Tree Houses for Birds and Humans

by Ralph Reynolds

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    If I could find a higher tree

    Farther and farther I should see,

    To where the grown-up river slips

    Into the sea among the ships,

    To where the roads on either hand

    Lead onward into fairy land.

    From “Foreign Lands” by Robert Louis Stevenson

    Have you ever dreamed of flying like a bird, of spreading your arms wide and soaring away to lost kingdoms and impossible adventures?

    In the green years of childhood when everything is possible, such dreams are at their strongest, and sometimes they come true. Children have been seen flying above leaf-shadowed summer swimming holes, playing tag with old oak trees and sky-high knotted ropes. Others have been sighted soaring away from playground swings, their hair streaming back like tall grass and their teeth white in the sunlight.

    And having conquered flight (at least in their dreams), where would young skylords make their homes? Where else but in the treetops with the birds, high above those who have surrendered to the ground?

    And so they build tree houses, people-nests, sky-forts—cool, leafy refuges from which to launch their flights. Attached to the old world only by a ladder or a trunk, a tree house is a place of mystery and power. When you climb into one, you are in a new world, with only birds and clouds for neighbors. Here, all thoughts are deep thoughts, and you can do or be absolutely anything you believe you can. If you have never lived in a tree, your imagination had an underprivileged childhood.

    Once when I was too young to go to school, I waited till the older boys had gone with their books and then climbed high up in their huge, old cottonwood tree to where a rope was tied. I took hold of the handles of the pulley that hung from the rope, so scared I could hardly breathe, and after what must have been 15 or 20 minutes of trying to get up the courage, I finally kicked off into space, the wind in my face and the world rushing past in a breathless green blur. I knew before I jumped that I was going to feel like a bird flying, and I did! I whipped down the long rope to a dusty, end-over-end landing about half a block away, and then I ran home to Mom—a little battered and bleeding, but exultant. “I did it! I did it!” I can still remember how it felt.

    In fact, a lot of people can still remember how it felt to fly in those green years. They still dream of wing-freedom and of tree houses (both kinds—birds’ and people’s). Some of us have drawn, painted, or photographed our dreams (or the dreams-come-true of neighborhood kids). Come fly again for a few pages and visit some people-nests and bird-castles we have loved.

    Incidentally, if you have built a beautiful tree house to launch your flights from, please send us a 35mm. slide of it. We may go flying again in a future issue. CAUTION: As of this writing, birds are still not required to obtain building permits before starting construction on their nests, but, alas, such is not the case for many humans. It would be well to check your local building restrictions to learn if a permit is necessary in your area.

    This sculptured tree house is part of a chess set made by Dennis Smith of Alpine, Utah

    Dick Brown of Farmington, Utah, painted this watercolor of a tree house he found in Centerville, Utah

    Bluebird hatchlings emerge into their beautiful treetop residence in this series of shots by F. Albert Sanchez of Quincy, California

    “April Tree Houses,” a compilation of line drawings and diary excerpts by Dennis Smith, includes these three sky-palaces

    Osral Allred, one of the Church’s fine watercolorists, captured this Spring City, Utah, tree house

    Dale Fletcher of BYU might be called the “tree house painter,” having painted some two dozen people-nests in oil and acrylic. This is one of his early efforts, done about 15 years ago

    At left and above, this Grantsville, Utah, tree house (which I shot about five years ago) is one of the finest I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few

    Although summer is the golden age of tree houses, this Dale Fletcher painting proves that they have winter charm as well

    This is the Unknown Tree House, unknown because the photo was submitted to the 1978 contest without a name on it. We would appreciate hearing from the photographer