Living out on a limb: Tree house an adventure | PostIndependent.com
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Living out on a limb: Tree house an adventure

On a day with just a little wind, if you stand in Bridget Learn and Ben Henderson’s tree house up Cattle Creek, you can feel it move in the arms of the four huge spruce trees that hold it up. You can hear the low skreek of the walls as they protest, ever so softly, against the wind.Bridget and Ben’s tree house sits about 20 feet off the ground, but is anchored at the back into the hillside.The couple are now deeply into winter after moving into the house in April. They have learned to negotiate, with armloads of wood, the mini-bobsled run that is the snow-covered path up to their front door. This day they lit the fire early and let it roar so visitors would have a warm welcome.Inside it was warm and cozy and, well, boatlike.Into the relatively small living space are built cupboards and drawers and tiny closets to stow stuff away. The interior is not a rectangle, but instead the walls, all akimbo, form a cockeyed space punctuated by tiny windows and skylights. It has the feel, and indeed on windy days the movement, of a boat under sail on the ocean.For Bridget and Ben the movement that goes with living in a tree house took some getting used to.”We had 80 mile-an-hour winds one night. That was the night we came down and slept on the living room floor,” Bridget said.The bed is suspended above the living room, held up by a huge chain that looks as if it came off a giant’s bicycle.”When the house starts to shake the bathroom is the only place that doesn’t move,” because it’s built into the hillside, Bridget said. “The dog and cat both get scared when the wind blows,” Bridget said. In a high wind the dog retreats into the bathroom but the cat stays put on the bed, digging in and holding on.The tiny shower is walled with gray volcanic rock.”I get in and spin around and make sure I don’t scrape my elbows,” Bridget said.Covering the one wall of the galley-like kitchen are welded copper plates, an exotic material for a splashguard. The kitchen opens into the living room and a set of winding, narrow wooden stairs leads up to the loft.It is no accident the tree house shares its design with boats. Its designer and first owner was John Stirling, a man who left his mark on the Cattle Creek area in the form of quirky homes, which he used to finance his thirst for adventure.Tree house owner Chris McGovern bought the place from Stirling just after he and Carl Monahan completed what started out as two tree platforms above Cattle Creek. In 1970, they first built the two decks, attached to giant spruce trees overlooking a deep pond. They used the front deck as a platform to dive into the pond, McGovern said.Then Stirling expanded the concept and engaged Monahan to build a tree house.”John thought out of the box,” McGovern said.The project was completed the next year and Stirling, his wife Ruthie and newborn daughter Becky moved in.McGovern and her husband Peter met Stirling in Aspen in the late 1960s. They’d been coming up from Denver for weekends and bought the first house he built on Cattle Creek. But when McGovern saw the tree house in 1972, “I decided I wanted it.”Stirling, who died in a car accident two years ago, used the money he got for the house to build his 35-foot sailboat, the Cattle Creek, which he sailed around the world, she said.In the early 1980s, the then-single McGovern lived with her two children in the tree house for two years.”It was really fun. We tried to live simply,” she said. “There was less space to keep clean and get cluttered.”She also had to learn to live with her wild neighbors. Bees had made a large hive under the house. But they were gentle neighbors.”I was never stung,” McGovern said. “The squirrels think they own the trees. They chew off the pinecones and drop them on the roof. It sounds like someone is shooting a gun at you when you first hear it.”We would turn the spotlights on and watch the snow fall through the trees. It was so magical.”Bridget and Ben also succumbed to love at first sight when they answered a want ad last spring. They’d moved to Glenwood from Tulsa and were looking for a place to rent.Ben works for Blizzard B&B Internet Marketing and Bridget is starting a new job at Red Hill Animal Health Center in Carbondale.When they crossed the first of two foot bridges that lead to the house, “I looked up and said, where’s the paper, I’m ready to sign,” Bridget said. The tree house, with all its foibles, is a sweet home for the couple.”If you’re going to live in the mountains, where else would you want to live but a tree house?” Bridget said.


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