Old Tree House

It was Shama’s second day as Lucerne’s Building Control Officer, a job he was unqualified for professionally, but which had been offered to him for double his usual salary, which he had accepted. He began looking through the files on his desk.

“A tree house?” he said to himself. “Do you need permission for that?”

He asked the receptionist. “Yes,” she said. “Anything over one hundred square feet needs permission, whether below, upon, or above ground. That’s what the last person occupying your position told me. There are exemptions, but very few.”

“What happened to him? The last person. I can’t find any record of his name.”

She looked away. “It was a bad situation. We’re not supposed to talk about it.” He continued to look at her, and she said, “I’ll tell you later.”

The Old Tree House file was stamped “REJECTED”. There was no further explanation inside. Shama decided to investigate the matter.

He drove to the location, a farm fifteen kilometres up the valley. It was always a joy travelling up the Lucerne Valley Road, driving from the white mountain towards the dark one, passing shining forests and sparkling rivers, and glittering lakes with leaping rainbow fishes. It seemed like gems of many sizes had been scattered along his path, or maybe the whole valley was one vast gem, reflecting and refracting light across everything within it.

There was something strange about the farm. There were fences, gates and barns as expected, containing cattle, horses and pigs. There were flowering bushes and huge red trees. What was strange then? He realized that there were no tractors or trucks, no wires or machinery of any kind. This place was not mechanized. It was a Luddite farm.

An old lady emerged from the farmhouse. “Come in,” she said. “I heard you coming up the road. Have some tea and banana bread.”

Her lounge was presided over by a wind-up grandfather clock. There were candles burning, despite it being morning. She noticed him looking. “They’re to purify the air,” she said, “And to welcome the sun.”

She poured the tea and said, “You must be the new BCO. You look better than the other fellow, I’ll say, but you’re probably a rascal too. What business is it of yours? I’m fed up with these floods. I’ve seen all the big ones – ’38, ’64, ’84, 2004. And believe me, there’s another one coming – this year or early next. Don’t you see the pattern in the years? Ah, never mind, you educated folk never do.”

Shama liked this old woman and said, “Yes, I am the new BCO. I’ve come to reconsider the situation.”

“What do you mean?” She was suspicious. “Reconsider what?”

“The tree house. With all these floods, it makes sense to live above ground. But I have to ensure the use of proper methods and materials. I see you are a Luddite. How will you build it without power?”

“Without power? Like everything else! We’ll use ropes and levers and pulleys; we’ve got horses and cattle too.”

“Won’t your livestock drown in the flood?”

“Of course they won’t. We’ll haul them up too.”

He said, “But what if the tree died, or gave way?”

She gave him a patronizing smile, and pointed to the huge red trees everywhere. “These are Arcadian Firs. They’ve been here for over a thousand years. How long has your village hall been there?” Shama didn’t know. “I’ll tell you how long – twenty eight years. The last one was flooded and rotted out. I’ll take my chances with the trees. They will last much longer than any of your buildings.”

When he returned to the office, Shama changed the status of the Old Tree House file to “APPROVED”.

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