Thursday, August 8, 2013

Not the Swiss Family Robinson

You have to be pretty fit to be a hippy, sometimes. When my son lived in Guatemala, on the outskirts of a lakeside village, he had to lug a huge bottle of water every three or four days up a zig-zag path to his treehouse, then up a narrow ladder of 28 steps to the platform halfway up the trunk. Then go back for the two-year old and carry her up the ladder; then help his heavily pregnant girlfriend up too, and then the groceries.

I never stayed overnight there, not wanting to be present when the little girl fell over the fragile wooden railings. This was not a treehouse built to Swiss Family Robinson standards, I may say.

The local Mayans had built the platform to his specifications while he was away in Peru and Ecuador. He had bought the land for a song, in order to protect access to a sacred cave where a Mayan shaman held court. Something like that. I think I paid for the treehouse, and maybe the land too; I really can’t remember, and it doesn’t matter now. He still owns the narrow strip of hillside – in theory, at least: Guatemala has no central registry of land-titles.

On my next vacation in England, I checked in with my cousin Pip, a respectable lady who had not forgotten her own hippy life of thirty years before. Was it smart of me to be subsidising my son’s exotic lifestyle? She gave me a look that was half amused and half indignant. “Gordon, really! One should never not support somebody who chooses to live in a treehouse.”

The Norwegian was one tough Viking woman. She stopped for breath at each zig and each zag, but she made it home up to the platform every time. And her daughter was one tough Viking toddler.

By the time of my visit, Ross had been promoted from Ross to Papa Ross. Being el papa de Ross, it made sense for me to be called Papa Gordon. The little scrap spoke Spanish (well, two years old...) with Ross and the Mayan girls who babysat her from time to time: all forgotten now, more’s the pity. Spanish Papa became Norwegian Pappa when they removed to Norway for the birth of the new baby, and I became Pappa Gordon. Indeed, I am Pappa Gordon to both girls, and Linda is Mamma Linda, by analogy.

In Oslo, Ross took up the cause of the homeless, fighting in the front lines. He helped them “squat” in buildings left vacant by property speculators. The girls tagged along. The baby slept through most of the action in a pram, but the other was totally on her Dad’s side, whatever it was. During one Police-enforced clearing of an occupied apartment block, she wandered off on her own. After a frantic couple of minutes she was found in the cubicle of a security guard, lecturing him (well, three years old...) on his human-rights obligations. “She told me, ‘these people have to have somewhere to sleep, you know’”, he said.

Today, they live in their mother’s forest cabin, except when visiting their father’s cabin in a different forest. There is a court-sanctioned custody-arrangement, which the parents observe more often than not. The parents and their new partners, and grandparents both official and unofficial, all provide a regiment of support. School concerts and PTA evenings can attract a delegation of as many as four adults. “We have so many people who love us”, they say in wonderment, to us in English.

Forest cabins are a step up from a treehouse, by and large. But there is a ladder inside Ross’s place, and a thousand steps up to their mother’s house from where she parks the car. We look forward to the day when flush-toilets and septics will replace the present camp-toilets traditional in Norwegian cabins. Then, there will be no ritual daily burning of the family toilet paper, for the first time in the girls’ young lives.

Sigh. Hasten the day!