in the right kind of tree is capable of carrying the weight of, say, a Ford truck," writes fellow designer Pete Nelson in Treehouses of the World.

Yet, while more and more adults are moving up into the trees, most arborial habitats are still dominated by birds, squirrels, and children with limber joints. A good long rope ladder is usually enough to dissuade adult invasions.

In her clever series of "Magic Tree House" books, author Mary Pope Osborne writes about two youngsters, Jack and Annie, who discover a a rope ladder leading up a tall oak in the forest near their suburban home.

"The ladder went all the way up to the top of the tree. There -- at the top -- was a tree house. It was tucked between two branches."

Naturally, they climb the ladder to find the inside of the tree house lined with old books. Opening the books transports them through time and space to a series of adventures with dinosaurs, pirates, Egyptian mummies, African wildlife, and more..

It's exciting and dangerous stuff, climbing trees and visiting treehouses. Many a child's first bone fracture occurred on or below a tree. But the biggest danger with climbing trees and staying in treehouses is that once you're in them -- away from chores and grades and parental supervision -- you may lose track of time and space and identity. When you come down you may be someone else entirely, unrecognizable to friends and family, and perhaps even yourself.

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Treehouses of the World
Treehouses of the World
by Pete Nelson
Harry N. Abrams, 2004

"It's now possible to travel around the world staying only in treehouse inns, bed-and-breakfasts, and hotels," claims treehouse designer Pete Nelson.

Across several months of 2002 and 2003 Nelson and some colleagues (including photographer Radek Kurzaj) completed a sylvan circumnavigation, visiting more than 30 public and private treehouses from Japan and China to New Zealand, Italy, Poland, France and elsewhere. Photographs and profiles of each structure are presented here in a handsomely uplifting hardcover volume celebrating the allure of arborial living.

Every year at the Treehouse Conference, near Cave Junction, Oregon, we get to see at lease one new Michael Garnier creation. He builds treehouses like I change my sheets, and then rents them out to an eager clientele. When we visited Michael for this book, we chose to photograph the Serendipitree (he plays on the word tree everywhere he can) treehouse, one of his more recent buildings. I think this building captures the essence of what treehouses are all about,

Treehouses of the World includes how-to information and advice on building a treehouse, including tree selection, materials, design elements and safety issues. Charts detailing recommended joist spans, maximum decking spans, and girder span options are included in the back of the book. A Resources section provides contact information for treehouse designers and contractors, supplies, tree care and an international treehouse lodging directory with 10 entries.

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