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Like any normal 20-year-old after having engaged in intensive recreational studies through the teen years, Tom Eaglehart decided the next step was to stop living with his parents and set up home on his own. But instead of settling for the big city bright lights, he wandered into a nearby forest and climbed a tree. And there he found the most beautiful home in the world. A large magpie nest built around the top of a spruce which had latterly been the home to a twig tipi and moss building tribe of songbirds. Fortunately the home was vacant and after a few alterations in terms of scale and a small piece of canvas he moved in.

There he remains 4 years on in his ultimate recreational accessory.

He calls it his sky temple, open to the elements 30 feet above a rocky outcrop on top of a mixed forested hill overlooking the Urr Valley and estuary which flows into the Solway Firth in Southwest Scotland.

So far, so unusual. But this is no normal treehouse. It is inspired by celebration rather than protest. The living space is a large platform spanning the upper reaches of 7 spruce trees, cantilevering far beyond the canopy. This is joined to several outrigger spaces by rope, ladder and trapdoor. There are no walls save for 4 latticed hazelwood fences which move according to prevailing weather directions. The roof has a simple spruce pole skeleton with a 20' by 40' marquee canvas which swings and soars through the tree tops from storm shelter to open sky in a matter of seconds. A large elaborate oil lamp chandelier hangs in a central position with a large beach stone counterweight. "A very dynamic space" says Tom, "especially in the gales".

In the height of a storm the whole place is like a ship on the waves swinging as much as 4 feet side to side. Tom finds full-blast Jimi Hendrix a perfect accompaniment.

"Living in the sky is living with the birds and if I want an early morning wakeup call I put a few peanuts on the bedhead." There are a few birds that roost with him and a couple of mice who have set up home in one of his loudspeakers. "I have crows who fly through the living room at dawn and dusk and occasionally stop for a chat."

Heating comes from an open log fire in a large copper dish on wheels. "When the West Wind blows the fire is rolled to the east and vice versa so smoke is rarely a problem." Most of the cooking is done over the fire, rabbits and pheasants from the road, mushrooms from the forests and fields, mussels from the river and fish from the sea, which he reaches in one of his outrigger canoes. "Nothing beats free food cooked on the campfire - another luxury money cannot buy."

A solar heated shower works in the summer and a cast-iron bath over a fire-place by a stream works all winter.

So, most mod-cons and most expense spared but some money is needed. Alongside a few tipi and treehouse commissions, Tom works with his glassblower father and local artists. Tom himself specialising in large chandeliers and miniature jewel-like oil lamps. "The only electric lighting I use are a few faerie lights; if I need a lot of light I use a calor gas flare which can also be used to shoot fire balls into the sky." The electricity he uses comes from his parents' house 150 yards away which Tom uses to power a hifi, television and video and also a two bar heater which hangs directly over the bed. "It's basically for sunbathing under the stars even on the coldest of winter's starry nights"

"If it's been raining and the TV is damp there tends to be quite a light show at the back of the set and a few pops and bangs before it dries out. I don't watch much telly, just videos. There is no better place to watch such films as Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, or Predator.

The sky temple is also good for parties, particularly when the moon is full, the stars are shooting or the West Wind is roaring." In the past four years I've seen more shooting stars than most people see in 10 lifetimes."

About 25 people climbed aboard for one memorable party, the platforms bouncing in time to the music until part of the main structure snapped making the floor far more bouncy than intended. There followed a rapid evacuation. The structure has been built by trial and error and Tom seems to get away with far more than Architects or engineers deem possible. "Safety is not a problem" says Tom. "My only fall was from the third rung of a ladder I was building and one person when trying to slide down the rope slightly drunk ended up free-falling 25ft but landed uninjured on a soft bed of pine needles. I'm never worried up here except during thunder and lightning when I retreat to a local tipi which a friend is living in. A lightning conductor has been a priority item since I started. I'd better get around to it."

Much as he enjoys small parties, Tom is equally at home with his own company. Swinging through the treetops or reclining in one of his home-made seats suspended by ropes and designed to put the mind and body in a state of serene bliss. "I also spend a lot of time on the local rocky beaches fair weather and foul" He has a few favourite places where the sea smashes the rock with particular ferocity. "If I ever leave my leafy abode it will be to live right on the coast."

If he ever wants to escape, he can always climb down the ladder from his eyrie and join the people whose houses have roofs and walls - the twilight zone, as he calls it. Or Zorro-like, he can slide down the rope onto the seat of his motorbike and roar away.

But he doesn't want to. "I'm at home here and my luxuries are mostly free - sky and wind, outdoor hot baths, valley views, sunrises, the stars and the moon."

Words by Tom with apologies to Alastair Riley

winterspring 1996 (approx)

Hale Bopp visiting; April 1997

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