“The High Life”
By Kathy Twardowski
Daily Local News
Sunday, Oct. 24, 1999
Chester County Living
When Jonathan Fairoaks of Glenmoore, PA was a curious 8-year-old living in Devon, PA, his love of trees was already leading him to his future. With the help of his friend, Jimmy, he built a treehouse in a maple just above the sidewalk outside his home. That would be the first of many and the first step toward a tree and treehouse business that is still flourishing today.
The first project was rudimentary. The boys used two-by-fours running parallel to the tree’s limbs and topped it with plywood.
Once Fairoaks’ parents and three younger sisters moved to another home in Devon three years later, he had his sights on an apple tree for his next tree house venture, which became a seven-year project fir gun and his father. This tree house was a bit more advanced, enclosed with a roof and electricity.
Fairoaks and another friend, Butch Ostrander, developed their own compant in 1968, while only juniors in high school, and named it J&B Tree Service.
He took his love of leaves even further by attending West Chester University for two years as a business major, working with arvorists as well as with J&B Tree Service during the summer. Finally, he decided to pursue his passion for trees and headed for California. He attended the University of California at Davis, the most reknowned school of arboriculture and dedicated his life for the next 10 years to the study of environmental horticulture. During this time, he buildt his first live-in tree house, consisting of running water, solar electric, and a hot tub.
At 27 years of age, Fairoaks felt limitless. He had moved his life to California and craced more fulfillment in his life as an arborist.
His love of climbing drove him on as well, and today, he and Stephen Redding hold the world record for climbing the tallest tree, a coastal redwood, which lives 385 feet high in Richardson Grove, near Garberville, Calif.
He remembers the feat well. With a spool of 600 feet of rope, they attacked the redwood. The first branch was daunting as it teased them from 160 feet. Redwood branches grow downward, making it a very difficult climb.
After nine and a half hours, they were half way there. Bloodied, tired, and ready to quit, they regrouped and made it to the top nine and a half hours later. Fairoaks and Redding indulged in the wine and cheese they packed, overlooking the north fork of the Trinity River. Fairoaks recalls this experience as “the most fulfilling and ridivulous thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Fairoaks traveled through California and, upon his return, learned that his professor was retiring, leaving his students with his consulting work. Fairoaks picked up the work his professor had started in the vineyards.
Trees need inspection each year to ensure safety with the growing tourist population in the Renaisance Vineyard and Winery in the Sierra Nevadas. A certified arborist is required for this work, a tree preservationist, which is an intensive program involving education in environmental horticulture, field experience, recommendations from other certified aborists, and a two-day test consisting of a written and oral exam and field identification. Fairoaks still has the privilege of traveling to the Sierra Nevadas for two months every year.
In Fairoaks’ absence back east, Redding took over his tree business until 1992, when Fairoaks received a call from Redding’s wife alerting him to a paralyzing accident his partner had endured.
Fairoaks immediately returned home to support his friend and take care of the business. Three years later, Redding walked again.
Since then, Fairoaks has created a world-wide business “Arborvitae,” Tree of Life. The intention is to bring a change in psyche to those with whom they work.
“Your psychology changes with height. We can leave our cares on the ground and move closer to heaven in the trees,” Fairoaks said.
Today, he heads an eight-man team building recreational and functional live-in tree houses. About 30 percent of the houses are live-in and 50 percent are tree houses for kids. Their work as arborists strengthens the tree because they listen to what the tree needs. The tree dictates the design. .
Anyone opting for the way of life first selects a tree which must pass a full inspection before any building can occur. If the tree is structurally sound, the planning can begin.
These recreational and live-in tree houses begin at $25,000 and increase with custom addition. Fairoaks has been working with a mother in Inverness, Calif., who wanted a place of peace that she and her daughter could enjoy. She selected a 375-year-old fir tree overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Inverness Valley. He retuned this past August to continue working on her custom-made doors and windows.
No permit is required for these houses because there is no foundation. It is such a simplistic way to live! Arborvitae has developed its own coding system to give to building inspectors and the team requires that each customer talk to neighbors about this venture. One homeowner failed to do so and the house had to come down.
Fairoaks averages 12 houses each year in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland. They also bring their creativity overseas as well. Fairoaks did allot some time for his own recreational space on his Glenmore property – 95 feet high, the tallest recreational tree house in the world.
Fairoaks has a spectacular view of the surrounding area without disturbing any surrounding trees. He spends a significant amount of time there meditating and appreciating all that surrounds him.
Arborists are the voice for the trees. Redding silently spoke in his one-and-a-half month fast, protesting park destruction, from a tree house in Forest Park. The park is in existence today in New Hope.
Fairoaks also teaches recreational tree climbing with a two-fold purpose of exercise with a view. In addition, he encourages anyone interested in learning more about building tree houses to contact the Omega Institute in upstate New York. Participants learn the fundamentals of tree house building in one week, while relaxing in dance, meditation, and alternative therapy.
Fairoaks lives by some unique philosophies, like the Greek Ideal, the Head, Hands, and Heart, which brings about balance to the human spirit. The Head symbolizes a strong mind, the Hands a strong body, and the Heart a strong emotional connection with nature. These are difficult ideals to reach, but not impossible, he says.