Leave me alone in my tree house


I’ve got an idea for a tree house. It’s going to take a while to complete it, but I have a while because I’ve decided to grow the tree from seed. That decision came about because I’ve built two tree houses in recent years, both of them in a bit of a deadline rush, feeling stressed to perform and produce. Therefore, I figure that if I set about to build a tree house in a tree that is at the time of this writing (August 9, 2016, early morning) only 15.4 inches high, no one for the next thirty years is going to ask me if I’m done with the tree house yet, and thus I will be free to go about the planning and building of it as leisurely as I please.

I will baptize this tree house the “Leave Me Alone Tree House.” I know already that this is not going to be a very popular name. I feel as though I should be relentlessly big on collaborating, being social, forming alliances and collectives instead of working by myself, removing my name from the authorship of a project, etc. But I do plenty of all of that already, and so in this project I am giving myself two prerogatives that I don’t generally allow in my work: I want to build this tree house all by myself, and I want you to leave me alone in it.

I have memories of needing to be left alone stretching back to the very beginning of my memories, and so we can only assume that this need accompanied me into the world the moment I was born. As a toddler I dabbled in being left alone in my everyday life – for instance, by building mini abodes of boxes and bed sheets inspired by medieval castles, like the one David Macaulay drew in his book Castle, where the outer and inner gates don’t line up and so the enemy is forced to run around inside the castle walls directly in the cross hairs of the royal archers. I always built my castles inside closets, which provided an extra layer of protection because my mother first had to guess which closet to search before getting down to the work of unearthing me from beneath my multilayered construction if she wanted to have a talk. My brother had the much simpler tactic of spontaneously falling asleep whenever he wanted to be alone, but I’ve been a fairly difficult sleeper my whole life so that never worked for me. Small-scale construction projects and hiding generally did.

Later on, in elementary school, I amused myself by drawing detailed architectural plans for my future house, and each new and progressively more outlandish plan had two common denominators with the ones that preceded it: a spiral staircase leading to a tower, and a small atelier detached from the rest of the house in which to practice my various artistic pursuits. Both of these building features say one thing: Leave me alone.

My desire to be left alone on occasion doesn’t mean I’m a misanthrope. Despite what you may be thinking right now as you read this, I am a very social person. My default attitude toward the rest of the human species is a feeling of like or love, depending on the person, with very few exceptions. I love my family and friends in particular. In fact, I might even invite you to the Leave Me Alone Tree House if you ask, although I’m wary that bending the rules this early on could lead very quickly to that private space becoming the headquarters for my friends. Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, for example, ostensibly built so that he could get away from people, was actually a bit of a social hub. (As a side note, Walden was published 162 years ago today. Happy birthday Walden!) In addition to only being about two miles outside of Concord, Mass., Thoreau also had plenty of friends over on a regular basis, reportedly dozens at a time. I’ve never been able to figure that one out, because this is what the cabin (in its reconstructed version) looks like on the inside:


It seems cozy and the winters in Concord do get cold, but it seems like that would be a bit cramped for two dozen people by anyone’s definition. I may consider building a second tree house to accommodate my social circle. But then again, everyone’s probably still going to want into the LMATH because people are like cats in that respect: they always want to get into spaces that clearly say Do Not Enter, like your cat who scratches at the bathroom door while you pee.

Part of my wish to be alone sometimes is because one of my favorite pastimes is to sit or walk quietly with nothing but my thoughts as company, and this can be difficult to do when you’re with other people. It is also seemingly a pastime that is not universally appreciated: a University of Virginia study published in 2014 in the journal Science reported that many of its subjects preferred to self-administer an electric shock rather than be left alone with their thoughts.[1] During a 15-minute period of alone time with nothing to occupy them but their minds, 12 out of 18 male subjects and 6 out of 24 female subjects opted to give themselves mild shocks with the push of a button that had been made available for that purpose. The boredom had gotten to them, and they looked for stimulation anywhere they could get it. I was surprised when I read this. Did these subjects not realize the value of boredom, the value of sitting down on a riverbank and listening for “the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience” (says Walter Benjamin)?

