It’s one of those days that make you feel like you could live forever. The sky is blue, the sun is bright and the air is just crisp enough to redden your cheeks. You feel like a kid again – like you want to run as fast as you can just to see how fast you can go, or spin on a tire swing with your head back, hair flying in the wind and fists white from clenching the chain-linked ropes. Nostalgic memories of hide-and-go-seek flood your memory bank, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich never sounded so good. Before you know it, you find yourself longing for that old, splinter-ridden tree house in the backyard, where secrets were revealed and baseball cards were traded. The smell of dirt and innocence looms heavy in your senses, and you wonder when it was exactly that you stopped being a kid, and tree houses stopped being fun. But you know the truth. Peter Pan is simply fiction, and somewhere between little league and spin-the-bottle, tree houses were forgotten.
Today however, like picking up a lost hobby or getting reacquainted with an old friend, more and more adults are rediscovering the joys of arboreal hideaways. What was once a place to escape the watchful eye of grownups is now a place for grownups to escape the duties and responsibilities of adulthood.
Tree houses are branching out everywhere. They are no longer just childhood playhouses. They’re the subjects of best-selling books, documentaries, and building workshops. People live in them; use them as offices and guest bedrooms. A town just west of Paris became famous in the mid-19th century for its arboreal restaurants. These days, the town of Takilma, Oregon is gaining the same recognition for its tree house bed and breakfast.
Michael Garnier, owner of the Out ‘N’ About Treesort and Treehouse Institute of Takilma, failed at his attempt to open a conventional bed and breakfast in 1989. One year later, he decided to build one in the trees instead. “Tree houses are fun,” he said. “They make you feel like a kid again.”
Garnier however, doesn’t quite look the part of the person to help rekindle childhood innocence. He seems more like the Marlboro man. His face is tan and weathered; each defined crease has a different story to tell. He wears worn-out Levi’s from head to toe and a “treeshirt” guarded by a black fisherman’s vest. His coarse peppered hair, bushy eyebrows and thick mustache overpower his facial features. He smokes cigarettes, and he enjoys them, taking long drags and flicking the ashes with each inhale. His tobacco-stained fingers are telltale signs that this is not a recent habit.
Just as Garnier is not your average double-breasted suit entrepreneur, so Takilma is not a run-of-the-mill tourist town. Snuggled comfortably between the Siskiyou Mountains and the neighboring headwaters of the Illinois River, Takilma is a picturesque little valley located outside of Cave Junction in Southern Oregon. The close-knit community exudes an “everybody knows your name” aura, and the mountainous landscape is dominated by trees, millions of trees – big redwoods that seem to protect the sheltered community from the rest of the world. Still, it is not a tourist town. There is no Mall of America, not even a Wal-Mart, yet people have traveled from as far as India and Australia just to visit. As if it were a fountain of youth, the Out ‘N’ About Treesort put Takilma, OR on the map as the place to go to feel like a kid again
A visit to the Treesort is like taking a step back in time to a backyard sleepover: Waking up in the morning and being greeted by a new day; the smoky space heater reminiscent of a campfire; sunlight beaming through the dusty air. The panorama from 40-plus feet in the air is awe-inspiring. Somehow a birds-eye-view of the treetops can make the world seem so much simpler. The smell of fresh pine, musty sleeping bags and wool blankets transcends all age groups and generation gaps. Everyone knows what it’s like to be a kid.
The Out ‘N’ About Treesort features tree house accommodations for kids of all ages. There are a total of 10 different tree houses to visit, seven of which can support overnight guests, and several more that are still in the construction process. The first-built of the lofty lodgings is the Peacock Perch, named after its ornately carved image on the front door. The Peacock is a tiny cabin built high in the balance of white oak, and like most of the other tree houses, it’s heated, open year-round and comes with a refrigerator, sink and chamber pot.
The Peacock Perch is a favorite among couples because of its intimate close-quarters and romantic woodsy ambience. The Swiss Family and the Suite, on the other hand, are family complexes.
The Swiss Family, which was constructed in likeness to the tree house depicted in the famous children’s novel, “Swiss Family Robinson,” has a main house for the parents and a tiny tree house connected by a swinging bridge for the kids. Thick dangling ropes hang from each tree house and serve as quick ground-reaching alternatives from the maze of planked staircases that appear lost in the hovering limbs.
Like the Swiss Family, the Suite is also a family tree house; however it seems to lack the rustic jungle nature of the Swiss Family. The Suite is the most elegant and the most expensive of the tree houses ($160 per night). It looks like an aerial log cabin suspended high in the soaring oaks and prides itself with its own kitchenette and full bath, featuring an antique, claw-foot bathtub.
The Treesort is open all year long, but the majority of the “treemusketeers,” or guests, find their way to Takilma between the months of March and November. Due to the cold and unpredictable weather, the winter months are often much slower.
Unlike the weather however, the reasons that people are drawn to the aerial abodes of the Out ‘n’ About Treesort are much more predictable. “Most people come because they’ve had a fantasy of a tree house,” said Garnier. Robert, a Peacock Perch treemusketeer agreed: “Every kid grows up with either a fantasy of having or building a tree house.”
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