Running With Scissors

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wherein quizzical plants
her feet firmly in mid-air and holds forth

No sooner had our pre-human ancestors swung down out of the trees than they were
trying to get back up into them. There's nothing like a prowling lion to make one reconsider
one's options. The trees afforded a view of the surrounding area, shelter from the elements,

and protection from those lions. This urge to return to the trees led man to develop an art
form: the tree house.

Watch children: it's hard-wired, this urge to climb. The tree house is the perfect place
to disappear into when life is just too much to handle (and the parents are after you for
something or other). You can hang out alone or socialize with like-minded buddies. You can
avoid siblings, members of the opposite sex and other undesirables. You can pelt said
undesirables with water balloons from a safe distance. Adults love tree houses for many of
the same reasons. Some set up a home office or studio in the trees, others host parties
there. It's a great place to watch birds, and to let the birds watch back. The tree house is
a window on both the world and the human soul.

Tree Houses of the Past

Amazing things, trees: the energy of sunlight transformed by the workings of chlorophyll
into towering, solid protectors of the human body and spirit. They shape our spaces and our
thoughts, and welcome us to the kingdoms of the air. No wonder some religions worship them.

No wonder, too, that tree houses have a long history in many cultures:

  • The Roman Emperor Caligula hosted banquets in an enormous room set high in a giant
    plane tree. Nobody said no to his dinner parties.
  • During the Italian Renaissance the Medicis, who never did anything half-heartedly, built

    a marble extravaganza in a tree. Nobody said no to their dinner parties, either, but many
    wished they had.
  • A town just west of Paris became famous in the mid-19th century for its arboreal
    restaurants. The food didn't kill anyone, as far as we know, but the steps were
  • One of the oldest tree houses in England was built in the mid-18th century in a
    broad-leafed lime at Pitchford Hall near Shrewsbury, replacing the original that was
    constructed almost a hundred years earlier. Poison probably was not involved.
  • Captain Cook discovered the inhabitants of Tasmania living in the trees when he arrived
    in the late 1700's. Some South Pacific Islanders lived in thatched nests, transporting
    themselves down in large baskets. No worries about lions, but the Tasmanian devils could be

Tree houses also appear in some of our best-loved stories, notably The Swiss Family
and the Winnie the Pooh books. (Tigger's figured in the latter.)

Tree Houses Today

Modern tree houses can be slap-dash rickety affairs, made from scrap and salvaged
lumber by well-meaning but inept parents, or constructed by professional builders with the
care given to our grander residences. Some are plain structures; others boast electricity
and indoor plumbing. Wood is the preferred building material, although one company in the
United States sells tree houses made of metal. In all cases we start with a suitable tree or
trees, located in the perfect spot (preferably somewhere on our own property, although
some free-spirited types in the United States have been known to build their tree houses on
public land, to which less-free-spirited public officials object). A number of businesses
around the world are devoted to tree house construction, providing assistance to the
do-it-yourselfer or doing the actual construction work themselves. Here's a sampling:

If you lack a suitable building site, not to worry. You can still experience tree house
living by visiting one of the many resorts that cater to the would-be tree-dweller.

'Imagine a hotel built among Amazon
treetops: catwalks 70 feet up leading from a great circular dining room of polished tropical
woods, a bar like an eagle's nest, a honeymoon suite built 110 feet up a mahogany tree, and
friendly monkeys, macaws, sloths, and parrots scampering, fluttering, and dangling all over
the place.'
-- Condé Nast 'Traveler' magazine

Seventy feet up?! Dangling? Yow. If this is your idea of a good time, the tourism
industry would love to talk to you. Many warm weather vacation spots have tree house
resorts just waiting for you. Among them are:

Things Not to Do in a Tree House

As appealing as the tree house is, for dangling one's spouse or even a participle or
two1, or for plotting world domination2, there are some things that one probably ought to
avoid when up a tree. These include:

  • Bungee-jumping (branches)
  • Playing Blind Man's Bluff (it's a long way down)
  • Getting drunk or otherwise mentally impaired (it's still a long way down)
  • Barbecue-ing (starts fires, attracts lions)
  • Shooting off fireworks (starts fires, alarms the lions)
  • Antagonizing the lions (you have to come down eventually)

There you have it; time to get climbing. And I ain't lyin'. 3

Running With Scissors


31.07.03 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Disclaimer: I'm not advocating dangling one's participles or one's
2I'm not advocating
world domination, either.
3I may have twisted
the truth a bit, though.

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