Thought — to call it by a prouder name than it deserved — had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute after minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it until — you know the little tug — the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the careful laying of it out. Alas, laid on the grass, how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating. … But however small it was, it had, nevertheless, the myterious property of its kind — put back into the mind, it became at once very exciting, and important; and as it darted and sank, and flashed hither and thither, sent up such a wash and tumult of ideas that it was impossible to sit still.[2]

This is how my thinking will go, alone, in my tree house.

I will of course have neighbors in my tree house, and that’s fine. I don’t believe that the peace that comes from voluntary isolation demands an isolation that is physically far-removed from others. It could just be a door with a lock, like Virginia Woolf said. Or not even that: for instance, I am at this moment alone in my apartment, closed off from the world by a door with a weak lock that could easily be picked. On the other side of our apartments’ adjoining wall there is my neighbor. He’s playing FIFA World Cup for Playstation; I can hear the announcer. And yet, I feel quite isolated. Sometimes I think and write at the dining room table while my husband is noodling around with a project or talking to his sister on the phone. Sometimes I’ll even think and write in full view of a television, and I still somehow manage to feel isolated. I’m not someone who needs to have all my ducks in a row in order to think and write, so my plans for the LMATH should not be read as a complaint that I can’t get anything done with all these people around, nor as an excuse for waiting for the perfect moment to get down to thinking and writing. I can think and write just about anywhere, zone out into my private world no matter where I am. My desire to build a tree house and be left alone in it comes from a lifetime of thinking and writing in the midst of it all and occasionally looking up to see what’s going on and being surprised that I am not in fact in my story world, but rather in my real world. I like my real world quite a lot, but passing from one to the other is jarring, and sometimes annoying. In those moments I feel like a toddler asleep in her car seat who wakes up to find that she’s suddenly at grandma’s house 300 miles away; she likes grandma’s house, but is irritated at having been moved without her consent. Since I can’t inhabit my story world, the next best thing I can do is to inhabit a tree.

One of my favorite books is Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees. In it, a twelve-year-old boy named Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo bolts from the family lunch table in the garden and climbs up a tree, declaring with prepubescent anger that he would never again set foot on the ground as long as he lived. He keeps this promise, living out the rest of his days hopping like a squirrel from branch to branch, navigating from one tree to the next all throughout the forests of Italy’s Ligurian Coast. He had plenty of company despite his lifestyle choice. Throughout the book, he runs with a band of child thieves, fights pirates, has love affairs, helps his ground dwelling neighbors with their farming, pens a treatise on political theory (which he never manages to get published, but not for lack of trying), and later on gets involved in local government. Calvino calls a person like this a “solitary who does not avoid people.”

Personally, I don’t care to go to Cosimo’s extreme lengths, though I admire the stubbornness and ingenuity he shows in constructing his alternative existence. For me, though, it would be enough to just have my Leave Me Alone Tree House, secluded in a shady grove of fig trees – fig, because that’s my favorite tree – and have that be my own personal space that I could retreat to as needed.

To date, the LMATH’s blueprints are mere outlines – really more of a wish list than an actual blueprint at this point. I know with certainty, however, that it will feature a rope ladder, trap door, zip line (to where? I haven’t yet decided), a bookshelf in the Cosimo style (“sheltered as best he could from the rain and nibbling mouths”[3]), and a solar powered hot plate so I can heat water for tea and coffee.

1. Fariss Samarrai, “Doing Something is Better Than Doing Nothing for Most People, Study Shows,” UVAToday, 3 July 2014, https://news.virginia.edu/content/doing-something-better-doing-nothing-most-people-study-shows.

2. Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov,” http://ada.evergreen.edu/~arunc/texts/frankfurt/storyteller.pdf.

3. “But he would continuously change them around, according to his studies and tastes of the moment, for he considered his books as rather like birds and it saddened him to see them caged or still.” Italo Calvino, The Baron in the Trees.

Tree house update, October

Growth report:



I had to move it from its old spot on the bookcase because it was getting too big. We also had no more room for books. For reference, at the last tree house update two months ago our little tree was 62 cm, and it’s now 71 cm, plus its foliage is quite a lot wider and the trunk is turning into a real trunk. I think we’re going to need a bigger pot.

Tree house update, July

Time for a growth report.


image (82)

Compared to March 19:


Things to read and watch on a rainy Tuesday

Am I the only one feeling all doom and gloom lately? I think not — several other people I know are feeling the same thing. Must be in the air.

My escape: an afternoon dose of craftiness and inspiration toward the construction of my future tree house.

