Monday, March 5, 2012

Tree House

In the Beginning
As many of you are aware, I am a Carpenter. I am a builder of buildings and a repairman of mobile homes and a cooker of meat and an eater of same; I cut large pieces of wood into smaller pieces and then put those pieces back together into shapes and items that humanity is pleased by and for which they will pay money. I also take large slabs of meat and cut them up into individual units and lovingly baste them with magical sauce and expose them to fire until they too are something that is good and desirable and something that I also hope will one day garner pay and adulation.

And Also...
But that is not all. I do other things. I am a cyclist and a bicycle mechanic and a rider of bicycles. I don't cut them up; bicycles come already chopped and assorted and assembled into pleasing shapes. My job is to keep those shapes pleasing and while I am possessed of the ability to take a box of bicycle parts and put them together until they have become a wondrous steed of miraculous wonder and joy what I really like to do is ride my bicycle and put her in the repair stand and oil her moving parts and keep her clean and silent and happy until next time.

(Disclaimer: I am not a misogynist nor a pervert (as far as I can tell) but every time I write about my bicycle it gets a little weird. If it makes you uncomfortable just skip over those parts.)

And Still More Also...
I also and delightedly take words and phrases and assemble them into sentences and paragraphs that may or may not be pleasing and desirable and may or may not one day bring me money and adulation; it is a thing that is hard to know and were I to be paid for it I suspect some measure of joy would be lost in the doing of it and so I am happy to leave that part of my cosmos a bit of a mystery.

You don't have to worry about fame and fortune in the writing world if you keep using words like “delightedly” in a sentence.”

“You are no doubt correct, Voice, but shut up. I'm elucidating here and I do not require assistance.”

I Have Dogs
Meanwhile, just as the Voice interrupts my stream of wisdom Toby the Trouble Puppy gallops into my writer's garret and leaps into my lap. It is early morning and while Miss Daisy the Yellow Dog is noble and dignified (in comparison) Toby in the morning requires hilarity and dog kisses and will not be deterred; he is one half Jack Russel and one half Pit Bull and All Terrier. He has the personality that I wish I had and until I laugh at him and let him wiggle and lick and do his clown act there is nothing to be done.  Pontification and elucidation will have to pause for a Dog Moment.

You weren't doing all that great with the pontification and elucidation anyway, said the Voice.

“You know, Voice, one of these days...”

Tales Of Future Passed
But where was I? Ah yes...I am a Carpenter. Yesterday the Blonde broke out her Family Album and sorted through some pictures that, as always, created a bit of sogginess but it was also fun to look at old pictures of job sites from the Days When I Was A Builder. My friend Coyote was (and still is) a fairly skilled amateur photographer as well as a highly skilled driver and handler (of me) and I had forgotten some of these jobs; here was me with no gray hair and my brother Broc in all his fierce glory and my other brother Theodore and old Mountain Man Gary, who was a Muscle Shoals Blues Man (bass guitar) and perhaps the best carpenter I ever knew. These were days gone by and people gone by as well and like I said, there was a little sogginess and also it started me down memory lane which can be both a sad and joyous road on which to tread.

But that is neither here nor there. I am a Carpenter, I have built many things both large and small.

Calling Mr. Peabody
Recently I had an experience that was soggy and profound and more than a little religious. To share this experience with you it will be necessary to fire up the Quasitron 6000 Wayback Machine. Please excuse me while I get more coffee and another shot of Morning Rum (steadies the hand for typing) and also so I can sharpen my rusty ax and chop up the big old oak tree that crashed into my trailer during last night's tornado. The Whispering Pines Trailer Park is a busy place. (But that fallen oak was fortuitous; it takes a lot of firewood to get a head of steam on the Ol' Quaz this early in the morning.)

Okay. It is five minutes later. Don't ask. Everyone hang on. When I strategically kick the Quasitron 6000 just right we will all be instantly transported back to 1990:

“Don't be afraid, honey. It's just Tim Joe. Go ask him.” We are sitting in a lushly tropical rear garden in Florida. Everyone is thirty-ish and successful. They are not smug about it, but they might as well be. A lot of things have not yet happened. But today it is a beautiful and sunny afternoon on the East Coast of Florida. There is meat on the grill. You can hear the Atlantic waves crashing on the nearby beach. A sweet little seven year old girl, the daughter of our host, climbs onto my lap.

“Tim Joe.”

“Yes, baby?'

