Something I never got to do when I was a kid was to build a proper treehouse.
There were big trees in front of our house, and lots of scrap lumber in the garage. But my dad didn’t want me hammering nails into the living trees.
I think he was also afraid I’d drop stuff on people’s heads when they walked by on the sidewalk underneath. He was probably right. But I was determined to have my treehouse.
I tried propping loose boards in the branches of our tree and disguising them with bunches of leaves. The lack of nails made my tree platforms a bit dangerous.
Once a board fetched loose underfoot and half of my treehouse collapsed and fell fifteen feet down. I almost went down with it.
Even as an adult, I still wanted my ideal treehouse, so I had to build one in Dinotopia. I didn’t stop at just one treehouse. I made a whole town in a forest, with sleeping baskets and suspended bridges between the trees.
What would it feel like to live up there? I visited my friend Henry Wheeler, a Quaker farmer, who let me study the giant oak he had out in his back field. I climbed the tree and sketched the views from the upper branches.
I broke off small branches and and brought them into the studio to use as the basis for a reference maquette. I beefed up the trunk with modeling clay to make it thicker. Now I knew what it felt like to be in every part of Treetown.
I knew what the wind sounded like in the branches, how the whole structure groaned and moved in storms, and what the dry leaves smelled like in the autumn.
This series of essays is adapted from the illustrated afterword of the new Calla Edition 20th anniversary edition of Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time Signed copies at this link--There's still time to get them there before Christmas.
"Origins of Dinotopia" series on GurneyJourney:
Part 1: Childhood Dreams
Part 2: College Obsessions
Part 3: Lost Empires
Part 4: Dinosaurs
Part 5: Treetown
Part 6: The Illustrated Book
Part 7: Utopias
Part 8: Building a World
Part 9: Words and Pictures
Part 10: Canyon Worlds
Part 11: Putting it Together
Part 12: Book Launch