The Beauty of Function in Creatures’ Constructions (a review of the new book Animal Architecture)

Building a Reciprocal Roof

Continue reading…    

My first tree house (part 2)

(Part 1)

When we left off, I was trying to figure out how to build a railing around the platform that I’d bolted (ouch) to the tree. This is how the railing started out:


And this is when I thought it was done (prior to paint):


Not the prettiest architectural detail known to man. But I thought it would work. And the kids were happy.


Their grandfather, however, was dubious. One day when I was up in the tree tinkering around with something or another, he appeared out of nowhere, silently, as he was wont to do, and nodded at me in greeting. He asked how it was going. I said things seemed to be going all right, and that I hoped to start painting soon. He nodded again, and said that it looked good, except that there was one thing that concerned him a bit. He walked over to the edge of the railing and shook it with one of his hands. The railing wobbled… a lot.  That was a little embarrassing to say the least. I said that I’d noticed it wobbled but I figured that the kids wouldn’t be leaning hard up against it, that was common sense. He raised his eyebrows as one does at someone who apparently has no experience with small children (I didn’t). We discussed it and tried to brainstorm possible ways to make it sturdier without taking the whole thing apart, and in the meantime decided that the tree house for the time being would be off limits to kids without adult supervision…. which is kind of against the spirit of tree houses, so I knew I had to figure out something, and quickly.

Shortly thereafter I planned a weekend with Mas to go out and visit an art installation in the mountains built by a collective that includes a friend. We planned on hiking up from the valley, staying the night in the installation — which was livable, and at the time housed at least three members of the group that built it — and continue hiking the next day.

The hike up:


When we got to the top, after several wrong turns in the village, we finally came across our destination:


The installation was a massive wooden maze — think Swiss Family Robinson + The Baron in the Trees + a band of pirates — of corridors, ramps and rooms built on the roof of a chalet that had been scheduled for demolition. Workers in fact had already begun tearing out floorboards and walls in the chalet’s interior, and then stopped work for the five-month duration of the installation. Colonies of wasps moved into the chalet, and the artists lived atop it in the open air. None of the guys who worked to put it up were what most people would call building “professionals” — there were no architects, engineers, construction workers, or carpenters on the team. They had learned to build from experience and common sense. And it was solid and sturdy, though many of the visiting public (including architects, engineers, construction workers, and carpenters) couldn’t believe that a structure resembling a fistful of Pick-Up Sticks could possibly be safe, even as they were standing in it.

Like I said, we’d planned on stopping by, staying the night, and then continuing on with our hike the next day. But then Sunday came and went and we wound up leaving Monday afternoon, and then only because I had to work for the next day. Climbing back down to solid ground was a shock to my inner clock as well as to my body. One of the building rules for the installation was that none of the planks were to be vertically or horizontally placed. The effect was that you were forced to walk always on sharply angled floors, which was really jarring at first to my sense of equilibrium, but after a few hours I got used to it and was bounding around like a squirrel on tree branches. Leaving to go back to Geneva felt like disembarking from a boat. Mas and I practically had to hold on to each other in order to walk straight. The mental effect was the same, which I’ll go into in a bit.

I spent three days back at my bookshop job in Geneva, and as soon as I busted free at 6:30 on the third day I went straight back to the mountains with the backpack I’d packed beforehand in preparation. The rest of the month of August went pretty much like that — luckily my schedule at work was pretty light that month, but even so I wound up switching with two of my coworkers so once I had nine straight days of freedom to spend hanging out at the installation, reading, writing, and learning more about how it had been built. (And actually, how it was continuing to be built, because that was a thing too — the building of it kept going throughout its entire lifetime and would continue until the last day, when the joke was that one of the guys would drill a screw into the wood and then immediately reverse the direction of the power screwdriver to remove the screw he’d just put in and then turn around and carry on with dismantling the rest.)

