Free Spirit Spheres   

By David Morrison

eryn-sphere-triptec_1588The name Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978) may not be immediately recognisable, but the politically inclined American songwriter’s most famous composition, Little Boxes, should be. Entering public consciousness in 1963 as a massive hit single for likeminded folk music legend Pete Seeger, it was resurrected in 2005 as the theme tune to popular television show, Weeds. Blessed with a lilting earworm melody, the ditty’s lyrics carry greater weight in bemoaning the architectural uniformity of suburban sprawl in Reynolds’ native California: Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same, it complains.

Considering the antipathy for identikit dwellings that spurred her to pen Little Boxes, I feel Reynolds would’ve been overjoyed to encounter the most unusual accommodation I’ve ever stayed in. Not a domicile per se, but—aping a nutshell—as far removed from a little box as it’s possible to be, and an innovation (literally) dreamed up here on Vancouver Island: Welcome to the Free Spirit Spheres.

Set in an atmospheric wood on private land off Horne Lake Road, near Qualicum Bay, these beautiful structures were designed to serve not only as somewhere somewhat groovy to bunk down, but as environmentally low impact spaces conducive to meditative spiritual growth and regeneration. Having recently stayed overnight in one, I can assure you that these claims are met head-on.  

My wife Susan and I approached our Free Spirit Spheres adventure with barely containable excitement for the uniqueness of the experience, but also undeniable trepidation based on personal foibles. Susan, delicate to motion sickness, was rather concerned at how a spherical tree house suspended between trees may move around, especially should a strong gust arise. As our Free Spirit Sphere, named Eryn, boasts a diameter of just 3.2 metres (10.5 feet), my apprehension emanated from claustrophobia. While my jitters in this respect are by no means acute, I nonetheless harboured quiet misgivings on this occasion, the sphere by far the smallest space I’d ever needed to regard as home for a night. 

Yet upon our first sight of Eryn, so dramatic and indelible an image in the half-light of dusk, all fears immediately began to dissipate, booted asunder by pure adrenaline and awe. In short, “she” stole our breath away.

Raised a short distance from her smaller sister sphere, Eve—lucidly so named as the first of its kind - Eryn is sited in a tranquil copse cradling a pretty, reed-fringed pond. At the base of the tree to which the ingenious spiral staircase accessing Eryn is rigged, we just gazed up, slack-jawed, feeling how I’d imagine it must prior to entering a spaceship.

The gifted man behind the Free Spirit Spheres is technical writer, former power engineer and (tellingly) boat builder, Tom Chudleigh. He and his delightful partner, Rosey Cowan—who, following serious illness some years back, spent considerable spiritually restorative time in Eve—together run Free Spirit Spheres Inc., other work helping to keep the project moving.

Evidently possessed of a brilliant mind and supreme craftsmanship as both inventor and manufacturer, Chudleigh excogitated Free Spirit Spheres approximately sixteen years ago, visions of the idea persistently buzzing him, especially when in meditative and dream states.

 “It was a recurring idea, David; it wouldn’t go away,” he told me. “It just wouldn’t leave me alone! I’d probably had the idea for a year before I started on the first one, Eve. Finally, I relented and said to myself, ‘Okay, now I’m gonna build one of these!’ The prototype took me about five years to finish, but I didn’t get more than three or four months of work done on the sphere in any given year.”

Eve was completed in 1998. Constructed of yellow cedar, she’s 2.75 metres (9 feet) in diameter, accommodating one person or “a cozy couple.” Eryn, on the other hand, comfortably sleeps two in a neatly housed, cushy double bed, a loft bed taking another small adult or child (of a maximum weight of 165 lb). The loft bed is typical of the wonderfully creative maximization of available space within Eryn, little cupboards occupying every place they conceivably could. Two large drawers of a satisfying, silky action sit under the bed to hold luggage, while others and built-in cabinets of various door shapes fly in the face of doubt that such a limited space could offer adequate storage.

