Sep 25, 2012


The longer you’ve been in a tree fort, the harder it is to take down.

You put your whole self into building that castle in the sky. Straightened out dad’s bent nails, salvaged planks from the neighbour’s fence, stolen supplies at night from the construction site across the street. You chose just the right tree(s), agonized over triangle vs. rectangle designs, and negotiated with the parents for how high up the rope ladder could go. You pounded and bruised and bent and re-nailed till it all miraculously hung together.

Then you stood back and looked at what you’d created. A little off-centre, a few headless nails smashed in sideways, a gap here or there to let some light in. It wasn’t what you dreamed, but it was your creation and it was Real.

The first day after finishing a tree fort is the best. You throw the tools in a bucket and convince mom to let you haul up some popcorn and lemonade. You sit inside with your buddies and just glow in the achievement. “This is the BEST fort ever!” You believe is was IT.

Then a few more days pass and it’s not so new anymore. The one thing you forgot when designing and building it was what you’d do once you moved in. Turns out that reading magazines by a stolen flashing-orange traffic light isn’t so awesome. You start to notice those cracks, realize it’s a bit too small, wish you’d put in a bigger window. And before you know it, the talk is about the next fort, or the addition.

When we’re ten, the new fort planning begins about day 3. When we’re ten, we’re fearless in our unattachment, and it frees us to break-down and re-create ourselves and our world endlessly. Taking down that fort, careful to not splinter wood or lose nails, is every bit as creative and energizing as putting it up, because even during the destruction we are seeing the raw materials of the re-creation.

When we Grow Up, we stay in that fort longer. We get used to its creaks and smells, and very good at DIY patch jobs over its faults. If that support beam is cracking, we can just attach a second one alongside to shore it up. We build extra rooms and skylights on our soul and believe it will all hold together.

But now and then we need a Re-Do. We need to take that fort down all the way and start over. And if we don’t, life may just do it for us. More often than not we keep trying to patch up that fort until some out-of-our-hands “Act of God” not-covered-by-insurance earthquake shakes us right down to ground zero. Or the foundation wasn't built strong enough for all these additions and it finally just gives way. Either way, we wake up in a pile of rubble knowing it’s time to pick up the hammer again.

We need to honour the raw materials as they come down, knowing that they’re the starting place for the new structure. And we need the courage and vision of our ten-year-old selves to believe that this growing pile of rubble is still the foundation for a new castle in the sky. And believe that while much of the good character of the old fort can be preserved, this will be an even better one, this time with a deck on the roof and a secret entrance and maybe, just maybe, a bigger window that lets in a bit more sun.


  1. Thank you for that Rick- I have experienced leaving my things in Europe when moving to Canada and then a housefire that took things away. A marriage breakup after that and now a looong trip with the little bit I kept in a container in Canada. I have built 4 cob houses as though I would live in them but never stayed long. I think I have learned that things are replacable (mostly) and really its about quality of life in the moment. Enjoy the take down and the re-build, and the moving. Doing this in a non-toxic way of course makes it better- earth and other simple materials can teach that.