Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Treasured Spaces

I wish my kids had a tree house. Heck! I wish I had a tree house.

A family friend built one for his daughters. It was quite simple but sturdy, properly made with a rope ladder going up through the floor and with windows on each side. He said he hoped that soon the tree's branches would engulf it, so it could be a hideaway.

We have an African Sumac tree in our backyard, a lovely creature with branches not at all stingy with their shade and expanse. A fungus is slowly stripping the bark from it, however, and will likely kill it, so I wonder if its branches are strong enough for such an abode of childhood.

Every Arizona summer the poor thing suffers in the afternoon sun. Would we dare add to its burden?

But, oh, the memories it does provide and the great potential to provide more!

In Tennessee, my siblings and I had a chicken coop for our playhouse. We didn't have to share it with the chickens, for there weren't any. It was a grey, weather-beaten old thing, a relic of a by-gone time. It stood in a hollow that served as the property's landfill (yes, we were that far out in the boonies). On the path into the hollow was a sassafras tree. I used to love to crush its leaves between my palms and then smell the wonderful aroma of them as I passed. The coop had two levels. The first had a dirt floor and was very boring, nothing to see but four dour walls unless you looked up to your right at the open second floor. The only way to reach this second level was to climb a very knobby support beam on the eastern wall. It was brutal, because your hands and legs would get jabbed and scrapped as you made your ascent, and splinters were a likely souvenir of your efforts. Still, once you grasped the lip of that second floor, you were able to stand and gaze out across the field to the woods or the house from behind a half wall. You still had a roof to make you feel as if you were in a secret space and to shield you from rain.

It took me years to climb that beam by myself. I was either stranded on that boring, bare, enclosed dirt floor, or I was hoisted up the beam with help from my siblings. When the day came that I could scramble up to that open, lovely space all by myself, it was a right of passage; I had achieved equality and freedom. Those were the days when my brother Natie and I would take his pop gun rifle up and play cowboys and Indians. Our imaginations were as open as the view from east to west, the view to the landfill thankfully blocked by the solid north-facing wall. Because the denizens of Nature were playing their games before us in the field, there was always something to inspire.

Each of us kids must have gone up to the old chicken coup by ourselves sometimes, too, seeking escape in solitude, in catching the breeze in our hair, in listening to the sounds of thousands of insects, in surveying our verdant Southern home.

I wish my kids had something like that. I've dreamed of what they might have. For instance, I've pictured a large, airy room with tables, chairs, paints, clay and bookshelves filled with all the great tales of childhood lining the wall - a playroom for them and their friends where the messy, adventurous pursuits of childhood reign supreme or where a quiet read can be had in a charming window seat. Such a space seems so much more likely than an abandoned-chicken-coop hideout in the city. Our house in this city is small, however. There is no such room, no room for such a space when our kids can barely navigate the bedrooms they share. And, really, isn't a place outdoors, in the bright light and fresher air, always better for adventure anyway?

Our enormous eucalyptus trees in the front yard offer some inspiration with their large drooping branches that nearly trail the ground now. Sitting between them you can look up and feel transported to somewhere secret and alone. Often my youngest two will go stand in the midst of their cascade of satiny, burgundy-trimmed leaves after I pick up the kids from school. They try to hide behind the wide trunks with their planks of peeling bark before I can exit the van. It never fails that I ask, "Where's Ella and Daniel?" before I think to look for the peek of tennis shoes there. It's the faintest whisper of a secret place, I suppose, but I wish they had something more.

With nary a chicken coop in sight, I do really wish they had a tree house.


  1. I had always longed for a tree house for my children, too. Our problem was that we never had a tree! We only had new plantings that would take a lifetime to grow. So, the kids built "forts" out of whatever they could find. Sheet forts inside the house were enjoyed too.
    We have woods behind our house now and when our youngest was ten we finally built one back there. Funny thing is- it looks like a deer stand, but it's not.

    1. Yes, I tried to build a fort the other day with my kids from some long trimmed branches. I could use some tips! It did not go well, so I thought we might try a tepee design next.

      Yeah for you guys - finally building a tree house. I bet your youngest loved it.


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