Remembering the Old Tree Fort
By Richard Mabey Jr.
In the backyard of my old homestead in the little town I grew up in, in Northern New Jersey, stood a magnificent old maple tree. This dear old maple tree had to be well over one hundred years old, as I remember the tales that my grandfather had told me of his remembrances of climbing it when he was a young boy. I guess it was when I was about eight years old that I began building a tree fort upon the strong limbs of this incredible maple.
My tree fort, essentially, was always a work in progress. By the time I reached my freshman year of high school, this architectural masterpiece that was sculptured onto the thick and long limbs of the old maple tree, had three layers and a sundry of small holding boxes between the layers. You could get onto the first floor of my tree fort by use of a ladder, but after that it became more difficult to get to the higher levels.
In order to get to the second and third floorings, you had to climb up a rope that hung from the outer margins of the floorings of the two higher levels. It is an understatement to say that it wasn’t easy to get access to the second and third floorings of my dear old tree fort. But when you reached the highest flooring, the view was worth the danger involved in getting there.
I built the third floor to my tree fort in the summer of 1967, between eighth grade and my freshman year of high school. It was a tedious and dangerous project, one that took enormous patience to see completed. The inspiration for this top layer came from years of reading Superman comic books. For Superman had his Fortress of Solitude at the northern arctic and I was determined to have my own Fortress of Solitude. Surely, the third level of my tree fort would be the ultimate Fortress of Solitude.
In the summer of 1968, I completely read Thomas Wolfe’s novel, Look Homeward, Angel from the third floor of my old tree fort. As I read that book, high atop that dear old maple tree, my imagination was sparked and my heart was moved. I identified with Thomas Wolfe so very much. It was as if Wolfe had looked into the very chambers of my heart. I empathized with Thomas’s burning yearning to put words down upon paper, in such a way as to move the human heart.
Since it wasn’t that easy to climb the dangling rope from the second layer to the third layer and clench my book at the same time, I decided early on to keep Look Homeward, Angel in a safe place in my tree fort. The third flooring of my tree fort had a little safe box. It was made out of wood. I built it so that it was as waterproof as it could possibly be. However, after each reading of Look Homeward, Angel, I would put the book in a plastic bag, then put it in another plastic bag, just to be sure that it stayed dry in the rain. That summer, I kept my copy of Look Homeward, Angel safely secured in that little homemade safe box.
In the summer after completing my senior year of high school, I worked in a local department store, full time to earn money for books and miscellaneous expenses of college. From time to time, I would climb up my old tree fort. Somehow, the magic had disappeared. It was kind of sad. I would try to rekindle the magic I had known when I was younger. But deep in my heart, I knew the magic was gone. Gone forever.
Life is funny, filled with chapters of stages and events. For somehow, before I knew it, I had exchanged the wonder and excitement of climbing my tree fort with the new chapter of owning a 1961 Ford Falcon, having a full time job, looking forward to starting college, and having a sweet and charming girlfriend. For it is so very true, we can look back at the phases in our life, but never can we go back.
Peace and harmony,