By: Skip Connett
Urban farmers are, by nature and by design, dual citizens. They reside on the edge of city and country, an edge that seems to get thinner each year. Thanks to technology, urban sprawl, nature deficit and a growing awareness of our ecological footprint, urban dwellers and treehuggers have grown closer together,
which helps explain why the hottest show on Animal Planet is Treehouse Masters. Now in it’s second season, the reality TV show has, like urban farming, tapped into our growing appetite for immersing ourselves in nature – without skimping on creature comforts.
A remnant of my pre-farming life is media training for Animal Planet. Several times a year I get called to train the talent on a new show. Animal Planet is one of the few networks I can relate to; and the outside income helps us breathe a little easier in the off season. So there I was this week, literally out on a limb at “The Nest” on Treehouse Point – headquarters for Treehouse Master Pete Nelson and six of his craftsman tree houses nestled in the foothills of the Cascades.
Between one of our mock interviews, Pete mentioned a treehouse he had built for the show’s first season — a spa in Bastrop of all places. I, too, had built a treehouse at our Bastrop farm, a gift for Erin’s 50th birthday. Mind you, there are tree houses and there are houses in trees. If you’ve seen Treehouse Masters, you understand why I was hesitant to share my arboreal feat with the world’s greatest treehouse builder. His are not your father’s treehouses. The Texas-sized build in Waco was nearly as big as our farmhouse.
When I was growing up, most kids dreamed of building a treehouse. Today, they can build whole cities on Minecraft. Yet the dream lives on in the two million grownups who follow Pete and his crew each week as they build these elaborate human nests in the branches. Just as gardening is an escape from the cube, treehouses appeal to the illusion of defying not just gravity but Big Brother, too. Climb up, raise the ladder, and escape the wired and nerve-wracking world. Or, as the Zen-escent title of his new book, puts it: “Be in a Tree.”
The next morning I flew “The Nest” and returned to the farm. Green Gate’s crew was finishing up its own build – an 18-foot-tall hoophouse. The last task was putting on its skin — the clear plastic that will heat up the soil, keep out the bugs, and extend our season at both end. The morning’s calm breeze suddenly picked as we pulled 4,000 square feet of poly over 20 gothic arches gleaming in the sun. Only the extra hands of our volunteers saved us the embarrassment of turning our hoophouse into a kite.
Building one’s first hoophouse, like one’s first treehouse, stirs that childlike thrill of green, creative spaces in unusual places. I wouldn’t want to make a living at either. The masters make it look easy, but the real joy is reserved for first-timers.