July 5, 2010. No, it's not, as rumored, the date Doc and Marty go forward to in Back to the Future II (That'd be October 21, 2015; we still have a few years to find out if we get hoverboards.) Around here, July 5, 2010 was Treehouse Day.
It was one of those ideas that was ready to happen. When Paul asked me my plans for the day off, I admitted the only thing I'd thought of was that it might be a good day to build the treehouse. Turns out that he was calling to suggest the same thing. I've been making plans and accumulating pieces for several years, but everything came together this time.
One of the remarkable things about this project was how little I spent on it. On the actual building day, my total came to $8.05, which included four medium-sized bolts and a chocolate bar I bought to appease Deborah. Nearly everything else was provided by one means or another: old shipping pallets from work, extra 2x4s from other projects, the ladder I'd built for our bed when Deborah was pregnant, and — perhaps most amazing of all — an entire pier's worth of heavy-duty treated lumber that washed ashore during the big flood of '09 which no one would claim, and no one would take away. We're talking twelve-foot 2x10s. The kids' wagon got a real workout that day, bringing that back. It's been sitting under my carport for more than a year, ready and waiting.
I've been planning this treehouse for a very long time, but when it came down to it, the pieces and the tree itself all pointed to something very different. I knew the general principles of how I wanted to build it, but the specifics suggested themselves as I went along: the width of the pallets, the angle of the branches, the height of the ladder, the amount of good wood on this board. The design I ended up with was much simpler than what I'd set out to create, but left plenty of room for expansion.
I had the morning to myself, oddly enough — observed holiday or not, the kids still had swimming lessons, piano lessons, lunch, and nap time, which meant I had a chance to work on it without interruption until early evening. This was excellent, especially since the early stages involved a lot of shifting pieces around and staring off into the distance as I contemplated how things would work together! Paul showed up in the early afternoon, and that made things go much more smoothly. He confirmed my math, helped me thread pallets onto 2x4s, braced boards, measured, and asked his usual insightful questions.
A good treehouse design takes into account the fact that you are not just building a house, you are building it with a tree — a beautiful, amazing, living thing. Trees grow, and sway in the wind. They get sick if not cared for. They don't appreciate having their circulation cut off any more than you do. When it came down to it, I used the absolute minimum attachment points I could — three — made them rock-solid, and made them so that they could move and grow with the tree.
I blanched when it came to actually putting the bolts into the tree (these weren't tiny nail-holes!) but all the research I'd done said that this was the best way to maintain both the strength of the tree and the treehouse. I felt awful drilling into the solid walnut (a poem on the experience is here) but the tree had already started to heal by the time I ratcheted each bolt into place. You have to work quickly with healthy trees, as they start sealing themselves around the intrusion right away!
Getting everything to work together was an interesting challenge — I didn't have a good reference point to measure from, the terrain sloped a bit, and the trapezoidal frame was playing tricks with my eyes. I finally had to use my level at both ends of the main boards, and across the diagonals, until everything read out as level... and then hoped that nothing shifted while I was drilling the holes for the bolts!
Perhaps my proudest moment came when I finally had all the uprights in place. Paul and I had both done the math, and came up with the same answer as to where to cut the boards, but I was still apprehensive that we had left some value out of our calculations.... nope. Perfectly level. For someone who struggles with math as much as I do, this was a victory.
I was screwing down the final boards when the kids came out, still a bit bleary-eyed from their naps, and bemused by the transformation that had happened in the back yard since they had last seen it. They climbed aboard in awe and wonder.
Paul had anticipated Treehouse Day well in advance, and had a present for the occasion waiting in his car. What does a tree fort lookout need? Why, a pair of binoculars, of course!
The rest of the evening was clean-up. I still need to seal and stain some of the boards, but I'm not terribly worried about it. The nice thing about how I made it is that all the supports are treated wood; the flooring is completely (and easily) replaceable with a new set of pallets.
So this is Stage I. There's more in the works — we need a pulley and basket, some windows, a hose-phone, and there's still that large crate lurking on my trailer, underneath a tarp, promising all kinds of potential. For now, though, it feels wonderful to have this up, and to hear the kids' excited voices. It makes so much work so very much worthwhile!