For about a year, the people I live with had been bugging me about a treehouse.
It didn't start out that way. It started as a "we should think about one of those play structure things." I was quick to stomp on that idea.
Look, I know I'm about to offend all of my friends who own them, but I have never in my life seen an attractive play structure. No, not even yours. In fact, especially not yours. They're just not very pretty. And as much as I get the whole "but the kids love to play on them" aspect, I'm the one who's got to sit on my porch and look out at the damned thing. So no. I'm not getting a play structure.
Of course, trying to Put My Foot Down once my Bride has an idea in her head is about like telling the Iceland volcano that shut down air traffic this summer to get over the whole "ash" idea. A force of nature will not be denied.
I tried enlisting my neighbors in my coercion (they have twin 5 year olds, and have so far resisted the play structure menace as well). I like my lawn. I like my yard. It goes with the house. Let's not mess with that, m'kay?
But then my Bride played the "hey ass, you're not the one who's stuck with the kids all day through the summer. Easy for you to say no," card. Which, you've got to admit, is a pretty low blow. True, maybe, but wicked. And in a moment of weakness, I gave an inch.
"What about a treehouse, instead?"
Holy appeasement, Batman, what the hell were you thinking? This then became, "But Daddy, you promised." Which then led to slippery slope. Which then led to a set of plans being drafted and put on my desk, and appropriate trees picked out.
I tried to find a quick way out of something a little less grand and arboreal, and offered up a tire swing. Who doesn't love a tire swing? And tires - they're free! (go to your local tire shop and just ask. Mine even helped me pick out the ones with the softest sidewalls - "better for sitting" the guy said. Didn't bat an eye, like people showed up every day to ask for these things.)
"Oh! Great idea! We'll have a tire swing next to the tree house!"
Wha- ? Next to? No.. instead of.. oh hell. Never mind.
Allright, fine. I'll give in. I will build a treehouse. But only if I have complete creative control. I want to build something that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb, and keep me up nights with the sheer unattractiveness of the whole thing.
"No problem, Ken. Here are all of the feature requirements that must be included... Did we mention the climbing wall yet?"
This is about half a treehouse.
I had a sort of vague idea of what I wanted to do, and jotted down a scanty parts list before heading to Lowe's. Part of how I take my vengeance on my Bride for coming up with all of these lovely project ideas is by never writing anything down or drawing up plans. It drives her highly detailed, scientific brain absolutely crazy.
It also means that I am guaranteed to make at least half a dozen trips back to the hardware store before I'm done. I consider this a small price to pay to wreak my petty vengeance.
Also. What's not to love about a trip to the hardware store?
Having picked out the spot, I had our buddy Tom come over one lovely Saturday morning to help me put up the first set of stringers. Notice please what my lovely Bride is doing here while we plot our first bit of heavy lifting:
She calls that "supervising."
In a pretty good morning's effort, though, we soon had the basic shape up.
In my teenage years, I often would work weekends and summers with my step-father, the Carpenter (amongst other skills). I was always a fairly slow learner, but eventually, I figured out which end of the hammer to point at the nail, and after a few weeks of this, he'd set me to building those little stoop-porch things off the back doors in this one sub-division we were working in. Nothing fancy. Just a basic little raised square with rails. They were constructed like little 4' x 6' decks. I think he gave me thirty or forty bucks for each one I completed. Which was pretty good money back in the day, and turned out to be one of many pretty good skills he passed on that I'd find handier than I could've imagined years later.
(My step-father occasionally reads this 'blog as well, when I call him up and tell him I've put something up on The Internet that he might like to read. Last time I talked to him, he pointed out the flaw in the coffee table I built recently. And damn him, he was right, too. [hint: I mis-used the biscuits]. If I had to guess, that's why Norm hasn't stopped by yet.)
Turns out, a treehouse is remarkably like a deck in basic construction.
As we finished putting this up, though, it soon became apparent that I was only partially succeeding in my quest to make the whole thing blend. I sat down and sat on it for a while over lunch (and while Tom headed off a little more sore for his morning's effort but seriously appreciated) to give it a good think.
Hey. Those trees that surround our property. Hmm.
