Sunday, June 29, 2008

II. Tree House, We Begin

Part II

The first step Eddy took toward fruition was to sketch his tree house concept based on what we had discussed. He eagerly showed it to me a few days after our discussion, wanting to know what I thought. His crudely penned drawing had the look of a guard tower along with the flavor of the long gone windmills that once dotted in their thousands the landscape of the rural parts of the United States some 40 years ago.
As you can see from the diagram, it starts out wide at the base and narrowing as it soars skywards—elegant yet simple. To me, it was perfect.
“Let’s get started,” I said patting him lightly on the back.
A few days later he showed up at 7:20 am with his welding machine and drill press, both well-worn though not yet worn out. He and his boys spent the whole of a day measuring, drilling and welding metal.
I asked him towards day’s end, “Eddy, how do you expect to achieve the proper narrowing of the vertical supports as you built it up to the top? I can’t imagine how you are going to do that.”
As patient as always with my non-stop questions he told me: “Well, we’ll lay the vertical supports out on the ground first and make sure we get the right distances as they slope upward. You see, the secret is in the horizontal supports and the cross braces between them. We will make them shorter and shorter with each riser section. Don’t worry; we’ll make sure it all works correctly first with all the pieces laid out on the ground before we try to bolt it together up there.” He pointed up to the tops of my trees with pursed lips in Filipino style and then smiled good-naturedly, something he does all the time.
After he explained it, once again, I realized that I had just asked a bit of a stupid question, but sometimes answers aren’t so obvious until you hear them explained.
The assembly of the first section, the base, with each of the four vertical supports some 20 feet long, was to say the least an “interesting” event to observe, because the process seemed so chaotic and precarious. Nuts and bolts held it all together at this early stage, none of which could be tightened completely until all the pieces, vertical and horizontal supports as well as the cross braces, were in their respective positions.
The bottom horizontal level, easily within reach from the ground, was not a problem. The precarious part started when the second horizontal pieces had to be emplaced some five feet higher, at least it seemed that way for me as an American observer used to orderly structure and with a background in following and
enforcing strict safety standards.
With their dad providing even-tempered instructions in his quiet yet commanding style, one of his three very slender yet extremely strong boys, all in their mid-20s and early-30s, clambered up onto the not yet completely tightened lower horizontal support , and began to install the second tier of horizontals a few feet above his head. I could hardly bare watching with my over-developed sense of safety drilled into me from my decades on Air Force flight lines, where every possible procedure to keep workers from harm is followed to a “t.”
He was less than six feet from the ground; just the same,
my heart was in my mouth. The young man was tenuously balanced wearing
only flip-flops, the standard footwear for virtually all construction workers over here, and had to use both hands to tighten hardware while adjusting and keeping it in all in place, and that while standing on a narrow piece of steel only a little more than an inch across, all while the entire structure was still all loose and wobbly.
To me, the whole thing seemed about to collapse in a heap of very dangerous pick-up sticks, with this stout-hearted young fellow trapped in the middle of the jumble. As I said, I could barely stand to watch, but watch I did, and even took photos, while hoping I was not about to capture images of a fallen and broken nephew.
Over the next few weeks, that was not the last time I would marvel at their seeming lack of concern for the preservation of their own life and limbs. I suppose it’s something they just get used to, perhaps out of necessity, but I’ll be darned if I ever will get used to seeing it.
Sometimes, I just have to stop watching, either that or become a jumpy raw bundle of nerves.


Ed said...

I don't know if I have felt quite this jealous in a long long time. I'm with you on this one Phil! I can't wait to see the pictures from the top!

KA said...

damn... i want one.

Amadeo said...

I envy your huge lot. Mine here has been completely concreted over from end to end.

I feel the same way about how to feel about local workers nonchalantly taking risks we normally would avoid in the US. And I grew up here. I suppose it is all a matter of being used to it. Both the observing and the taking of risks.

I had once contracted a painter to paint the side of a building 5 levels high. And he was ready to hang by a piece of rope to do it, until I said no.