Roger shielded his eyes from the sun as he looked up into the trees. At this point, the structure appeared very rudimentary; the beams radiating out from the tree, laid over with floorboards… the walls had only just been framed. It was a far cry from what it would eventually look like… a graceful tree house modeled after a Tibetan buddhist temple, “but modest… tasteful,” as his wife had said. “We don’t want people to think that we’re… eccentrics.”
The floor plan was roughly octagonal. The walls would be paneled with cedar on the exterior, and finished with a pale birch inside. The floor itself would be tiled by local artisans in the pattern of an intricate mandala that his wife had collaborated with her buddhist instructor on. There would be a small wood stove for heat in the winter, because she didn’t want electricity run to the tree house.
“All those wires, you know they have electrical fields around them that can interfere with your energy. I just want one place where I can find some spiritual peace.”
The roof would be done in red clay tiles, which would shed the rain and improve the longevity of the structure, but that remained within his wife’s list of acceptable building materials… materials that she referred to as “spiritually non-disruptive.” The corners of the roof would turn up very slightly in a graceful curve, which meant that the roof beams had had to be fashioned by hand by a local woodworker at great expense.
Those beams rested in a large shed nearby, protected from the elements and waiting to be attached to the structure. The ends of each of the roof beams were also hand carved with a delicate cloud design. These would be stained, not painted, in order to maintain the look of the wood itself. In that same shed sat several trunks full of rugs, mats, cushions and draperies, which would be use to appoint the main area of the tree house, as a private meditation studio. Another box contained a hanging incense burner and several brass candle holders for a variety of shapes and sizes of candle.
There was also a dharma wheel, hand carved, with just a touch of gold leaf at the hub and at the end of each spoke. The kneeling deer were worked by the same artist, as separate pieces, and all three would be mounted above the wide double doorway. The doors themselves were waiting to be hung, each carved with a seated buddha figure, the robes painted in an understated yellow, “No, saffron. It must be saffron yellow. Not mustard, not buttercup. Saffron.” The round faces of the twin buddhas seemed indeed peaceful, and each laid one hand in their respective lap, and one reached toward the ground. The hinges and handles for the doors were in brass.
Sheer silk curtains in forest green were carefully folded in cases lined with sandalwood, “for the aroma, dear, it clears the head chakra.” These would separate the small sleeping loft from the rest of the tree house. He had questioned her about the sleeping loft, and she had said, “don’t worry, it’s only for when the hum-drum really gets to me. Being out in nature will revitalize me.”
The singing bowls and chimes weren’t in the shed; she had been worried that the damp might damage them. She had had them imported, and claimed that they were irreplaceable.
He had designed the structure himself, according to his wife’s specifications. She had gone over it with him a half-dozen times, each time requesting changes, so that it would be just right. It was being built by local contractors, around a huge old cedar in the woods on their sprawling property. The body of the tree would be left uncovered, a focal point of the space, with its shaggy bark and its “tranquil energy.” The floor of the house was thirty feet from the forest floor below, and the ancient tree would still tower far above its roof. It would take months to complete the job, and once it was done the total would be close to a hundred thousand dollars.
The builders had questioned him on the plans. “I’m sure it would be sturdier if we just built the floor as one piece,” they had said. He had just patiently explained that in the event that they decided to move, he wanted to be able to collapse the floor and the walls and take the thing apart and ship it to the new location. There was no way he was having something like this done twice. The builders accepted the explanation and the design without further questioning and construction had started.
It all looked very normal. Well, a sort of normal, anyway.
But soon, within just a few months, he would just make a couple of adjustments. It would only take ten minutes. She wouldn’t even notice that he was gone. But the next time she visited the studio… the whole thing would seem like a tragic accident.
Not everyone gets to design their own death trap.