• Arabella Thaïs

Head in the Clouds: Living in a Treehouse

The pro's and con's of treehouse living, plus a riff on the nature of consciousness.

It is quite something to wake up and see the full moon setting at dawn: a dusty milk-light moon suspended over the jungle canopy. A far cry from the brick wall that I used to stare out at in London. That’s for sure. Here, in my Costa Rican treehouse, half open to the elements, I look out over an expansive vista that stretches over sixty kilometres. In the distance, velveteen clouds form and whirl about gigantic hills, and the Pacific Ocean glistens in the tropical sun. Each morning is a chorus of birdsong and monkey howls; a veritable sound-bath.

I recall many mornings waking at my mum’s house in Fulham, and hearing the soft cooing of a woodpigeon nestled in the shrubbery outside. I used to linger in bed just to hear her dulcet tones. It was the sound of nature, and I clung onto it. For a moment I could pretend that I was not in Fulham, but in a Cotswold cottage made of golden stone, surrounded by rolling countryside.

Our human need for nature runs deep. It is written in our DNA. We did, after all, emerge from the land, and it is the landscape to which we belong. We are part of a finely interwoven web of life; we are meant to witness and celebrate it. All those years in London, I knew the city-matrix wasn’t healthy. I knew that it was not enough. But the ramifications of such chronic severance from nature are insidious – it affects us from the inside, like a slow growing cancer.

It was not until I moved into a half-open house suspended in the tree-tops of Costa Rica, that I realised how thirsty I had been. Even though I come from temperate climes, being here and living here has felt like coming home – to my own fundamental humanity. In the afternoons, sunlight cascades in and spools itself about the floor, and I watch forest leaves painted myriad shades of green. Because the house is open, a small family of bats live in the sitting room. I bear witness to their nocturnal rhythms, and the strange clicking noises they make to eachother, and the miniature bat-related arguments they have while they roost.

With such close proximity to them, I have oft-found myself pondering Tomas Nagel’s

famous article ‘What is it like to be a Bat?’… I contemplate their consciousness and their mode of seeing the world, and I cannot help but feel dismayed at the arrogance we humans have demonstrated. We seem to think that our cognitive faculties have rendered us superior; that our intellect allows to see and understand more than any other creature. But perhaps we should consider all the things we do not see; all the things we do not understand. To take the bat, for example, we will never know what it is to perceive through echo-location. Or a bee – did you know that they see in ultra-violet?

Indeed, our current understanding states that roughly 68% of the known universe is dark energy, and 27% is dark matter. 95% of the universe is – in essence – a complete mystery. Our senses cannot perceive it. We only know it’s there because of the otherwise unexplained effects on the behaviour of the universe. So, as we can agree that human consciousness is more developed and complex than an amoeba’s, surely, we can extrapolate that there is consciousness more developed and complex than our own? Whether that be in an alien civilisation occupying a different space-time, or replete within the universe itself.

Conversely, relatively ‘rudimentary’ life-forms such as plants offer their own form of consciousness and knowledge which many materialist minded scientists are quick to dismiss. How is it, then, that tribes within the Amazon have been given immense botanical information about their surrounding forest, simply through ingesting the Ayahuasca Vine? Come on, guys. It’s time to wake up. We are not more, nor less, than any other manifestation of life on this Earth.

To come back to the tree-house – I must be frank – yes, it was a magical experience. Yes, at night I could stare up at the firmament and bask in starry-eyed wonder at the magic of existence. Yes, I could see meteor showers from the comfort of my bed. Yes, I relished in becoming somewhat feral – a lone writer, with naught but her cat, some bats, and a f*cking great view. But two months in, I became a little disenchanted. I was bored of only having cold showers, and then the shower leaking water all over the floor and mosquitoes breeding in the stagnant water. Nor did I enjoy my computer breaking because of the humidity, and black mould destroying my clothes. The worst part though was when my landlady started building a new house 5 metres away from mine. I went from waking up to the jungle’s symphony to the sound of chainsaws, metal cutting, and men shouting.

I’m telling you this because I want to be authentic and real. I don’t want to give a false ideal of my experience. I learned what I needed to learn from living there, and it was deeply inspiring. I know this much: that I will never be able to return to full-time city living. Never. And I know that I wish to cultivate a life as close to nature as possible. This is, I believe, our birth-right.

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