Squirrelman is long gone. But his tree is still there.
It can be found easily; it's the one with the no-trespassing sign on the trunk, the barbed wire twined above the sign and over a primary branch. Screws are still sticking out here and there, screws that once held lumber that formed the floor of David Csaky's home, the home that city work crews tore down this spring.
Thousands heard about the imminent destruction of Csaky's elaborate house. Dozens offered to help somehow.
One man had ratted him out.
"There is a 500 sq. foot tree fort constructed in five or six trees under and I-5 overpass south of the University Bridge between Fairview Ave E and Eastlake Ave E," that man informed the city's Customer Service Bureau on the afternoon of March 12. "The person is getting electricity from a house next door at 3125 Eastlake Ave E."
The tree fort's occupant "even has a mailbox with the address 3147 Eastlake Ave E."
While everyone got to know Squirrelman, no one found out who this man was. No one but me.
I stood at the base of the tree one afternoon last month and smirked at the sign. I was making my way to the threshold of the man who tolled the bell for the treefort, and to warm up, I was looking for someone friendly. So I tried the bell at 3125 Eastlake. Its occupant, Robert Rudine, had electrified Csaky's home with the extension cord; he'd also installed the mailbox and painted on the wishful house number. As we walked north past the tree to have coffee, he told me that the sign wasn't the city's, but Csaky's. He might have put up the barbed wire, too. "David was very security-minded," he said. "He was our watchman."
Lately, Rudine's building -- which displays above the garage door a hand-carved cedar beam retelling a Northwest native myth about the origin of salmon -- has been repeatedly tagged by graffiti artists. Csaky used to deter things like that.
I met the man who ratted on David. Walked into his business and shook his hand. He gestured toward a table; we sat. Talked. What is your objective in interviewing me? he asked. I want to know why you decided to call the city about Squirrelman, I said. I don't do well debating with people, he said. But he continued talking and I took mental notes. The concern wasn't so much David, he said, as about what would happen in that treehouse once David moved on. Who in city government would take responsibility? I called around, he said. No one. Tom said to call Bob, and I called Bob; Bob said call Charlie, so I called Charlie. Charlie said it's Tom's responsibility, so he called Tom back and said: you're it.
I asked him again if I could take out my notebook. No thanks. His role in the destruction of Csaky's home is public information, his name is in the city's files, but the city hadn't released his name even when reporters asked for it. He'd stayed out of the papers while the story went from local, to national, to international; he didn't want that to change now.
Just look at all the good the media did for David. "They made him into a folk hero," he said. What did it get him? A one-dollar RV that caught fire as soon as he got onto the freeway. And the guy "was nuts, certifiably nuts."
The problem wasn't David, he repeated. The problem was: Who would take responsibility for that tree fort? I try and anticipate problems so they're taken care of before they blow up, he said.
We walked outside, shook hands again. As we were about to part, he gestured at a scratched window and asked me: What are you going to do about the grafitti? It's become a chronic hassle.
One man saw Csaky's home and gave him a mailbox; the other called the authorities. What made the first welcome him and the second want him gone?
Rudine told me a story that offered a clue: he was nearly evicted once but, in the court proceedings, he was awarded a little piece of the Eastlake neighborhood. It's good fortune that he's here, and he seems to know it.
But the answer, I think, is much more basic. It has to do with what a community looks like to each of us.
Csaky now lives on a big farm in the Skagit Valley, doing odd jobs for the owner, surrounded by pigs and horses. Animals have been his good friends. Rudine went up there on a June weekend, delivering a lost personal item: a large ojo de dios, a gift from some local Natives, a blessing and protection that had been found amid the debris.