HOPE VALLEY, R.I. — Every Sunday morning, Phyllis Farley fires up her laptop to attend the coffee hour for the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Kingston.
In this era of COVID-19 distance gathering, that’s how the group has been meeting. But Farley has a very special location from where she joins the weekly Zoom get-together. In fact, she’s sometimes joined by birds and squirrels.
The Hope Valley woman simply walks several yards from her house down a neatly-cut path to her tree house — right in her backyard.
“At this time when things being as negative as they are, a tree house, there’s just nothing not friendly about a tree house,” she said.
The tree house is popular with animals, Farley added. Birds like to nest in it in the winter. Deer tend to visit from time to time.
“There’s one squirrel in particular that thinks he and I can have a talk, and he can talk me into leaving,” Farley said with a smile, shaking her head. “And I’m like, ‘nah.’”
Farley and her husband, Clark, bought their property in 1991, and have improved the five-acre wooded site by adding not only the tree house in 2015, but also trails, birdhouses and feeders. Nearby, a small wooden foot bridge crosses a stream leading to a pond.
“We’re into making it look kind of whimsical,” Farley said. Only the buzzing and chirping of nature can be heard around the tree house, which is attached to a maple tree and sits about five feet off the ground.
There’s also a special meaning to the couple’s improvements to their property.
“We have a habit of, whenever there’s a loss in the family, we do something as a memorial,” she said.
They put in a gravel driveway in 1994, when Clark’s father died. Then in 2015, a year after her best friend, writer Paula Papshise, passed away, Farley and her husband built the tree house.
“I had the grandkids help build it, which is awfully fun,” she said.
The house has its own flag, with a frog, and a handmade door knocker.
“A friend sent me the knocker, and another friend sent wind chimes, because every house has to have chimes,” she said. The frog flag is a special tribute to Papshise.
“She was heavily into frogs,” Farley said.
Great care was put into its construction. There’s a shingled roof, five steps leading up to the door and even a balcony porch facing the woods and pond.
“It’s built to last. You’ve got to take it seriously, not just put in together,” she said.
Farley, the lab director for Phoenix Environmental in Manchester, Connecticut, said the tree house is not only a good spot to relax.
“I tend to like working in it when I’m not at work,” she said. “It’s an excellent workspace. I often send pictures to co-workers saying, what’s better than this for a corner office?”
Farley said retreating to the tree house also gives her a chance to reflect.
“It’s kind of nice to have a tree house to remind myself that there’s a power greater than me in charge,” she said.