I’ve been building treehouses for a while now. I’ve been climbing trees for as long as I can remember. When I was five years old, my family planted a lemon-scented gum in our backyard. By the time I was 10 years old, the tree had become quite big. It had become my favourite climbing tree. My escape from the ‘everyday’ was among its branches. It was my sanctuary. Even then I must have had an innate understanding of the importance of sanctuary.
I wouldn’t climb high in my Sanctuary Tree, as I did when I climbed our backyard pine trees. Pine trees allowed a bird’s-eye view of the world. But in my tree, I was tucked away in a fork of its branches. This space soon evolved with the addition of a plank of wood for greater comfort.
The Sanctuary Tree became a retreat for study in my teenage years when I felt constrained by the pressures of school. It helped me feel calmer about my workload, and it provided connection to the world around me.
As an adult, the first home renovation I undertook with my husband, Gary, was to build a treehouse in our backyard. We are both Peter Pan-like, so having a treehouse is an important element – not only for fun and adventure, but also because the garden and the outdoors provides us with much more enjoyment than the indoors.
Our treehouse is constructed with timber and old floorboards. We also wove branches through the existing branches. It has a view of the top of the hill and the trees in the distance – a beautiful place to watch the sunrise. This became our Sanctuary Tree.
Sanctuary is more than shelter. So often we talk about shelter-building in relation to wilderness connection. This comes from a survival viewpoint. Being stuck out in the bush needing shelter. A way to keep warm and dry overnight.
Sanctuary is more than safety. It’s about creating a home or a sense of place. It contains your identity because you’ve built it. Sanctuary holds some of you – your heart and your creativity. It holds the connection that you made with that tree and those branches as you put it together. It holds the relationship of who you built it with. It’s not constructed out of the desperation of needing shelter, but out of wanting to be connected and wanting to feel a strong relationship to where you are. A strong relationship with the people, the animals, plants and the general country is an important element in creating a sense of belonging. It’s little wonder that Gary and I decided to build a treehouse as soon as we arrived in our new house because it made us feel at home.
I wonder if animals see their shelters as sanctuaries? The kangaroos wallow into the cool sand, often under acacia bushes so they are out of sight. Other animals hide in hollow logs, burrow deep into the ground or create nests in branches. Do animals also have this sense of home or sanctuary? Or is it merely a shelter and a means for survival?
Cubby, or hut building is a strong focus for our KIN Village program. I believe this cubby building practice underliness the importance of sanctuary. The structures are often referred to as our ‘home base’ – a place to return. It’s something fun and creative, it needs problem solving and teamwork. It’s built over time with new, and old friends. There’s a great sense of joy, but also contentment, when children take their lunch to eat in their home base. I love it when the hammocks go up and to see a group of friends lying in the hammock and hanging out.
Our children, especially our older children, need sanctuary. A sanctuary where they feel they belong, where they are safe, where they feel at home and where they can rest. The calendar of the modern child is often filled to tipping point with school, sport, commitments and events.
KIN Village provides an opportunity for new and exciting experiences, but it also provides space for rest, for sanctuary and for feeling at home. It’s wonderful to see the children who come back every holiday and head straight to their space or tree to create their sanctuary again. Often reconstructed quicker and in a similar way… many times with new additions they’ve pondered since last KIN Village. It is a joy to provide space for a place of creativity, a place of rest and a place of home and identity. A sense of sanctuary feels like a true treasure found in the hustle of modern life.