The Great Tree House Project

Phase 1:

It seemed like an easy enough question for a parent to handle.  The kind that gets asked all the time, knowing full well that the answer will be ‘no,’ but gets asked anyway.  “Can we build a tree house?” 

I assumed that without a hesitation my husband would step in and deny the 10-year old’s request, divert his attention to all the cool things we already have, then pick a fight about eating vegetables to ensure the subject was changed for good.  But my ears heard something else.

“Maybe.”  And he stared out of the window into the back yard, eyeing up the oak tree.  That was the beginning of what I have come to call the Great Tree House Project.  The next day the two of them surveyed the back yard, pacing and looking, and making notes in a tablet.  They come inside to give me the synopsis of the new plan:  to move an existing structure in our back yard next to the tree, and add on to it to make it a proper tree  house. 

The existing structure I’m referring to is what we call the “fort” in our back yard.  A decade ago, it was the main part of a big play set that we built when we moved to this house.  It had a center structure, with monkey bars, swings, and (I think) at one time a slide.  Hurricane Katrina did a number on the wings coming off of the fort, leaving only the small center structure.  It gets climbed on occasionally, but for the most part just sits there, reminding me of a time when my kids were younger and our back yard got a lot more action.

Over the next few days, my husband started sketching.  He’d sketch for a while, then walk around the tree and the fort, then sketch some more.  Now, my guy’s a wonderful guy, and an amazing father, but in the 28 years I’ve known him, I’ve never really fancied him an architect.  Or a contractor.  But that was before.  Something in him had either snapped – or awakened.

We collaborated a bit to get an idea of how to proceed, and broke the project up into two phases:  Phase 1 would be to move the fort across the yard to the tree, and Phase 2 would entail the addition of the second floor deck that would wrap around the tree trunk, qualifying the structure as a tree house.  After MUCH discussion about whether the second floor should be enclosed and covered, we decided to call that Phase 3, and reserve our decision for that part until later.

Knowing how little spare time we have these days, we were hoping to get Phase 1 (relocation) done in one weekend, then give ourselves some time (a month or so) to work on the rest.  We made our first haul to Home Depot, and a couple of Saturdays ago, and The Great Tree House Project began.

I was really impressed with our technique for moving the fort across the yard.  Using simple levers and a set of PVC pipes, we lifted it off of the ground and put the “rollers” underneath.  Then using the levers we inched it toward the tree, moving the pipes from back to front as it moved forward.  It’s simplicity was beautiful.  (The mom in me seized the opportunity to remind my kids of the simple machines they’d learned about in school, and to point out that there was a time when all buildings were made this way.)  In less than an hour we’d moved the behemoth across the yard and turned it to nestle in the tree trunk. We were quite pleased with ourselves!


Dad immediately got to work on the frame for the upper deck, with the little guy’s help.  Usually, when we’ve got a project to get done, and the kids want to help, we indulge them for a few minutes, then shoo them off so we can get the work moving.  But since it was “his idea” he engaged the little guy fully.  I hovered nearby assisting when needed, but mostly eavesdropping on the two of them in their discussions about what the tree house would become.  I can definitely see this becoming the social hub of my guys’ world – all of them.  They’ve got some grand plans.

Now, I learned some things about my husband that afternoon.  Evidently he always wanted a tree house, but never got one.  (We had one when I was a kid.  My most vivid memory of it is of my brother dropping a hammer on a neighbor kid’s head, and the resulting trip to the emergency room and stitches.  After that, the tree house came down.)  But as I saw him in action I realized he still had some childhood left to live out, and he was ready to do it.

So every spare minute of daylight has been spent working on this thing.  The first weekend we got it moved, and the framing for the upper deck in place.  A couple more trips to Home Depot for supplies, and it’s starting to take shape.

More on Phase 2 soon!


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