It's 7 a.m. and honeyed sunlight is percolating through the branches just outside my porthole window. Rolling over to face the foliage, I find a mohawked bluebird eyeing me curiously from its perch a few inches away. Not the usual wake-up call for a city dweller, it's a reminder that I'm deeply cocooned in nature here - and when you sleep halfway up a tree, you should expect a symphony of tweeting locals to drop by.
Hand-built by Vancouver Islander Tom Chudleigh, Qualicum Beach's Free Spirit Spheres are three wood-and-fibreglass tree-house orbs suspended in the branches by sturdy guide ropes. Each has an ingenious, woodsy interior brimming with conveniences such as comfy beds, built-in cabinets and those all-important porthole windows so you can be studied by inquisitive birds wondering how you managed to construct such a large nest.
Colonizing a forested, pond-side plot - complete with croaking frogs and the occasional deer - two of the spheres are reached via spiral rope staircases while the third is reached by an easy-walk steel bridge. Eve, the smallest of the three with a diameter of 2.7 metres, attracts singles and couples who don't mind bumping into each other. Her built-in bed, table and seating are functional and comfortable: If Hobbits ever made boats, this is what they'd look like inside.
In contrast, the much showier Melody - diameter 3.2 metres - arrived on the scene this spring. She's the most striking of the three with her large foldaway bed, dark-wood cabinets and midnight blue upholstery. Set apart from her sister spheres, she's more private and romantic.
Instead, I opted for Eryn, the same size but a little homier than Melody. Hovering several metres above the loamy forest floor, the cozy inside includes a large table that transforms into a bed, four forest-view windows plus skylight, a little countertop galley with its own sink and plenty of books to keep you occupied: Who needs TV when you can dreamily flick through Let's Build Trees and Bed in a Tree?
Not that you'll be in a hurry to start working on your own tree house. The snug spheres have lighting, heating, power outlets, water canisters and mini-speakers for plugging in your iPod, as well as tea- and coffee-making facilities. You also receive a basket of fruit, cookies and muffins, and there are plates and cutlery if you bring your own grub.
There's also a shared, immaculately maintained facilities block around the other side of the pond. It includes a kitchenette with fridge and microwave plus a barbecue on a wooden deck. There's a small sauna here, too, so you can really chill out. The block also has heated washrooms and showers, but if you don't want to stray too far from your bed, there are ironic, mushroom-shaped outhouses, too.
But the main reason for being here, of course, is to take a break from all these mod cons and hang out in nature. After a lazy day, cocooned into my cozy Christmas bauble, I tucked into a novel and watched the light drain from the forest - hoping my new bluebird buddy would return for a chat.
420 Horne Lake Rd., Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island; 1-250-757-9445; www.freespiritspheres.com. From $125; must be 16 or older.
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