Living in Tree Houses

I love trees and have always wanted to live in a tree house – with certain amenities like a bathroom, microwave and Internet. I’d be fine with the light of my computer, iPhone and lanterns.

In fact, I’d make a good forest ranger, living in the mountains, keeping fire watch, ever on the alert for pyromaniacs and lightning strikes, big bears and wild cats. This profession especially appealed to me while working in crowded and cutthroat cubicle land.

When I played in trees and tree houses as a kid, watching for fires was the last thing on my 10-year-old mind. Playing with fire was more like it. My girlfriends and I disappeared into the woods after school and climbed up the big oak tree to the shack it held in its branches. The tree and its wooden treasure were on the property belonging to three brothers who went to our school. They were close in age, half French and half English as were many of my friends and neighbors in Montreal. The oldest of the three brothers was a bully, the next was a friendly clown and the youngest, our age, was a heart-breaker.Tree House

We were most afraid of the bully, so after we removed the “No Girls” sign covering the miniature door and stepped in, at least one of us kept nervous watch. We only stayed long enough to paw through a pile in the corner and find what we needed – strike a big-bulbed match, light a cigarette, take a few woozy drags, and rifle through magazines hoping to find naked people, having grown bored with National Geographic. We were disappointed. Cars and sports. We were never caught, but a big part of the excitement was anticipating the possibility. Who would chase us around, who would joke, and who would try to kiss us?

One afternoon we heard voices below and looked out to survey. It was our younger sisters! All four of them threatening to tell if we didn’t let them come up. We didn’t.

We always scurried down and left quickly but lingered in our minds, wishing we had our own tree house. I think we asked our fathers and were told it was dangerous or illegal. Funny how they had this mono vision photo in their minds of “women’s place,” aprons, frilly dresses and manners and girls being protected and there we were outside in all our free hours, wandering for miles, finding hobo camps, crawling out over ponds on massive tree branches, hijacking rowboats, outrunning the security guards and police and weirdo who waved his wiener. “Keep them safe” was the motto, but the reality was don’t think of them at all. While we may not have been directed to the soccer field and cheered on, we were left to define ourselves.

We tried more than once to erect our own forts, sticking to ground level, pulling bushes around us, but they were never as, well, uplifting or exciting as elevated hideaways with views. And they were easy to smash down as we’d soon discover. In those days, dogs ran all around the neighborhood and a few East Coast hurricanes traveled up the St. Lawrence lashing their tail ends over Montreal, which is an island in the river.

Today when I see little tree houses in back or front yards, I wonder who plays in them. Boys and girls, sure, but what kind of adventures do they have? Pre-fabricated like the tiny wood houses? Do they bring in their cell phones and computers? Do the parents stake out nearby? Keep careful watch from across the yard? From their tree-level windows?

Keep careful Neighborhood Watch on us all as we walk and drive by? Are they watching me snap these photos of their tree house? Don’t worry, I mean no harm, I’m not a wild dog or howling wind. Just a quiet observer. Listening for the lost voices.


A Place for Everything

My favorite part of moving is settling in. Finally. All the rush-hassle of packing, arranging movers, schlepping items to the Good Will or new home and living with ceiling-high piles of boxes subsides. Energy slowly creeps back, each day a sliver closer to being able to walk and think without creaking.

Figuring out where everything goes, the human trail of do-dads and odds and ends and artifacts and books and notebooks that I drag from home to home like a colorful kite I hope to fly.

My sister and I are both our engineer father’s daughters, with an innate sense of organization. An ability to be both creative and logical. Just as I can organize a story in logical fashion and my sister a website, we can also figure out the most efficient way to lay out and store items. And to make them look good too.

Each new home presents a unique set of challenges. What worked beautifully in one kitchen, such as putting all the pots and pans in a cupboard next to the stove, doesn’t work in another, with the stove cupboard so narrow it will only hold a wire rack. Or the bizarro cupboard with 6-inch deep shelves that worked for cookbooks now replaced by a pull-out wood tray that wobbles and sticks and makes all the plastic ware fly out onto the floor.

My sister is fortunate enough to have designed her kitchens and other spaces to exact specifications. She takes a place for everything to a level that would have awed our OCD father. That is a challenge, of course, just as working with what’s there is also a challenge.

I’m always pleased when items fall into the right place and are aesthetically appealing too. It doesn’t always happen immediately. Sometimes I sit in a room for a few weeks before it hits me that the couch would look better a few inches over, the tables and lamps need to be switched, and the ottoman should be moved out of sight completely. (It’s a small room.)

So far, I have really lucked out with the turquoise bureau. Originally enamel black with a slight Chinese accent, my mother bought it after dad died and she moved into a modern condo with a whole new look, including bright red and green glossy tables.

It was her bedroom bureau until she married our step-dad. I think he used it for awhile. When they bought a larger house, the bureau was moved into the guest room and painted white. A neutral palate for neutral guests, or for those of us in the family needing safe havens, including me, my son, and my niece (at different times).Turquoise Bureau

The bureau has big, deep drawers and when I visited I was able to comfortably tuck away my basic items. But as time went on, I noticed the drawers began to fill up with my mom’s and step-dad’s overflow. They took up photography and my mom calligraphy and designed greeting cards and eventually got computers with all the design software. Each time I yanked open a drawer it got harder and harder, with paper and photographs and camera parts and computer gizmos jammed together and spilling over. Finally, there was no space in the bureau at all for guests and so I would just lay all my clothes on the other twin bed. (There was no room left in the closet either, which my step-dad filled with his elephant-sized Ansel Adams cameras.)

After our step-dad died and mom coped with running a big house by herself, I didn’t have the heart to say anything about the bureau. She finally agreed to downsize close to my sister and the time came to give away much of her furniture. I asked for the bureau and my younger son transported it in his truck from Hermosa Beach to La Jolla.

I had the perfect spot for it in my office, a little alcove in the wall. And I knew right away it should be painted turquoise, my favorite color. I hired my artist-photographer-musician friend Patrick to do it – bright shiny enamel. It pleased me to look at it every day and know it held all my office supplies beautifully.

Then I moved around the corner and what do you know, there was an alcove in that office too! And now, two years later, I move again. This time I have a walk-in closet off my office – and the CLOSET has an alcove for the bureau. They were made for each other. The moving guy couldn’t believe it when he hefted it in.

Yes, some things are a perfect fit, fall into their right place.