Life is better with a little Mystrees, at least that’s what all the folks I met this weekend seemed to think.
Tucked away in the yard of his corner-lot home outside Rochester, N.Y., Maurice Barkley has spent the past eight years making a little magic. One by one, with enough imagination and playfulness to last several lifetimes, Maurice has raised seven “child-sized” treehouses linked through a network of bridges that connects seven different trees.
On this Saturday afternoon, as he does on many such sunny days, Maurice stood at the end of his driveway welcoming visitors. Some where curious. Some were friends of his college-aged granddaughter. Some were “geocachers” who called this their favorite stop on that GPS-driven scavenger hunt. Some were just neighbors stopping by after a chicken barbecue, fascinated by the footsteps that kept going by over their heads. No matter who or how many, Maury, as he insists he be called, never lost his smile.
And who can blame him.
All around his house, through mature pines and young maples, Maury has spun whimsy. The entire “Mystrees” complex is geared toward young kids, with each treehouse carrying a theme designed to invoke imagination and play. There’s a miniature church 20 feet or so up some red pines, accessible by two bridges and a spiral staircase. There’s a group of three treehouses, mounted atop posts and wound throughout several tree branches that make hard going for less-than-limber adults, but seemed a popular destination for adult-fleeing younger guests. His newest addition, adjacent to “Chelsea’s Gazebo,” has its own bridge connection and sits so close to his house that I could examine trim details on the gable end.
In one way, all of the treehouses are very simple. Maury uses readily available lumber with light price tags, from plywood to pressure treated southern yellow pine. Attachments are by rope and cable, bolts and screws, all straight from the local hardware store or Maury’s garage
But simplicity of construction in no way requires pedestrian design, and Maury has spent his creative energy lavishly, giving all the structures layers of details from skylights and dumbwaiters to a hidden double door that can only be unlocked by reading clue cards. There’s lots of color, lots of ornamentation, lots of things to look at and touch. It’s impossible to take a quick trip through the network, there’s simply too much to see.
Maury is neither engineer nor arborist. In spite of authoring a book on treehouse construction (Build Your Own Treehouse: A Practical Guide), he offers no airs or pretenses. His Mystrees complex is not a model of high-end design.
It is, however, a towering monument to the spirit that makes treehouses the unique joy they are. Creativity and imagination are on full display, with playfulness and a calm sense of peace and joy the universal result. Anyone wondering what the treehouse feeling is all about can find the answers they need within a few feet of Maury’s back door.