Eryn is fitted and finished in exquisite fashion, Chudleigh’s shipwrighting brilliance in full effect. Constructed from aromatic Sitka spruce, she’s lined with a high-end, creamy-white vinyl, while the undersides of overhead shelves are covered in lovely tan suede. The counter top of the compact galley (complete with tiny fridge, microwave and sink) and the tabletop in the seating/dining area opposite the bed is of hardwearing, deep red arborite. The soft seating itself is covered with a Native southwest pattern, extra comfort here provided by red leather scatter cushions. Eryn is subtly yet adequately lit by strategically mounted, small desk lamps; beyond their economy, even these add a little je ne sais quoi to the atmosphere. Facing each other are large dished windows and in the ceiling is a skylight aimed at the top of the staircase tree. There is, of course, no toilet—a luxuriant nearby bathhouse (with sauna) and more rustic composting toilet serving those needs—but I’ve no doubt had such a facility been possible, Chudleigh would’ve taken care of it! One for the future, perhaps?

The overall impression of Eryn’s gorgeous interior is rather Jules Verne-ian, certainly nautical, like a fantasy vessel from his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The feeling of adventure and tangible weightlessness as we hung slung among the trees in night’s inky blackness is maybe comparable, we imagine, to the sensations felt when examining the ocean floor in a bathysphere, or floating around in a pod in deep space. This feeling is promoted by the spheres being held in place in such a way that any movement (beyond that generated by the shifting of its occupants) is due solely to the movement of the trees to which they’re attached. This bio-mimicry principle lends new meaning to the phrase “communing with nature.”  

After a couple of hours of experiencing Eryn, it dawned that we hadn’t heard a single sound outside our own chatter. Such quietness. Far from the road or anyone else, Eryn’s peaceful location is further amplified by her inexplicably calming magic, a quality infused into the structure by its architect. As mentioned earlier, one express intention for Chudleigh’s creations was as havens for private contemplation and healing. This is mirrored in the presence of runic symbols featured on Eryn’s beautifully hand-forged brass window hinges and door handle mechanism. In explaining their meanings to me, Chudleigh said:

 “The runes kind of represented my sentiments for what the sphere was all about. The sphere is a place where people can evolve spiritually, kind of move forward on that path to enlightenment, if you will. The runes signify and underline that intent. They’re for various things like reaping the benefit of one’s past karmic… well, reaping what you’ve sewn, basically! And there are runes for protection, enlightenment and evolution.”

eryn_728_01Our night in Eryn was extraordinary. But of course, it was an experience that, despite this effort, mere words and images can hardly truly convey. The situation has to be explored for yourself to understand the rich benefits that dispatch one at stay’s end feeling, well, different. If only from an aesthetic perspective, however, Susan’s comment as she gazed about Eryn’s stunningly crafted interior, speaks volumes. “It’s like living in a work of art,” she said.

As for the future for Free Spirit Spheres, Chudleigh continues to painstakingly assemble more as time and finances allow. One beauty under construction is intended as a wellness sphere, equipped with a massaging table. She’s named Melody. Her designer and Cowan—who shoulders the bulk of daily administrative responsibility, including bookings—are also actively seeking a specific kind of tract of land on which to further the Free Spirit Spheres concept. A colony of spheres is the ultimate dream, set in the trees of virgin old growth forest, where they would use their business to save it from chainsaws in the process.

Chudleigh is also happy for people the world over to take his sphere model and do as they will with it, to move it forward in the spirit from which it was created. To this end, this inspiring man of rare humility has not patented his sphere, believing he is simply the earthbound means to physicalize a blueprint given to us all from a higher plain. 

 “It has to do with the whole concept of ownership of ideas, as I completely disagree with that,” Chudleigh began in support of this notion. “I think, personally, in my own experience, brand new ideas come from the spirit realm, David. They’re not something we create or come up with… they’re gifts to us. And I think if you claim one as intellectual property, build a wall around it so nobody else can use it, you cut yourself off from that flow of inspiration. If an idea is a good idea, and you share it, it will grow. If more people can contribute to the idea, then it grows much faster.”

I have an idea, a good idea, that truer words were never spoken. Please feel free to pass them on.

For a wealth of further information and how to book a stay in Eryn or Eve, please visit www.freespiritspheres.com or telephone Tom Chudleigh and Rosey Cowan at 250.757.9445.