Tree Fort

Written in 1997

My brother and I took hammers,
piles of wood leftover from Dad’s woodshed,
tape measures,
and saws.
All were the foundation of our creation,
youth being the age of limitless possibilites
the giant maple tree the object
of our creativity.
We began with nails,
simply pounding lumber against
the flesh of it’s own kin.
Building upwards ten feet,
we placed the first platform,
ascending five feet higher,
the second.
Finally, after house of stretching precariously,
of leaning over ledges at great heights,
of hammers penetrating nails into branches,
our final platform was constructed.
There, thirty feet above the ground,
our childish goal was achieved.
Such satisfaction!
We were invincible up there,
I knew that I was safe in that tree,
not scared by the troubles of my world.
Hours were spent enjoying the view,
reading books that had more
pictures than words,
playing Swiss Family Robinson,
and swimming in the summer sun that bathed us.
But then fall came.
The maple leaves turned brown,
shriveled up,
and drifted to the ground.
Hours once spent playing in the mighty maple
were now diverted by new responsibilities.
Soon play in the tree was on a weekly basis,
on a monthly basis,
and on a yearly basis,
….and then it was forgotten.
The age of limited possibilities were upon us.
I have recently strolled by the maple,
and acknowledged it’s existence for the first time in years.
In fact,
I sat down on the dewy grass
as cold as the autumn rain and the per-winter chill,
just so that I could savor it’s memories.
Two by fours littered the old maple,
hung loosely,
clinging on by nails, long since rusty.
And I realized, gazing upward,
that our castle was no longer a fortress…
It was just a tree.

My brother Kevin and my cousins Erik and Bjorn and I (AKA, we Nielsen kids) had built many tree forts over the years.  Our family property created a Nielsen Triangle and there are still ghost towns of old forts and trails etched into the woods that are hugged together by our homes, some thirty years later.

Two years ago I stopped by Eglon on an unannounced whim (it turns out that impulsive is an accurate way to describe me) and I found myself staring upwards at that rag tag hap havoc mess of four by fours long rotted and rusty still glued to the side of the maple tree, a ladder zippering its way sloppily up the side.  This was our “Tower of Babel” tree fort.  We had several different kinds of tree houses.  At Erik and Bjorn’s we had the tree-fort with the zip-line to get down…in the gully we built the tree fort we dreamed of turning into a tree HOME.  (That fort fell ON TOP of my cousin Erik, while Bjorn was 12 feet up on the platform and cracked his skull on landing…no worries…no cousins have been killed in the making of this blog post….)  The Tower of Babel tree fort was …. the Nielsen children attempting to touch the sky.  HOW HIGH COULD WE MAKE IT?  (The image for this post was the vantage point for the tree fort)

When I revisited this tree fort, I couldn’t resist the temptation to climb….It amazes me how fearless I was as a child…heights today make my stomach do flip flops….the wood was long rotted but it seemed to tolerate my weight…. so I tentatively climbed up a few rungs.   At ten feet I was beginning to grow overconfident, but it wouldn’t be until fifteen feet that the wood ladder snapped under me and I proceeded to fall from one breaking rung to the next until momentum got the best of me and I fell backwards and landed on a bunch of sicker bushes that broke my fall.

I broke a swing seat once too…it just gave way under my weight mid-swing….Not so good on the self esteem 😉

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