We are just back after another interesting experience in Czech Republic, an 8 days workshop to learn how to climb trees and build tree houses.
Travel cost were reimbursed 70% by European Union, that is funding also lodging and board: a very good opportunity to make a new great experience and travel on a budget. Eventually even with this advantageous conditions, we spent our monthly travel budget in just 10 days, since we had to make travel arrangements overland last minute, but it was still worth it.
We decided to go there just one day before and had some unexpected adventures to reach the place, as maybe you already know from our last blog post.
The location was very nice, isolated from civilization and with a lot of nature around. In particular a big spruce forest, and yes, you need a forest if you are planning to climb trees!
The first couple of days were about getting to know each other and familiarize with the surrounding, the training schedule and the theory.
Then we started the "serious" work: the good thing of the training is that it was really practical. And successful. From a point of view of personal development, and from the point of view of the result: it was incredible to see how a group of 20 people, most of them climbing their first tree 3 days earlier, except a couple of experienced Danish monkeys, were able to build their new, beloved headquarter up in the trees. This is experiential learning, and learning by doing, a life path that I'm following since many years, probably officially starting from my experience in Arcosanti in 2007. A method that would be really useful even in schools, rather than indoctrinating kids, if teaching was the real goal of schools.
The firs days of practical learning were devoted to get to know the techniques to reach the top of the trees (climbing) and going down (rappelling), making knots and familiarizing with the "stock in trade": gri-gris, ropes, joomars, pulleys etc.
It was a very fast process, maybe too fast, since we needed to leave most of our time to build the tree houses.
Next step was to start planning them and have the ideas clear in mind, before getting to the forest. We were helped in this step, since a sketch of the project with strict requirements was given by the trainers. Since the time was limited, rather than real tree houses, we got to build tree-platforms. But once you get the technique, it's only a short step to transform the platform into a real house. And probably with the platform you even feel more the connection with the surrounding nature.
So we were divided into 3 different teams to find a proper place and to build the tree houses. It might seems easy, but it's definitely not! In particular if you are doing a reverse project: instead of having an area and planning according to it, you are given a project and you need to find a place to fit it inside! And we couldn't change anything, since the wood was already there, and couldn't grow longer. We had to find a place where trees were dense enough, but not too much, thick enough to sustain the load, and at the perfect distance to respect the guidelines about dimensions and surface.
We eventually needed almost one afternoon and a morning to choose a place, and we had to give up on finding the perfect one. Well, eventually it was, but we didn't know at that point!
The plan was to build one big platform, 6x6 meters (19' 8") acting as a "social space" and 4 other platforms (2 3x3 and 2 3x4 meters) for the groups to sleep in. And all to be connected between them. We got two of the platforms to be directly communicating with the main platform, and other two connected through a suspended bridge. Cool isn't it?
Before starting the construction itself, we had to learn the basics of the technique: actually incredibly easy, since we used just one type of knot to tie the main beams to the trees and the same know to connect the secondaries to the primaries. Only for the planks of the floor we eventually used nails, but I guess with a longer time available, we could have easily managed to fix them only with strings.
The first two days the construction went very slow, the groups had to deal with inexperience, tiredness, fear of height and group dynamics. The third and last day of building instead, was incredibly productive: everybody knew what to do, how to do it, and how to collaborate as a tea m. We went much further than we could expect, and all of the three groups, with the help of the trainers at the end, were able to finish the construction and secure it for visitors with "rope fences" and railings.
Unfortunately I don't have any photo from the construction phase, since I was too focused on building, but you can find some nice one at this link (Credit: Ivana).
The same night we started to enjoy our newly built heaven, with a drum session where all the participants had their own Bongo for our inauguration party . At the end of the session, it was time to experiment our first sleep in the trees! We took our sleeping bags and we were ready to be cradled by the movement of the trunks and put asleep by the whisper of the wind.
Well, actually this was the original idea, but it eventually ended up being a little more noisy because of the enthusiasm of the new tree inhabitants.
The next day we attended our daily activities in the "social" tree house, and even made a conference open to visitors, illustrating other possible youth projects. But the real attraction of the day was the "big swing", a system made with ropes and anchors up in the trees to pull people up to the trees at an height of 10-12 meters before releasing them all in a sudden.
It was my second time trying the big swing after "Back to the nature" in 2011. Oti and other participants unfortunately couldn't do it because it got broken, (Ok João, you actually hold the record for breaking it 4 times in a row with you uncontrolled muscles!) and she was really disappointed about that, but it was clearly nobody's fault, a small ring just got broken.
Time was running fast and next day, it was already time to disassemble everything. Unfortunately the program was very tight, so we didn't get too much time to enjoy our tree creature. The process was incredibly fast and in a few hours we took down everything we built in the previous 3 days.
The tree houses revealed to be the perfect ecological retreat: made from wood, in the woods, demountable and reusable. After finishing the workshop we left no trace and everything was as when we arrived.
Many people probably dream about building a tree house when they were kids. Others don't stop to dream about it, even when they are grown up kid: I'm part of the latter and I eventually got to do it!