Photo by David Lundgren on Unsplash

FLASH Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 15

The moment I saw the tree standing there against the creek, the sky opening up beyond it where the trees naturally parted at a wider spot in the creek, I knew I’d found the one. I’d been taking daily hikes through the woods behind my apartment complex for weeks. A narrow greenbelt with a paved walking path along the creek, the primary path, which I explored during my first few days of hiking. But on all the days since, I wandered off the main path, finding my way through the sometimes dense, sometimes sparse woods. Exploring, discovering, imagining. Eventually, I discovered lesser trails, long since forgotten trails. But once such trails fell out of use, the grasses, weeds, and roots began to reclaim the bare strips of earth, pulling them back into the unregulated pool of ‘wilderness.’

It had always been a fantasy of mine to live off-the-grid. Close enough to civilization to maintain some level of social contact, access to grocery stores, and my job as a massage therapist. Rents and mortgages have gotten ridiculous in this country; salaries have in no meaningful way, kept up with inflation in housing costs. At least that has been my experience. You used to be able to find a comfortable one-bedroom apartment for $600 in Dallas. Not anymore. Even cramped, little studios are now hovering around $1,000 / month.

But the shape of this tree just leaped out at me as if it were being highlighted by some angelic troupe of special effects wizards. The thick tree trunk rises twelve feet above the ground and then splits into four symmetrically spaced branches. The negative space between the four branches of the tree defined a perfectly square space. Each of the four main branches spread apart from the others and the contained space between was just crying for some individual to make it his home.

A treehouse in other words! A grown man thinking about building a treehouse? I have to laugh at myself. I step back a few steps and almost trip over a log. A felled tree. Then I look around the ground. There are several, long skinny trees, each as thick as my lower leg, lying flat on the ground. How it happened didn’t concern me. What I focused on was the potential they represented. I eyeball to measure the distance between the four tree branches and the long trees already on the ground and decided it was serendipity or fate. But I saw the solution in my mind immediately.

The tree isn’t far from my apartment complex (to the south) or to the back of a little string of shops (a half a mile to the north) so hammering, power tools, aren’t going to be possible with any construction. But hand tools, like branch saws, would work here. The tree sits in a little depression that spills into the creek beyond, which would naturally muffle some sounds. Yes, branch saws. And rope. Lots of rope!

‘It had always been a fantasy of mine to live off-the-grid.’

It takes me two months to finish the platform. After a fall that left me shaken, bruised, and cautious, I got on Amazon and ordered some tree climbing equipment. After that, I felt safe. The construction went quicker once I had some sensible, safety measures in place. I cut the trees below me to form the platform. I did have to cut a dozen more small trees to have enough lumber, but that felt like an acceptable cost to me as I begin creating this structure. The rope though! I think I’ve calculated that I’ve already used more than two miles of rope, to sew and stitch this whole thing together.

I am sitting on the square platform now. I’ve measured it. My platform is just over 15 feet on one side, and just under 15 feet on the other. Easily enough space to build a tiny home. But, for now, I am content to leave it as only a platform. I cultivate the intentional patience to not get ahead of myself. I allow the squirrels and birds a chance to grow familiar with my platform and my unusual presence here as I make my daily trips here to plan, daydream, or simply nap on the platform. I’ve spent a few nights here. On the platform, in my sleeping bag. A tarp by my side in case it starts to rain, I can simply throw it over a rope running from diagonal corners, and voilà! Instant A-frame tent that is open at both ends and gets plenty of ventilation.

‘The sun flickers on my face as the branches overhead, gently shift to and fro…’

It’s October now, the trees have begun dropping their leaves. Meteorologists predict a colder than normal winter, so I won’t be building anything more on this platform for a few months. I will still stealth camp here a few nights a week – thanks to my sub-20 degree, down sleeping bag from REI! By spring, I will be ready to go full Swiss Family Robinson here and finish out my little home. But for now, I’m content to lay here, on my treehouse platform. The sun flickers on my face as the branches overhead, gently shift to and fro under the breeze. The air is cool, the sun is warm, the birdsong is relaxing, and I feel myself gently drifting to sleep. Buoyed by my tree and the earth below. I’m no longer a man apart. I am now a part of this ecosystem. The birds and squirrels have accepted me and will sometimes sit for a while on my platform with me. Soon I will be freed from the tyranny of exorbitant housing costs. I am home.

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