The building of it, they told me, had started with a ramp on the roof that led up to the chimney. Around the chimney they built a large wooden octagonal table (the Stammtisch) with a hole in the middle for a small firepit, which worked as the common area for everyone to hang out. From there it grew organically and every which way — ramps and stairs leading to bedrooms, an outdoor shower, a kitchen area, and a slide leading into the chalet via a window (the only part built inside the house) where they could go in case of thunderstorms and torrential downpour (and on at least one occasion, massive hail). The ramp that started on the roof was extended and turned into a tunnel that went in one window, out another, and down to the ground. The opening of the tunnel on the ground was where visitors were expected to enter: when they came for the first time (there were plenty of repeat visitors) there was always a look of confusion until finally they called up to someone on the roof “How do we get up?” The answer was always “Through the tunnel at the side of the house. Down on all fours.” (Unless the visitor was eight months pregnant, like my friend Hannah was at the time — she got helped up the secret way.) There was a delay of a couple of minutes and plenty of giggling and shrieking (the tunnel got pretty narrow at one point, and it was unlit) until the visitor tumbled out onto the first ramp on the roof. The look on their faces was always the same, no matter what their age was, and that was a look of pure, giddy joy.

A picture gallery is in order here.

Needless to say this was the most fun summer I’ve ever had in my entire life. I basically lived on a pirate ship for a month. And while a lot of it was fun and games, I learned so, so much that to be quite honest I’m still wrapping my head around it all nearly two years later. Some of the learning was building related, but the majority of it was learning how to deal with a different rhythm of time. My research was pretty existential to begin with, but this experience multiplied that. I spent a lot of time reading and writing there, especially during one week when the guys had to go off to check out the site for one of their upcoming projects and asked me to hold down the fort. One of the books I read was Sylvain Tesson’s Dans les forêts de Siberie (The Consolations of the Forest, now translated in English). As a (true) story I found it to be a little Eat Pray Loveish if Eat Pray Love had been fueled by vodka and written on the taiga by an anticapitalist, but there were several passages that made me think about what I was living at that moment … albeit Tesson isolated himself in a lakeside cabin, his nearest neighbors a good 100 kilometers away, and I was hanging out in a trippy tree house with three to four other people, a steady stream of visitors, and a village down below where I could go buy groceries and use the Internet. But I’m telling you, I felt camaraderie.

The cabin, realm of simplification. Under the cover of pines, life reduces itself to vital gestures. Time torn from daily duties is spent at rest, in contemplation and for small pleasures. The range of things to accomplish is reduced. Reading, pumping water, cutting wood, writing, and pouring tea become rites. In the city, every act is carried out to the detriment of a thousand others. The forest pulls together what the city spreads apart. (p. 6 in the French, my translation)

This is where I felt a connection. On my days back in Geneva I couldn’t believe how hard it was for me to readjust, and I felt immense frustration over the fact that I was spending hours upon hours doing things from which I felt distanced, even alienated, but which nevertheless I did because that’s just how life is when you live in a city in the 21st century. I know I probably sound like anyone else who’s ever gone on vacation to a remote locale, but for me the simplification of the day, combined with never really knowing what time it was, combined with the physicality of where I was living, plus the fact that I was outside all day, every day and through the night, plus the fact that I knew this experience was a one-time deal (it was taken down in late September) — all this made for a wakening up of my senses that I’d never felt before in the same way.

It made me think above all of idleness, and of how idleness is such a dirty word for so many people. There’s an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson that I love, “An Apology for Idlers,” in which he writes that idleness does not consist “in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognized in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class.”

That idea has informed much of my research for some time, and especially in conjunction with my experience on the pirate ship. Because I was doing a lot: reading, gardening, writing, thinking, meeting and talking with people, learning some building skills and baking bread:

_DSC1025  _DSC1050

What is idle about any of that? What end purpose does it serve? What is it producing?

For me it reinforced a passion for my work and helped push for a change in my way of thinking about how I spend my time and for what and for whom, which has all contributed toward making me a happier person than I’ve ever been. Not a bad investment of a month of my life.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a little Thoreau to take with you on the rest of your day:

