When I was four my dad took some scrap lumber he had lying around and built me what is today called a “play structure”. It was basically a small, roofed box on stilts, and you got up into it by climbing an old ladder that he built onto the front. This structure was everything our kidly imaginations needed it to be; conestoga wagon, rocket ship, pirate ship, jail, submarine, tank, frontier fort, clubhouse, center for horticultural experimentation and education headquarters — you name it.
We called it the “treehouse” at first, though it was only a treehouse in the sense that it was elevated. And that it was made of wood. Later I think we called it the “fort”. It had a real shake roof, which could be gained by climbing to the top of the ladder and then heaving yourself up and over the peak. When we were small, we contented ourselves with being inside it, draping hazelnut catkins along the walls as decorations (a feminine touch that was surely my sister’s idea), but in later years it was more fun to climb onto the roof and then jump off into the grass below, which was always a little squishy right there at the lowest part of the yard. For much of its life it stood next to the celebrated Transparent apple tree, and I remember picking those tart apples from the roof.
It was a cosmos of fun.
I wanted to build my daughter something similar. She was always asking if we could go to various parks and playgrounds to play on the play structures, slide down the slides, and swing on the swings. I have been thinking about it for a year, imagining the towering playopolis I would construct — the hatches, the bridges from here to there, the decks, the ladders, the multiple levels.
Thing was, it kept not being built. Nor even started. Here again we see the perfectionist paralyzed by a vision he doesn’t know how to begin to make a reality. One day Angela and Mara had a play date with a little boy who had just a basic platform in his yard with a short slide and a canvas roof — one of those kits — that they’d gotten dirt cheap on Craigslist. The kids had a blast, and Angela urged me to just put up something simple like that, and do it in time for Mara’s birthday in early April. She’d held off a thousand times from buying something used on Craigslist because I kept saying I could build something better than that, sturdier, with cooler features, etc. I may even have said I could do it cheaper, but I’da been wrong about that.
I downloaded a simple plan for a play structure, slide and swingset from the Internet for $4.99 (Joel Houde’s customwoodplans.com). I modified it, of course, because we wouldn’t need the swing set and I figured that the original plans were too short; Mara is tall for her age, and we wanted this to be a fun space for her for years to come. Mara started chanting about wanting swings, so we added that back into the project, which was starting to look frightfully expensive. Then I took my modified parts list and headed to Lowe’s. Had I known what I was in for I might have run screaming into the trees. I don’t have my dad’s confidence around lumber. He probably built my fort in a day. My project took considerably longer, as you’ll see. But I’m glad I did it. Here are a few photos of the process.