Dismantling a Treehouse

August 10, 2011

I’ve been away much of the last two weeks at a family summer cottage on the coast of Maine, away from TV and internet — hence I’ve posted very little here.  One occupation of the past few days has been dismantling a treehouse, something I built  15 or 16 years ago, for and with my son Tommy, then about age 12.  It was a joy to build (mostly), and a joy to use for several years.  A few times I slept up in the treehouse, going to sleep to one set of sounds, and waking up to another. It afforded a majestic view of the woods around us and of the ocean.

I was looking forward to introducing my son Robbie, now age 8, to the treehouse this summer.  Alas it was blown down this spring by a ferocious storm that took down two or three dozen trees on our property–including the three to which the treehouse was affixed, about 15 feet above ground level.   In this first picture you can see the three tree stumps and some of the downed platform (8 feet by 6.5 feet).

What was left of the treehouse was now an eyesore and a hazard: jagged edges and rusty nails in abundance.  hence the need to dismantle it, pulling the nails and stacking what is left of the lumber.

As I’ve been doing the work, it strikes me that dismantling a treehouse is a great deal like dismantling a program — something I’ve down two or three times.

For one thing, dismantlings are never happy occasions.  It feels like wasted work, moving backwards.  For another, it feels like slow, hard work, even when you remember that the building up was even slower work.  And the dismantling also feels unnecessary.  My treehouse came down nearly intact.  The platform and the structure that held it together is still mostly in one piece.  If I could wish it back aloft, I’d just have to fix the sides.  But I can’t wish it back up: there’s no longer any support for it.  The trees are gone.  And even if I could find other trees able to support it, the treehouse is much too big and heavy to hoist back up.  It has to come apart.

So, too, with programs.  They mostly fail not because their structure comes apart but because the support for them fails.  To those who love a program, it can seem like murder to take the program apart.  They still support it; why can’t others?  As I sweat pulling nails and stacking lumber, I’m wondering why I can’t just imagine this much-loved treehouse once more aloft.



About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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