Monday, June 30, 2014

How about a Treehouse Dating Service app?

           I honestly think I should start a Treehouse dating service. Remember Sue, the single mom who recently visited Fern Forest with her son Cole? Before they unpacked their knapsacks in the Treehouse, Sue and Cole had climbed Camels Hump, one of Vermont’s highest mountains.
Last week single dad Greg biked to Fern Forest with his son Kelly and daughter Chloe—a steep seven miles uphill, bikes loaded with two nights worth of overnight gear. The day before, they had biked fifteen miles from Vergennes to stay at an inn in Bristol.
            Cole and Kelly are both nine, and Chloe is eleven. Both Greg and Sue like to be fit, and they like to challenge their children to match their enthusiasm for outdoor adventure. Their kids met the challenge and passed with flying colors.
            It seemed a perfect match—except that Sue is in Boston and Greg lives in Toronto.
            But on Monday the focus was on Greg and his two amazing children. Chloe acts and sings in school musicals, and Kelly has an engineer’s mind. In the Treehouse Kelly found a wooden cube that separates into a long strand of attached pieces that can be twisted and turned. Our guests usually can take the cube apart but never can get it back into cube shape.
H once sat in the Treehouse for two hours trying to reassemble the cube. Kelly, however, got it together in minutes. In fact, he taught H the trick to solving the puzzle. Before he left, Kelly twisted the cube back into place in less than a minute. I’ve never been able to get the devilish thing back together.
These are unquestionably bright young folks. Next year every student in their Toronto school will have a tablet for their schoolwork. I’ve been thinking about developing some educational apps and asked Chloe and Kelly for ideas. On the spot Kelly suggested a spelling bee app that keeps track and graphs correct answers. He said the app would have pronunciation of each word and could be used to compete with other students online.
Chloe came up with a sort of “Good Reads for Kids” idea that includes a GPS for finding the book of choice at the closest book store.
While they brainstormed and did troubleshooting with concepts, my brain was reeling. It struck me how lucky these youngsters are—Cole too—to have opportunities for outdoor activities with a parent and the maturity to interact with adults—even strangers like H and me.
We weren’t strangers long, though. As they settled into the Treehouse, we felt the warmth and friendship of these young people even from high up in the maples.
By the way, I sent a message to Airbnb about expanding their service to include romantic match-ups. They thought it was an interesting idea and will bring it up at a staff meeting. As for Greg and Sue? Well, you just never know.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Father's Day tale: A boy and a treehouse

            I’ve fallen in love—with a nine-year-old freckle-faced boy named Cole. He’s tall for his age, the second tallest in his third grade class and his red hair is casually mussed. When he grows up, he wants to be an artist. And an athlete, but he hasn’t decided what sport he’ll pursue. At the moment he likes lacrosse. And basketball. And swimming. And running. But he’s not too keen on baseball.
              Cole’s mom Susan surprised him with an end-of-the-school year visit to Fern Forest Treehouse. She and Cole have just finished building a treehouse in their own yard in New Hampshire, and Cole is looking forward to sleeping in it. There are screens but no windows to close, and he and his friends will be high and dry as long as it doesn’t rain. They’ll unroll sleeping bags on the floor and use flashlights to see after it gets dark. Sleeping in a treehouse with windows, electric lights and a real bed was pretty cushy.
            Sue and Cole had climbed Camel’s Hump that Saturday, a challenging hike to the top of the four thousand foot mountain, and they were pretty tired. After they settled in, we offered them some cheese and crackers before they went out for dinner. My own son at nine years old was silly and uncomfortable around adults. But Cole nibbled carrot sticks and Von Trapp cheese and talked with maturity about the Rube Goldberg type of contraption he had made for the school science fair and his plans for the summer—basketball camp and a two-week trip to Michigan to visit his father. 
It was Father’s Day weekend, and I was hesitant to ask about Cole’s dad, but Sue volunteered that he has a new wife and daughter. She left Michigan when Cole was just a year old and moved back east to be near her parents and her sister. She and Cole were getting along fine until last week when she was laid off from her job as a division vice president in a large health care company. There was a look of worry on her pretty face as she glanced at Cole next to her on the couch, calmly nibbling a cracker.
That evening they had dinner at Snap’s, a fifties style cafĂ©. Then they came back, put on their swimsuits, and had a soak in the hot tub, the clouds giving way to a brief view of the stars. When they retreated to the treehouse, Cole fell asleep quickly, lulled by a drizzle on the metal roof and a breeze rustling the maple leaves.
Sue may be newly unemployed and a single mom, but she’s intelligent, and she has her priorities straight. Her top priority is Cole and making sure he knows he’s loved. What greater love can a mom show than to spend a couple of days with him high above the worries of the world in a safe and cozy tree.
Before they left, Cole agreed to pose for pictures. There were hugs and well wishes, and we waved as they headed to Waterbury for a tour of the Ben & Jerry’s factory. It was Father’s Day, and H unwrapped gifts of chocolate and a wine stopper and got a call from our son Will. I hoped Cole would talk to his dad that day. I’m sure Cole misses him, but I’m even more sure that his dad is missing some very precious moments with a very special young man.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Space junk and the fountain of youth

