The Corner

Tree House — Readers Respond

Reader A: “A $1000 tree house! I mean, I know you were spending a lot of

time at the Orange Store, but for heaven’s sake. the essence of a tree house

is to be created with scrap lumber, salvaged bolts, and the bent nails that

you had to pound straight again. If it doesn’t end up looking like a place

that would give an OSHA inspector a cerebral aneurism, you’ve missed the

essence of the thing. Growing up, our tree houses were bare, half-rotten

platforms 45 feet up, swaying in the windy rain, slick with moss and mildew,

and significantly lacking in any safety features. A good tree house teaches

courage and sangfroid, it does. Or maybe my parents were just trying to

kill me. Hmmm.”

I grew up that way too, Sir. I don’t think it was so much that our parents

were trying to kill us as that a person can only worry about so many things.

Our parents had a lot of stuff to worry about: polio, the recent memory of

TB (there was a sanatorium across the fields from our house), another recent

memory of bombs falling from the sky, and much else — not least, the

problem of making a decent living, which was much harder then than now.

Kids falling out of trees just didn’t rank very high on the worry list. I

was a chronic climber; fell out of every tree in Delapre Woods, and once

came within an ace of hanging myself by trying to climb the household drain

pipe using rope. (I’d been reading a book about mountaineering.) Nowadays

we have different things to worry about. Most of them involve lawyers.

Reader B: “Congratulations on the completion of the tree-house. Your

comment about the amount you spent on nails reminded me of Thoreau’s account

of the construction costs of his shack at Walden Pond. He spent $28.125 in

all; $3.90 of that was for nails. I’m just about positive that my edition at

home includes a footnote indicating that early archeologists exploring the

site found quite a few bent nails, suggesting that Thoreau was a lot more

talented with the pen than with the hammer. I leave the comparisons of

Thoreau and Derbyshire to others, though I do wonder if you will use the

tree-house (once the kids tire of it) as a place of periodic retreat where

you can gain a little perspective on life in the ‘burbs. I also wonder what

$28.125 would be in 2004 dollars?”

Well, the Inflation Calculator here says

that the $28.125 Thoreau spent in 1845 would have been worth $522.07 in

2002. Which means one of the following things: (1) The Walden Pond

residence was only about half as habitable as my tree house; (2) Thoreau

used very inferior materials; or (3) Home Depot is overcharging

disgracefully. On the other hand, his $3.90 for nails would have got you

$72.39 in 2002, so I am way ahead on the nails.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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