The Castle in the Sky
I’ve been sorting through a lot of old things lately and came across a series of essays from 2003-2004. I thought they deserved to see the light.
We must all obey the great law of change.
It is the most powerful law of nature.
- Edmund Burke
A long, long time ago, before I could cross the street without holding someone’s hand, a tenacious band of boys with an ingenious plan set out to construct an architectural masterpiece in the woods surrounding the Maple School playground. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and the summer sun was beckoning to them. With tools borrowed from unsuspecting fathers and scrap wood taken from a construction site on Clague Road, the boys headed into the woods in search of the perfect tree to execute their perfect plan.
It had long been abandoned by the time I stumbled upon it. Even in its state of disrepair, I was impressed. I was angry and left the house on my bike, telling my furious mother I’d be back later without giving her time to ask where I was going to forbid me to leave. I was planning on taking a walk through the woods to think and be consumed by nature. I and no intentions of finding a a wooded fortress to call my own. At first, I didn’t know if I’d be able to climb up to its first level. Twenty feet above the ground a wooden platform was nestled snuggly between three mammoth branches. Five feet above, another platform doubled as a roof and a second story floor, and above that, a tiny, precariously situate platform served as a lookout.
I was in love before I had even figured out how I was going to get up into it. Wooden two by fours had been driven into the tree at regular intervals to make a ladder, but they started eight feet off the ground. I could barely touch the first rung, but it didn’t matter, I had always wanted a secret hideout, and now I had one. I rolled a fat stump over to the tree trunk that separate me from the fort and piled fallen branches on top of the stump until I could pull myself up to the first rung. Beneath my excitement lay a thick layer of sheer terror. I have never been afraid of height, but with nothing beneath me but rotting lumber, rusty nails and at the hard ground, I was scared, but I climbed on anyway.
The wold has an entirely new look and feel twenty feet above the ground. I could see for what felt like forever. Trees were no longer huge; they were at eye level. Birds darted in and out the branches. I felt like a long lost member of the Swiss family Robinson, or a descendant of Tarzan. My perspective changed and all of a sudden, the world became interesting again. I don't’ know know how long I sat in the tree house thinking, but when I finally chose to make my descent, my head was clear and I was in a good mood.
One my way home, I know I would return. I visited the fort often, usually bringing a book and a snack, or a sketchpad or notebook. I’d read, draw, or write among the leaves. The serenity of the woods makes for the perfect getaway from the chaos of my house and my siblings. It’s my spot to go when I want to be alone. I know that I can’t possibly be the only person who has found their place, but I like to at least pretend that the fort belongs only to me. I carved my name on one of the beams, next to the name Jim. I think Jim must have been one of the boys who built the fort, I’d hate to think someone else already found and claimed the fort for his own.
I still visit on occasion. Usually I go when I feel depressed or angry. I’ve only ever brogan one other person to the fort with me. I’m very protective of it because it’s sacred ground to me. I don’t want to share something so special with just anyone. The last time I visited it, I noticed some strange additions. A pile of plywood lay at the base of the tree, and a new series of platforms encircled the trunk. A new generation of kids has found the same delight in creating their own fortress out of scrap wood and borrowed tools. When I realized that this meant my tree fort didn't’ belong to me anymore I was sad, but then I realized that it was never really mine in the first place. I thought it was perfect in tis unfinished splendor, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be just as inviting when the new additions are complete. Maybe one day I’ll visit and stumble across the people who have claimed the tree fort for their own, or maybe like the original creators, the identity of its builders will remain as much of an enigma as the wilderness that surrounds it.