Trees dance in the wind
Both beginning and ending
Of a boyhood dream
Mount Pirongia, an extinct stratovolcano, greets me every time I peer out past the balcony of my apartment. Having gazed upon it for well-nigh 7 years, it struck me as curious that I had never climbed up it...so, last Saturday, I did so. There was a wooden lookout at the top of the mountain, which triggered some of my earlier memories in life.
During the trek I mentally composed a haiku, a type of short poem that originally arose out of Japan (1,2). Haikus are composed of three phrases divided into 17 on, which are phonetic units similar to syllables. The first phrase contains 5 on, the middle phrase 7, and the final phrase 5. Haikus often describe nature and typically contain a kigo, which is a reference to the season. Importantly, a haiku must contain a kireji, or cutting word. There is no exact translation of kireji in English, but it is typically placed at the end of one of the phrases and its role is to cut the stream of thought, such that that the verse consists of two semi- independent thoughts, the first representing some sort of setting and the second some sort of event.
The point of the haiku is to portray a poignant scene with limited words. A good haiku will often reminisce on a scene from the past, particularly a cherished memory, or evoke an emotion, particularly a passion. It will do this even as its strips the language down to its bare essentials.
The haiku above describes a specific experience in my childhood, when I was a master treefort builder.
Growing up, we had a reasonably large property of 20 acres or so, which mostly consisted of a large field interspersed with several copses of trees. For a number of years, that field represented much of my world, a world that gave me an opportunity to hone my craft as a master treefort builder. I sourced the raw materials from the woodpile behind our house, and "borrowed" the hammer and nails from my father's workshop. There was a limited supply of wood, so if I wanted to build another treefort, I usually had to tear down the previous fort so that I could re-use the wood for the next one (by contrast, the supply of nails seemed unlimited).
I must have been around 8 years old when I tramped down to the back end of the field to build my first treefort in the woods adjacent to our neighbour's property. Given my diminutive size, I used thin pieces of cedar wood to build it, which are light and easy to carry. The fort consisted of four walls bolstered by four trees, but there was no roof - no need, as the overhanging leaves of the forest provided reasonable cover during all but the rainiest days. Sometimes, that small fort enters my dreams - it's dark, and I hear the hush of the wind and the patter of rain.
I made my second treefort around 10 years of age, with my friend Jason. We built it in a small forest at the base of the Big Hill, on the furthest reaches of the field. The fort was styled to blend in with the trees and it mainly consisted of long planks of wood running between the larger trees, which we could stand and sit upon. We also fashioned a series of trails leading to and from the fort, which allowed the fort to act as a sort of operations base from which we could command the entire Big Hill. The fort was built to Duran Duran's album Arena, my first tape, which we played on our ghetto-blasters.
Raw materials of a master treefort builder.
I was 11 years old when I constructed my third treefort in the middle of the back field. This fort consisted of three levels and was the first to boast of any significant elevation, with the top level reaching 15-20 feet of height. I built it on top of three lone trees, which provided a firm triangle-shaped scaffold upon which to nail the thick planks of wood. The lower two levels basically consisted of a bench upon which I could sit and look out over the back field, including our house in the distance. While in the midst of building it, I recall my friend Kelly climbing up the work ladder to check something out, and the ladder fell, which forced him to jump down about 10 feet. It was not a big deal at the time.
I contructed my fourth, highest, and favourite treefort around 12 years of age, which commanded the center of the field. This fort had five levels, the highest of which floated 35-40 feet above the ground. I built it on top of four large trees. Each level had a different function. Level 1 was the work level. Level 2 was the sheltered level, encapsulated by walls of wood and protected from the elements. Level 3 was the gazing level, upon which I fashioned a bench that allowed me to sit and look upon Thornhill Mountain. Level 4 was the swaying level, a sort of balcony that I could lie upon and feel the entire fort rock back and forth in the wind. Level 5 was the scary level, which I rarely visited due to the extreme sway and lack of railings. As I think back on it, this fort was a bit dangerous, but at the time I only saw it as a haven.
Essential tools of a master treefort builder.