Chapter 3: The Idea: An Egg in a Tree
So there I was, a bourgeoning carpenter, living out of my car and heading off in an exciting new direction. One day a young fellow named Ryan walked onto the job site to start as a laborer. He shook my hand with a big charismatic smile and said he’d heard some stories about me. From that brief introduction I knew I had met someone special … but I never would have guessed the extent.
Ryan was an inveterate ski addict and an adventurer of legendary stature. If he decided he was going to do something, there was very little the world could do to stop him. When he was 17 years old, he decided that he couldn’t wait any longer to start his solo through-hike of the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail. He left a month before final exams and missed graduating from high school. His life was full of zany details, yet he rarely talked about himself. He was a man of mystery and his friends seemed to piece together the story of his past by trading tales.
Every Spring he spent a couple months working until he had enough money to head up to Alaska. I called him Free Range Ryan because he spent most of his time after work exploring the backcountry. I went out with him on a number of occasions to check out interesting sites and old squats, one of which Ryan had lived in for a ski season. We seemed to share the same sense of adventure, and for better or worse, we positively reinforced each other’s lifestyles.
We shared secrets on the best places to shower, the most coveted hot tubs to poach, and the best sites to camp. It wasn’t long before Ryan and I had accidentally invented a new pastime. I called it sport sleeping. Instead of sleeping in our cars as normal car-dwellers do, we’d try to outdo each other by finding the funniest or most outrageous places to sleep. Every morning we’d compare notes and laugh at each other’s feats and misfortunes. I spent the next few months of my life sleeping in almost anything but a bed. The actual sleeping part was never that good but the exhilaration was hard to beat. I slept on tractor buckets, scaffolding, water towers, and genie lifts.
Sport sleeping was just an experimental kick, but it got me thinking about some long term sleeping solutions. My favorite sleeping places were usually perches of some sort, so the idea of sleeping in a tree was a natural extension. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted a little loft in the woods. After doing some preliminary research I decided that I didn’t love most tree houses, because of their clunky under-structures, which were usually a focal point when looking up from below. I wanted something that looked a little more elegant.
I began bouncing ideas off of everyone I knew, but especially a couple friends named Mark and Jayne who were recent graduates from architecture school. They had fresh ideas and although they lived a more orthodox lifestyle, they could relate to the thought of an offbeat treehouse. Over the next couple of weeks some interesting designs were tossed around but nothing stuck. Then one day Mark, Jayne, and I were sitting around their kitchen island and Jayne casually suggested the shape of an egg. It was a moment of cosmic brilliance. An egg shape would be elegant, organic, unusual, and most distinctively, the structure would be contained within the form.
We hashed out the basic framework in our minds and then we bought foam board from the stationary store and Jayne and I began to model it. But before we had even finished modelling the tree part, Mark had already rendered the basic form in 3D. The shape looked intriguing and I loved it.
Though none of us had P.Eng stamps, the structure made good intuitive sense. It was all based on triangular strength (with one side of the triangle curved). To test the theory, I built a quarter-size scaled down model on a tree outside of a friend’s home. The model was about 3 feet tall which allowed me to stress test it by exerting excessive force in every direction. After a few minutes of playing God, I was convinced that the full scale version would easily support a family black bears, should they decide to inhabit it as a winter hibernation spot.
While I was building the model, I made some tweaks to the proportions. Instead of being a pure egg shape, I made it slightly fatter. This gave a more spacious feeling on the inside and made the shape feel a little bit cuter. I was excited to build it, but first I had to find the perfect tree.