She speaks in a shy whisper with her head tucked into her chest. I have to bend close to hear. The circle of friends, wine glasses in hand, well dressed and successful, pause in their conversation to also listen. This Tim Joe is a newcomer to their circle, but he has come on fast. He built the new pottery studio for the host; and the beachfront home for one of the guests. But this is an insular circle, careful of who gets in and they are curious (and maybe a little  jealous) about this intimate development. Chelsea never speaks to grownups. But her boyfriend is Tim Joe's nine year old son and all of them, (after all is said and done) all of them in this insular little circle are family, tribal members of the Inner Circle.

“Will you build me a tree house?”

“Of course I will, baby.”

There is polite laughter and some kind of applause and then conversation returns to the gossip and yesterday's sailing and the other things that they talk about at such affairs; but Tim Joe is not listening. Shy Chelsea has run off to other pursuits and one day she will be an anthropologist. But here in 1990 Tim Joe is looking up at the big old Live Oak tree that shelters the yard and embraces and comforts the gathering. He is looking at the pattern of the sturdy limbs of the tree and envisioning where struts will be placed and where the ladder will go and how he will anchor such a thing to a tree that has had the audacity to have grown in a place where sometimes the wind blows with ferocity and seriousness. He turns to the host.

“Will it have a roof?”

“Of course. She wants to have friends over for sleep-outs and she wants a little table for tea.”


Back To the Future
Outsider my trailer door the birds are singing their asses off here in Old Hawks Park. This place where I live, this place here by the River is part of the migratory pattern of many types and species of flying creatures and no small amount of swimming ones. It is a beautiful place and very quiet and early morning is a good time to remember things and distill those memories into words to share with your friends, if you are fortunate enough to have friends. I am a fortunate one and it gives me pleasure to share these memories with you guys. Hold on a second...

“Yes Toby, I love you. Good boy. Yes, that's a good boy. Love the Puppy. That's a good boy. Oh, ear licks! Oh good boy. Yes, love the puppy. Ok. Ok. That's good, puppy. OK. That's enough. Ok. Bye Bye puppy. OK. BLONDIE! Get this varmint out of my hair! I'm Blogging over here!”

“You want an egg sandwich?”

“Yes! And it's about time you woke up! I'm a sensitive artist and need my morning coffee and food and so on and how am I ever going to achieve greatness with such slipshod handling ...”

She's already gone.

“I know.”

So as these migratory feathered fowl serenade me into yet another Monday I will relieve your pain and suffering and wrap this up. One day my phone rang. I heard a voice that I once heard every day but now never. Sometimes insular circles are hollow and made to be broken. I don't know. My friends did not drop me; they are all still there. What happened was a lot of stuff happened and the years went by and now here we all are: apart.  My phone rang.



(I have many names. I have lived long and variously and all these various adventures and lives require lots of various nomenclature.)

“Hello, Cromwell.”

“Hey Buddy! How have you been?”

“What do you want? I've been fine. But you're speaking with exclamation marks and that means you want something.”

“Of course I want something. Why else would I call?” Textbook Cromwell. “You remember that tree house you built for Chelsea a while back?”

“Vaguely,”  I reply.  He laughs. I really love this guy. I wonder what happened.

“That was a dumb-ass question, wasn't it? I forgot that you never forget anything. Anyway, we want to take that tree house down. Chelsea's been at college for a long time and nobody ever goes up there and we just thought you might want to take it down.”


What Goes Up...
Four hurricanes and many years have not diminished this little work of art that I created so long ago.   I have always been proud of this tree house. No nails went into the tree, I used careful joinery and and chains to hold her in place. The ladder was designed as a structural member and here she is, this icon of my memory and now I have the privilege of taking her down, the honor of undoing one of the hallmarks of my past. So much has occurred, so many things have changed in my life, yet here is the tree house and here was Cromwell and in a way nothing has changed at all.

As we loaded the aged wood into the back of my big old step van, Coyote laughed.

“It doesn't seem that long ago that we were taking this wood out of this truck to put up in that tree, Boss.” I have a lot of names.

“It was yesterday, seems like.”  I look back at the beautiful old oak.  She looked somehow empty.  But she was, after all, a tree.  They do fine without our help.  But she looked...empty.

“How long ago was it?” He throws the last piece of worn out and used up wood into the truck.

“It was a long time ago.”

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Bird Sanctuary


  1. Tim Joe,

    The Anonymous mode worked once before, so I will give it a go again. I finished reading Tree House a bit ago and have been sitting here in Hoosierland letting it sink in. It pulled some heart strings that I didn't know I had - both coming and going. I would say more, but you said it all.


    Bill Hopp

    1. Thank you, Bill, I really appreciate that. I sat down this morning at sunup with a cup of coffee and this post just popped out.


    2. TJ

      Coffee and sunup have always seemed a good combination to me. I too enjoyed them together this morning, but all I ended up with was dirty dishes - I'd best go do something about that now...


