Harley Hay: Treehouses help nurture a child’s ever-growing curiosity

It was fairly early in the morning and it sounded like a Suzuki 250 Hustler motorcycle from 1970 was screaming up and down our back alley.

Those two-stroke rockets had a whine and a scream, and they left a cloud of blue-white smoke wherever they went. But what on earth was a motorbike from the ’70s doing in my alley? Especially at this time of day?

I dragged myself out of a relatively enjoyable slumber and squinted out the window.

There, across the alley in the neighbour’s yard, there’s a guy in a tree. Way up in a tree. A very tall, skinny spruce tree.

I could hardly see him – he was engulfed in the thick, green branches like some sort of foreign forest creature. I could make out a blue helmet and a bunch of dangling implements strapped to this tree creature.

Thing is, was at least 10 metres off the ground, towering way up over the roof of the neighbourhood houses. And the whole tree was swaying ominously.

And then the Suzuki roar ramped up, and down came a large branch, thumping onto the snow-covered lawn on the other side of the neighbuor’s fence.

As I watched the young fellow (who I chatted with later and found out is called a “climbing arborist”) methodically strip the tree of branches with his chainsaw and climb perilously to the very top of the thin evergreen sky stick, I started to think about trees, which, of course, got me thinking about treehouses.

I always wanted a treehouse in my own yard – didn’t you? A place where when you were a kid (or a busy, time-ravaged adult, for that matter), that would be your very own escape room, where you could get away from it all.

Get above it all. And it would also be your clubhouse – big enough where you and a couple of your best friends would hang out and talk about important stuff like cool motorcycles.

My buddy Mark had a treehouse in his yard. It was totally radical, except for one small thing – it wasn’t, technically, in a tree, in the sense that it was flat on the ground.

OK, so it was more of a tiny shed, really – but it served the purpose of a treehouse (without the tree) and for us treeless kids, it was close enough.

Four or five of us would pile in there on a warm summer Saturday afternoon and be as happy as a bunch of kids in a shed could be.

You couldn’t even hardly stand up in there, but there was room enough to play board games and table top hockey without a table, and to lie around reading the latest Fantastic Four and Superman comics.

But the little clubhouse didn’t have the view a treehouse would have.

In fact, the clubhouse didn’t even have any windows.

After about 20 minutes in what was essentially a wooden box, it tended to get a little, well, rank in there, and we’d soon come staggering out into the sunlight, ready to play some catch or jump on our bicycles and terrorize the neighbourhood for while before piling back into our treeless tree house. A world of our very own.

But now, the climbing arborist next door had finally toppled the tree into a large pile of pine. And as I watched him buck it into logs, I wasn’t thinking “more firewood,” I was thinking: “one less treehouse.”

And I wondered how long it will take to grow an oak tree in my backyard.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker.

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