I have a chainsaw I bought about a year or two ago that's been gathering dust. I knew it would come in handy one day.
I began thinking about how I could integrate more "tree" into the treehouse. Just to keep with the motif, you see. So I took the rest of the day and wandered through the woods, cutting down likely looking trees, which would start to be shaped into further support posts, rails and spindles.
Oh yeah. Did I mention the whole thing was going to be two levels high?
And not a dinky set of levels, either. If I'm building the treehouse, I expect to be able to walk upright on both levels.
Of course, when I added up what this would mean, I realized that the floor of the second level had to be about 15+ feet off the ground (accommodating the width of the joists, my 6' tall frame, etc. etc.)
Hmm. It's pretty high up there.
Ah well. The kids are bouncy. We should be fine, right?
I soon figured out that the problem with insisting on creating each spindle and rail from hardwood trees cut out of the forest (anywhere from 1.5 to 3 inches in diameter) meant that I needed to cut a lot of little saplings. But they're hardwood, and I didn't want to de-forest any particular spot. So there was a lot of hiking around the perimeter of our property involved, finding, cutting and then hauling likely looking trees (and then disposing of the scraps and spindly, un-usable tops).
And then, I had to measure and cut each spindle individually to accommodate the curves and "naturalness" of the shape in the rails and spindles.
In other words, this whole process took for-freaking-ever. (Or about 4 full weekends of effort.)
Plus a whole lot of scratches, cuts, soreness and bitching on my part. Also: do not wear Tevas while wielding a chainsaw. I'm not going to tell you how I know this, because my kids might read this one day, but I'm just saying: you will frighten the hell out of yourself.
I did cave in and mail-order a slide from some internet store or another to add to the tree-house.
Have you ever tried to by just the slidey-bit? Without the whole play-structure? Yeah, I had never thought of that either. Turns out, you can buy them at Lowe's, too, just like that, on their own. Of course, I didn't figure this out until after I had paid shipping and handling on one to be hand delivered to the house.
Um. Well. Oops.
However, I did get the bright idea that I would actually hand cut both the ladders (one to the first level, and then one up through the trap door in the second level), by splitting one of my larger saplings (6-8") lengthwise down the middle.
Somehow, randomly, I managed to choose oak trees for both of them. Oak, for those not as familiar with it, is about the hardest of the hardwoods that I could have chosen out of the nearby forest. It took me two saws and about an hour and a half to split the first 9' sapling. Did I mention we've been experiencing a record hot summer of well over 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity?
It was at about this point that I decided all treehouses were stupid. And the people that build them are noble heros who deserve all the cocktails they can drink.
Fortunately, my cheering section would come by to check on me and see how things were going every once in a while. And to pick up the occasional screws I would drop from two stories up along the way, or give the cordless drill a quick test, just to see if his father was paying attention.
Notice how grubby he is in this picture. This pretty much sums up The Boy's state of being for the entire summer.
Eventually, however, the whole thing was done, more or less.
We didn't hold an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, mostly because I had dulled every sharp blade we owned in trimming down all those trees to finish the tree before the winter set in.
I had been convinced that this thing was going to be my never-ending opus for a while, and that I was destined to cut and schlep branches and stumps every weekend for the rest of my natural life. (things really slowed down when I hit the rails on the second level - having to cart and carry them up and down two separate ladders tends to bring you to a bit of a crawl).
OK, so there's no climbing wall yet. (That'll go on the back, as soon as I figure out what kind of wood I'm going to use to create it). But there is a trap door. And a bucket and pulley for hauling things up to the second level.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. It's not completely camouflaged, but it doesn't stick out as bad as it might. And as much as I grumbled during the making of it, I have to admit, it was kind of fun to tackle as a problem to be solved.
And of course, seeing the first bunch of kids come over and scramble up and down the ladders into their brand new, not-so-secret clubhouse did make the whole effort seem pretty worthwhile.
It's all becoming part of what has turned out to be one of the most magical summers on record, with weather, holidays and general family together-time adding up to the perfect recipe for a childhood, young or old.
See? Fairly blendy. For a glorified play structure.
Now: Bring on the Autumn.
I've got another project or two in mind.