  2. Great post Tim Joe but do you have Pictures? I'd love to see some pictures of that work of art. My 9 year-old is hankering for a tree house and I told her this summer (gulp) so I could use some inspiration from a master.


    PS Picked up a 1980 Peugeot "Course" in need of a massive dose of TLC that I have been riding lately. Finally found a French bike in my size!

    1. Ryan, you dazzle me with your constant good luck at finding keeper steel. The bike gods continue to punish me for letting a Miyata 1000 get away last year. It was my size, too! Fifty bucks and ready to ride and I had the money. But congratulations on your Peugeot.

      There are (or were) pix of the tree house but I think wife #2 got them. It was about 10x10 and had a steep pitched roof. The roof framing was so sweet we never put on the cedar shake shingles and night-blooming jasmine grew over the frames to create a kind of bower. During my divorce I would sometimes go there late at night and drink beer after the kids were asleep. Sometimes the owners would join me with a bottle of wine. They always had some mighty fine wine.

      The biggest advice I can give on your tree house project is for you and your daughter to have a blast building it. If I run across any pix I'll e-mail them over to you.


    2. Nothing to finding the old Steel TJ just spend waaaaay too much time looking on CL, local bike co-ops, OTSG and keeping your eyes open in case someone has kicked their old 10 speed to the curb.

      Thanks for the advice I am sure we will have fun doing this.

      By the way I now have pictures in my head of your Tree house thanks for the great descriptions ;-) thx and give that trouble puppy a kibble for me, and Miss Daisy too of course.

      My Dog Shep, black lab(ish),loves to come to the local coffee shop with me so he can run his "look into my big sad brown eyes and see I need love and a treat" con game.


  3. BTW I think Miyata is Japanese for "White Whale" ;-)

  4. Tim Joe,
    Thanks for your stories. This was a good one.

  5. TJ,
    Watching time pass can be a melancholy pursuit, but it seems to be one that we all fall into. Too far gone too soon, too far away too long - not easy to let go. I keep remembering what Warren Zevon said just before he died - "You've got to enjoy every sandwich." Relish the little things, remember that time...

    Keep the faith brother.

    Steve Z

    1. Thanks, Steve. After so many years racing around chasing money, these days I have a little more time and far fewer distractions and find myself wondering what the chase was all about and why I did it.

      But cars houses and kids cost money and while I have none of those things now, back then I did. Which I guess explains everything.

  6. You have quite a way with words. Thanks for sharing your stories.

    1. Thank you, Kathleen. I am never quite certain how others will view my stuff, but I keep trying.


  7. Still building I see. Nice work, Tim Joe

  8. Good story TJ. I enjoyed it.
    I have much respect for skilled carpenters/craftsman. In my work life, building trades are my customers and as you know there are good ones and guys you would not let near your, or any of your friends homes.

    I am of the building skill set of build it once, then build it again because it was wrong the first time! But, I do keep after it! My last project was a chicken palace for my wife's new hobby of having chickens and those "free" eggs we get.
    Whoa, rambling here..
    Thanks for the post

    1. Ramble away, Jim. Besides, hen house design and construction is a highly sophisticated process. I would love to see pictures of your efforts.

      As far as skills go, I had to learn the hard way that "once slow is faster than twice fast."


    2. Cartography is the same. Drives me mad that my student trainees spend so little time sitting and thinking, but now it is so easy to change and tweak your work, I guess that seems silly.

      Fantastic post, loved it.

    3. Thanks for coming by, Dee. I was reading a fascinating article somewhere, perhaps the New Yorker Magazine, about the Art of the Mapmaker. The gist of the piece was that although maps are easily computer generated these days they are no match for hand drawn art.


  9. You my friend are not only a carpenter, bike mechanic, and chief you are also a wordsmith!

  10. Matt! I can't tell you how excited I got when I saw Dominic wearing a Dillon Bikes T-Shirt! What six degrees of separation was that? Judi and Dom are, like you, my hope for humanity. keep pedaling, lad, I'll be watching!

  11. Aaahh Tim Joe, if your carpentry skills match your writing skills, there are indeed more than just treehouses which will outlive all of your readers. The pride in workmanship and personal obligation to doing a job, not just "good enough", but "right" is a trait which seems to be moving beyond our horizon.
    The Aussie tradition of "she'll be right mate" generally infers, it'll get you through, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it.
    Keep ridin', keep writin'- we'll keep readin'.


    1. Many thanks, BoaB. As I enter Act Three of the Tim Joe Show this economic lull in the action has given me time to pause and look back upon the life that I built.

      I'm not sure what to think but at the same time I would be hard pressed to say what I would have done differently.

      Thanks for reading.