My tree was nowhere near as cool as this one is, but it was home none the less. And, to be completely fair, it wasn’t MY tree so much as it was some other people’s tree and I just sort of lived there longer than anyone else by myself.
The tree was made available to me by the great Ryan Roberts of past post fame when I met him at a mall busstop. I had run away from home and had hitchhiked my way from Cincinnati, Ohio to Clearwater, Florida where I hung out for about a week. Then, I hopped on a bus to St. Petersburg, Florida and landed at the mall there where I met Ryan. We got to talking and it came out that I was homeless and Ryan was so sweet to invite me to come and stay at The Hill as the tree was so named.
The Hill seemed to be just a clump of trees in a clearing in a very small wooded area. It served the purpose of being the hangout of all the teenagers in the area that were having issues at home and people frequently stayed there to get away from their houses or to smoke pot and hang out. No one was staying there at the time I was staying there but Ryan took me and introduced it to me and stayed a few nights with me so I could get used to it. I ended up staying there for about two years or so with intermittent breaks now and then to stay the night with a friend or boyfriend or if the weather got too terrible, I would stay at the nearby elementary school until we were able to build a roof and get some tarps to keep us dry.
The layout of The Hill was pretty basic and almost like a split level house. You would cross a big field and then enter the woods on a sort of path that lead into a small clearing. To the right was a small incline going up to another little clearing and if you went straight ahead there was a decline, a small hill going down to another clearing that had a humongous tree in the center of it.
In the beginning, there was a large couch under the big tree and further up in the tree were a couple of recliners that had been wedged tightly in the branches. Ryan slept in the lower of the recliners. Above the recliners high in the tree almost at the top there was a bed and this is where I slept. There was nothing above me but branches and the sky and you could perfectly see the moon from there as a backdrop to the two rats, Mickey and Minnie who scuttled around overhead at night.
Now, to go up the little hill to the right was the living room and this is where there was another couch and also a sort of campfire area. It was pretty well covered and sometimes we crashed there but not too often. It just wasn’t as comfortable as the area was mainly used as the party area where we all got trashed and smoked dope.
There were only three of us who actually lived at The Hill, me, Ryan and this kid named Ashton who I was going out with for a short time. Ryan and Ashton were frequently gone though as they were almost always running away from home and being picked up by the police. There were a lot of people who would come to hang out and end up crashing there for the night just like any other house, though, and it was fun, but most of the time, I was there by myself.
Eventually, my bed became a little house up in the tree. A wooden platform was built underneath it and walls were put up and also a tented covering which I only ever used when it was raining. Other than that I liked to watch the rats and look at the stars and it was so lovely and peaceful.
Prior to the walls and the “roof” slight adjustments would have to made for weather. On the rainier nights I sometimes slept elsewhere or covered myself up in a tarp. The sleeping under a tarp thing wasn’t all that great because although it keeps you dry the sound of rain hitting you is loud and it keeps you awake. It’s terribly annoying. It also sucked when it got really hot and it is almost always really hot and extremely humid in Florida. Hot and humid = mosquitos and mosquitos are the link between the tree dweller and total insanity. Being completely covered in mosquito bites will drive you crazy, especially if they are on your feet. I had one pair of shoes, Birkenstocks that did little to protect me from the skeeters. I would put on socks at night and those motherfuckers would bite me right through them. I still have scars on my feet from bites and scratching them all night long, rubbing my feet together as hard as I could to try to relieve the itch.
I was almost never at The Hill during the day. My days were typically spent hanging out at the bookstore reading or galavanting around with friends. Sometimes we hung out at Steve’s house eating his mom’s food and jumping into their pool from the roof. I bathed either at friends’s houses or in the pool of a nearby apartment complex and I was skinny as a rail as my mode of transportation was my feet. I walked miles a day everywhere I needed to go and it was never complained about. To be honest, I loved it. I rarely ate and drank lots of coffee but when I did eat it was never healthy as food was acquired on a needed basis.
A short distance away from The Hill was a Burger King and a Publix grocery store. At the time of my tree dwelling, the Whopper was a buck and so I ate one of those a day after bumming a dollar from someone at the bus stop at the mall. At night, I pillaged Publix for their baked goods which were delivered around eleven at night and incredulously left outside the front door of the store to be brought in in the morning. Bagels, cakes, cookies, bread…. we jacked it off the carts and ate it and it kept us alive when we couldn’t steal Steve’s mom’s Michaelina’s.
I had two run in’s with Johnny Law while living at The Hill. The first was when I was arrested for being Ryan Roberts and the second was for breaking and entering which I readily admit to doing. There was a drug dealer who lived in the nearby apartments and he had us selling his dope for a short while, pot and coke. I did it for him twice and then decided that I was just not a drug dealer and so me and a couple of friends broke into his house through a window and stole all of his drugs. He had the brilliant idea of planting some of his more bizarre items, a rake and a cd player, at The Hill when we weren’t there and then called the police on us. He told them that we broke into his house and stole his rake and his cd player. The police showed up at our tree and asked us about the break in and it was all really stupid being that we had no electricity and who in the fuck breaks into someone’s house and steals a rake?
At any rate, we told the police that he’s a drug dealer and were let off the hook pretty much.
The police were a constant presence at The Hill but really only to tell us to keep it down. It was pretty weird, really that they would show up in the night and we’d see their flashlights glowing and hear their footsteps and there they would be telling us that we had to lower it down a notch. Here we were living in trees with a shitload of furniture and they asked no questions.
The furniture was always stolen from the Salvation Army truck that was parked at the mall. People dropped it off outside and we came and stole it, carrying it back to The Hill like ants. The wood we used to build the place up was stolen from the Home Depot back when they kept all the lumber outside in a fenced in area. Two people climbed the fence and grabbed some giant pieces of plywood and shimmied it over the fence to two other peopple and it all worked out very well without even a splinter.
My stay at The Hill ended just shy of two years later. I had made a humongous amount of friends and at one point one of my gay friends, Jessie and I were assaulted. I had a black eye and a swollen lip and a big bruise on my cheek from the assault and another one of my gays, a guy named Kit Kat informed the minister of a local church of what had happened. He told the guy, Bruce that I had been living in this tree for years and Bruce was stunned by the whole thing and showed up in the night and yanked me out of there. He fed me and took me to the church where he let me live illegally in the back with a number of other people.
Ultimately, I was working and put myself through college although I dropped out eventually and it all led to this life I have right now.
Living in the tree was one of the best times of my life and if I didn’t have kids I’d probably move my ass right back out there because it was the last time I ever really felt peaceful and free. I lived in a tree and had a job at Hollywood Video and life was good.
I recommend it to all who need to do a little soul searching.