I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing in a golden age, of enduring materials, and without ginger-bread work, which shall still consist of only one room, a vast, rude, substantial, primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over one’s head, — useful to keep off rain and snow; where the king and queen posts stand out to receive your homage, when you have done reverence to the prostrate Saturn of an older dynasty on stepping over the sill; a cavernous house, wherein you must reach up a torch upon a pole to see the roof; where some may live in the fire-place, some in the recesses of a window, and some on settles, some at the end of one hall, some at another, and some aloft on rafters with the spiders, if they choose; a house which you have got into when you have opened the outside door, and the ceremony is over; where the weary traveller may wash, and eat, and converse, and sleep, without further journey; such a shelter as you would be glad to reach in a tempestuous night, containing all the essentials of a house, and nothing for house-keeping; where you can see all the treasures of the house at one view, and every thing hangs upon its peg that a man should use; at once kitchen, pantry, parlor, chamber, store-house, and garret; where you can see so necessary a thing as a barrel or a ladder, so convenient a thing as a cupboard, and hear the pot boil, and pay your respects to the fire that cooks your dinner and the oven that bakes your bread, and the necessary furniture and utensils are the chief ornaments; here the washing is not put out, nor the fire, nor the mistress, and perhaps you are sometimes requested to move from off the trap-door, when the cook would descend into the cellar, and so learn whether the ground is solid or hollow beneath you without stamping. A house whose inside is as open and manifest as a bird’s nest, and you cannot go in at the front door and out at the back without seeing some of its inhabitants; where to be a guest is to be presented with the freedom of the house, and not to be carefully excluded from seven eighths of it, shut up in a particular cell, and told to make yourself at home there, — in solitary confinement. Nowadays the host does not admit you to his hearth, but has got the mason to build one for yourself somewhere in his alley, and hospitality is the art of keeping you at the greatest distance. There is as much secrecy about the cooking as if he had a design to poison you. I am aware that I have been on many a man’s premises, and might have been legally ordered off, but I am not aware that I have been in many men’s houses. I might visit in my old clothes a king and queen who lived simply in such a house as I have described, if I were going there way; but backing out of a modern palace will be all that I shall desire to learn, if ever I am caught in one. (Walden, p. 157-158 in the Dover Thrift edition.)

PS: Since I mentioned I did a bit of reading during that month, I’ll share with you my list in case you want to discover or rediscover any of it:

  • Thoreau, Walden (read for what I think was the 200th time)
  • Sylvain Tesson, Dans les forêts de Siberie / The Consolations of the Forest (He brought several boxes of books with him for his six months of isolation, and includes a list of all of them early on in the book. He had some odd reading choices that I don’t know I would take the time to read, but a lot of good ones that I’ve already read or want to some day.)
  • “L’homme qui plantait des arbres” (“The Man Who Planted Trees,” novella, you can read it online here, and/or see the animated short here)
  • Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life”
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract
  • Emerson, Self Reliance and Other Essays
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

My first tree house (part 1)


(photo courtesy of my friend Janis and his WWII era camera)

Oh the memories…

As requested, here’s a bit about the first tree house I built, summer 2012. It’s interesting for me to think about it again since I’m in the beginning stages of planning another one and there are for sure plenty of things that I did with the first one that I would not do again.

The project came about at the end of the first year of my master’s program, when I announced during my final presentation of the year my intentions to build a hut in the woods. My research was (and still is) about a reconsideration of what we consider to be useful skills and about creating human-scale economies of production. This all took off when I attended a workshop by an artist obsessed with apocalyptic themes, and I found myself drowning in boredom during the talk so my mind started to wander into thinking about what people do to prepare for the coming fall of civilization, and what they perceive to be important skills for the rebuilding of society. I was sitting in the back of the room next to a computer so I started reading a bunch of the websites floating around out there where survivalists and preppers converge to discuss closed-loop agriculture systems, the stockpiling of canned goods, etc. It got me thinking about what sorts of skills I had that would contribute to my community’s survival, and also the sorts of skills my friends and acquaintances had. I sent out a mass text message to about 40 people, no prefacing context given, asking: “If civilization comes tumbling down tomorrow and we’re forced to rebuild a community, what skills and/or knowledge and/or material would you contribute to the effort?”

The replies were varied:

  • knowledge of growing food
  • construction skills (wood and metal both)
  • reconsideration of the time dedicated to work
  • a copy of Barjavel’s Ravage
  • skills in facilitating group work and consensus-based decision making
  • a Kindle and raclette grill (didn’t understand that one — where would we plug them in?)
  • crocheted clothing to protect from the elements
  • ability to identify wild edibles and hallucinogenic mushrooms

So some of the answers were jokes, but most of them were serious, and I was surprised and impressed to discover that many of the people I knew had some sort of hidden talent that I hadn’t known they possessed. Then when I considered what I would contribute to the post-apocalyptic community of my imagination, I came up with: text editing and yoga teacher. And I could tell stories. However, I had little to nothing in the way of knowledge or skills toward the direct production of most of life’s necessities. Thus began my obsession with all things DIY (or rather DIYT – Do It Yourself Together).

