Heidegger had his hut. Deborah Levy, a garden shed. Dickinson, her bedroom. I have my treehouse.
It isn’t really a treehouse built around branches. But that’s how I like to think of the space where I write. With 8 windows that bring me as close to nature as possible without stepping outside, the room where I write feels private, high up, secretive—as tree forts are intended to make its young residents feel.
Who doesn’t want a space where our imaginations are set free? A space we can paint any color or leave wood and brick exposed? A place that holds only what we bring to it, kept as messy as we choose?
A favorite picture book when my children were young was A House Is a House for Me, by Mary Ann Haberman. After 35 years, the book is still in excellent condition, and not for lack of being read. Now it has become a favorite of my grandchildren. The text is minimal, pleasantly repetitive and rhyming. The illustrations are of ordinary things: drum, bag, kangaroo, coat, jack-o-lantern, egg, sandwich.
It’s the premise—that anything and everything is a house for something—that is at once clever and provocative. The story moves from the obvious “A hive is a house for a bee” to “A mirror’s a house for reflections, a throat is a house for a hum.”
The east windows of my treehouse look out on a towering pine, planted around the time my house was built in 1917. The pine—a house for every imaginable bird that visits my yard—has the slightest southern lean, maybe by 7 degrees, which has endeared me to it even more. My neighbor whose house is closer to the tree worries a storm will topple it and has hinted it might be time to cut it down.
To the south—4 windows wide—are, left to right, a walnut tree (much maligned by the neighbor who must clean up its nuts encased in rock-hard shells), an aging birch, and a sugar maple. In the foreground (my yard) is a hydrangea tree that offers its own fall blush.
Out the west windows is a white pine, the youngest of all the trees by far but holding its own against two columnar cedars which, if I opened the window, I could touch. A hawk patrols from their dense cover, doing its part in controlling the mice and voles that have taken up residence in my yard.
It is in this sunroom that I write. It is where I’m invited “to climb in-between the apparent reality of things, to see not only the tree but the insects that live in its infrastructure, to discover that everything is connected in the ecology [read: house] of language and living.” (Deborah Levy, The Cost of Living, 37)
Or as Haberman writes at the end of her charming book, “The earth is a house for us all.”
No matter the month or season, I’m grateful to have this in-between place, a room that is at once a treehouse, rising moon, thunderstorm, dream, echo, flame: anything I want it to be.