            I’ve heard that the third time’s the charm, and Bettina and Doug’s third visit to Fern Forest Treehouse was nothing short of charming. It’s fascinating how you get to know people even though you see them only once a year. Three springs ago they came to us newly married, Bettina recovering from chemo for breast cancer. She was fragile, and Doug hovered around her, making sure she ate the right things—she had become a vegan in her recovery—and didn’t exert herself. They seemed to be getting to know each other, and we gave them space and quiet to do just that.
            On their second visit, Bettina was much stronger, her humor showing through. A family of squirrels was nesting in the rafters of the treehouse, which bothered Doug (would have bothered me, too), and Bettina teased him about being a city boy. They had adopted a puppy, a curly furred little guy they named Winston Churchill, and it was Winnie who was more bothered by the squirrels than was Doug.
            On their third visit last weekend, we settled into a comfort zone with each other. Bettina has been brewing up healthy concoctions and brought H and me each a tin of body salve she had made from bees wax and herbs. She makes her own homemade lip gloss and sunscreen and sees no sense in slathering toxic chemicals on one’s body. In her early forties, she has the skin of a twenty-year-old, and when she markets her products, I’ll be a faithful customer.
Doug, who is humble and usually lets Bettina take the lead in conversation, talked a little about his job as an engineer with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. I’m not clear exactly what it is he does, but one of his interests is space environmentalism which I think means figuring out how to clear debris from the earth’s orbit so that missiles and satellites don't bump into anything. Bettina suggested a huge vacuum cleaner. Doug said that would be like using tweezers to clean out an eighteen-wheeler filled with garbage. Then she suggested a magnet, but Doug said most of the defunct satellites are made of lightweight aluminum and are antimagnetic. He said someone is working on shooting dust into space to slow down the orbit of the space junk so it can be removed more easily, but he doesn’t think that will work. Somehow we need to get the junk to fall to earth and burn up in the atmosphere. Ideas anyone?
I asked Doug if the Naval Research Lab has an idea about how to protect the earth in case a giant meteorite plummets toward us like the one that supposedly destroyed the dinosaurs. He said we’d better start digging a tunnel into Mt. Abe because there’s no way of stopping a meteorite. Not even with antiaircraft weapons, I asked? He said that would be like throwing a snowball at a freight train. Actually, H said that, but Doug wouldn’t let me write his analogy in case he wants to use it in an article down the road. He has written lots of articles, including co-authoring one that appeared in Nature magazine about the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia last year.
For now, we’re all safe. I hope we stay safe at least until Doug and Bettina’s fourth visit in June 2015. Maybe by then all the space junk will be cleared from earth’s orbit and with my medicine cabinet stocked with Bettina’s elixirs, I’ll be looking half my age.