In the beginning I was dangerously toeing the line of falling into the whole individualist mentality of the lone frontiersman doing it all himself — I had an exaggerated list of things that I decided I would learn, which today makes me laugh. Hunting? Seriously? Did I seriously think I would be capable of shooting bambi with a bow and arrow? That initial frenzy to learn it all now calmed down and I settled into three areas of skill acquisition: bread (for sustenance), woodworking (for shelter), and music (to keep up our spirits). Since then I’ve added clothing. When I worked for a newspaper in upstate New York I covered (ha) a regional nudist convention, and thanks to that I understand the allure of running around naked in the woods, but I’ve got Irish skin that burns easily so I prefer to cover up.

At first I imagined constructing a wooden shelter on the ground, but one afternoon/evening we were all sitting around Parc Bastion drinking cheap wine —

(oh the memories)

— when a group of young proselytizers, like so many heathen-seeking missiles, came over to our neck of the park and started asking people to fill out a questionnaire about Jesus. A guy sitting in another circle of people drinking cheap wine got up and came over to sit with us so as to avoid the conversation that was starting to get heated where he was. It turned out that this guy knew a bit about tree houses and, wouldn’t you know it, my friends and I were talking about that exact subject. He and I got into a lengthy discussion about tree house construction, and I took copious, illegible notes:

1st treehouse notes

I eventually went home, psyched about this new project but without a tree in which to build it. Help came in the form of my friend Steph, who lives a bit outside of Geneva in her childhood home, which is surrounded by a big yard with lots of trees. And her dad lives on the bottom floor of the house, and he just happens to be an artist who works with metal and wood and therefore has a huge collection of pretty much any tool you can imagine and was happy to lend it all to me.

First I visited the tree for an afternoon and took what I figured were all the necessary measurements:

blueprints version 1

and then I went home and built a meticulous scale model of it (which wasn’t really necessary but it was an excuse to play with clay):

my messy desk

Then one day in July, I started work. Luckily, since I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, Steph (who was also one of the people who had responded to my survey with a serious answer) helped get me started.

steph leveling the first support beam

And here’s where we get into things I would do differently now. Because, yes, we did it: we bolted the support beams to the tree branches. Ouch. In our defense, the tree was very old and her dad was planning to cut it down in a few years, so from the start we knew the tree house and the tree would not be around for very long — but still, I’m embarrassed now that I didn’t take the time to become more informed about less invasive ways of fixing support beams to a tree that don’t involve drilling holes into the poor thing. Lesson learned, I won’t do that again.


That first day we got all three support beams up, much to the excitement of her kids.


And on day two I put in flooring.

end of day 2

Which meant that by day two the kids were already starting to move in.


If you’ve never tried to build something with three kids under 10 running around you, I don’t recommend it. (“NELSON PUT DOWN THE POWER SAW!”)

Once the platform was up, it was all exhilaration followed by… what next. Because by that point I had started to rethink the design a little, realizing that some things I’d planned were not going to work. So in the meantime I built a bookshelf. First things first.

bookshelf before walls

I’d imagined a hanging bookshelf like in The Baron in the Trees: “To keep his books Cosimo constructed a kind of hanging bookcase, sheltered as best he could from rain and nibbling mouths. But he would continuously change them around, according to his studies and tastes of the moment, for he considered books as rather like birds and it saddened him to see them caged or still” (p. 102).

After the bookshelf, it was necessary to install some sort of railing. This turned out to be more complicated than I’d first thought but luckily in the midst of this project I met some people who had built their own tree house (of sorts), considerably bigger than mine, and I spent enough time with them and their project to be able to learn a few important construction techniques.


But right now I need to head down to the garden to get some planting done. To be continued.

Welcome to your new home, little one

Welcome to your new home, little one

Reading & living in the trees

How to Begin Living in the Trees — conversation with Pierre Bal-Blanc, Ferran Barrenblit, Alexandra Baudelot, Binna Choi, Eyal Danon, Maria Lind, Pablo Martinez, Sanne Oorthuizen, Emily Pethick, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, Tadej Pogačar

Tony Negri – Reflections on the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics (the manifesto is here)

There is still space for subversive knowledge!


The Rise of Anti-Capitalism (NY Times)

Starving College Students and the Shredded Social Contract (The Nation)

College students, of course, have long been broke, and plenty members of today’s professional class nurture nostalgic memories of their ramen years. What we’re looking at here, though, isn’t picturesque slumming—it’s serious poverty. A recent paper in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, for example, found that 59 percent of students at one midsize rural university in Oregon had experienced food insecurity in the previous year, with the problem especially acute among students with jobs. “Over the last 30 years, the price of higher education has steadily outpaced inflation, cost of living, and medical expenses,” the authors wrote. “Recent changes to federal loan policies regarding the amount and duration of federal aid received as well as how soon interest will begin to accrue after college may exacerbate the financial challenges students face. Food insecurity, as a potential consequence of the increasing cost of higher education, and its likely impact on student health, learning and social outcomes should not be considered an accepted aspect of the impoverished student experience, but a major student health priority.”

Imagining the future of my avocado tree

The avocado tree in the kitchen is growing like mad, such that I’m starting to question its terrestrial origins. Since its original sprouting in a cleaned-out yogurt pot, I’ve moved it twice to bigger jars. I swear you can practically see it growing. It’s now in a two-liter mason jar, and as of this morning the root has reached the bottom. Time to move homes again.

This time I’m going to plant it in soil, since it’s well ready for that, but I’m going to do it indoors because we’re in alpine region here and not necessarily rooted ourselves. I’m hoping that my tree will be content to live in a large pot for a couple more years before I find it a proper home in the ground.

As the tree is going into the ground eventually, I’m not concerned with getting it a pretty ceramic pot. 100% utilitarian here. So I went to the flower shop across the street from our apartment and asked if they had any largeish bins lying around that I might take for my tree’s temporary home. The sales lady looked at me dumbly. “No, we don’t have anything like that.” I didn’t believe her, because I saw with my own two eyes all the decapitated flowers they had sitting in large, black plastic bins. Surely they had a few extra of those in the back? “No, we don’t have any. We carry pots like this,” she said, indicating with a wave the fake-hydrangea-filled 150 Euro chinoiserie that I was not interested in buying. I was annoyed but didn’t feel like pushing it further, and so I left, and that’s when I saw stacks upon stacks of exactly the sort of plain bin I was looking for. Next to the dumpster. So, like I’m sure you would have done in the same situation, I returned to the shop at night with Alvaro and his mother (in town for a visit) and went dumpster diving.

I haven’t done it yet but this week I’m going to pound a few holes in the bottom of the bin for drainage and plant the tree in some nice loamy soil. A few sources for proper avocado tree care:

Edible Plants — UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County, CA

SF Gate: What Kind of Soil is Good for Avocado Trees? and Conditions Required to Grow an Avocado Tree

Morton, J. 1987. Avocado. p. 91–102. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.

University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources: Avocado Production in Home Gardens

After getting the tree in the ground (and by that I mean the pot), and I’m projecting quite a bit here, I’m going to start planning the tree house that will eventually grace its branches. All my research online for “how long does it take an avocado pit to grow into a tree capable of supporting a tree house?” has turned up zero results. Even bearing fruit is questionable. For one, it appears that you need to graft the trees, so I’m going to need to find someone with a producing tree if I want mine to grow fruit. When they do finally produce is also uncertain. I’ve found estimates ranging from four to thirteen years. Since trees can bear fruit when they’re still quite small, I reckon that the tree house-supportive stage is easily three times the upper end of that estimate, or thirty-odd years. I’m also making this estimate based on the fact that when my parents moved into their current house I was four years old, and they planted a forest of saplings out back; I’ll soon be 33 and those trees are now quite large, more than sturdy enough to hold tree houses. So do the math…

I’ve built two tree houses — one in an actual tree and one made partially out of living trees. They were fun projects and good learning experiences but I feel like with both there were certain things that didn’t turn out the way I wanted, or else there were things I did that I would do differently now. I felt a bit of a time crunch, because both times the tree houses were on someone else’s property, and there were children residing there, and so in the rush to perform I didn’t do things the way I might have done had I had a nice long time (like thirty years) to plan everything out.

So: Welcome, this is the first installment in an ongoing archive of research into the non-rushed building of the avocado tree house.