Rooted: An Antiochian Tree House Builder

“Lots of people think they have to decide at the beginning and stick with it, but that closes a lot of doors.”

Dylan Rauch ’08.

By Kateri Kosta

He grew up in Newton, just outside of Boston, Mass. “I was pulled out of a crowd by an Antioch College rep at a college fair. Antioch was the only school I applied to.” 

For Rauch, the idea of being flexible as life changes is more than lip service. Rauch is a builder for Nelson Treehouse and Supply based in Washington State. You may have caught him on-screen in an early episode of Treehouse Masters on Animal Planet, now in it’s fifth season. The show follows Nelson Treehouse and Supply as they build unusual spaces for those “looking to reconnect with nature and awaken their inner child.” Some of the treehouses boast zip lines, vine swings or even Indiana Jones-inspired bridges or secret entrances. Think Swiss Family Robinson. Most aren’t primary living spaces. Some function as guesthouses, but others are tree offices, art studios, meditation spaces and recording studios, to name a few. Just like it sounds, they are built and anchored around a living tree, though some require additional support posts, depending on their size.

“I started with the company six months before Treehouse Masters started filming,” said Rauch, “and I worked with the on-site building crew for the first two years.” Now he primarily works in the Nelson shop where he pre-builds things like counters, cabinets and bunk beds. 

“It was really fast-paced to work with the build crew on-site during filming. In general, there are about 20 carpenters working on each tree house, though about six are actually building on site.” To keep up with Animal Planet’s filming schedule, Nelson’s builds between 16 and 23 tree houses per year—one episode per site. 

Rauch’s love of mathematics and his co-op experiences were good preparation for success in building and carpentry. “In my second year at Antioch, I became a math major.” He was good with numbers, and he enjoyed the mental gymnastics. On his co-op terms, he took advantage of the opportunity to travel and to explore opportunities outside of his academic division. His first one was at the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in New Mexico. “I loved it. I was a caretaker to the animals and gave tours of the place.”

Rauch’s second co-op influenced his forward trajectory. He liked being out west, so he headed back to New Mexico to take a position as a member of the stage crew for the Santa Fe Opera. The job was to rotate the set between daily rehearsals and performances, and to move the scenery during the official performances. He enjoyed the work, and when he returned to campus, he did a Federal work-study at Antioch in theater. Rauch was still a math major at that point, but theater was becoming the bridge between theoretical mathematics and practical application. It was also an avenue to engaging his creativity. 

Rauch and his roommate Micah Canal ’08 (former dean of admission) had been studying at Antioch College for two years when Antioch University announced plans to close the College. 

“I loved the Antioch community. I learned tons of stuff in classes, but also all about the social dynamics of the College. It was so valuable and so instrumental in who I am today,” he said. “Living at Antioch was being part of a vocal intentional community. People would call you out, but there was value in examining yourself and your beliefs. I wasn’t ready to go when the school closed.” 

Without enough credits to graduate as closure approached, Rauch leaned on his new interest in theater and transferred to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts to focus on technical direction and scene building. 

When he graduated, he didn’t immediately have his eyes set on tree house building, but he had a wealth of experience building theater sets. He knew he didn’t want to make a career in the niche world of theater, but he loved the carpentry aspect. “Every design has a new set of challenges,” he said. He stumbled upon a job listing for a tree house builder in Washington, and the rest is history.

When he started, Rauch knew a lot about building. He was familiar with the tools and how to use them, and from his time as a math major at Antioch, he had the competency in geometry to be able to think outside the box. “But building tree houses is different because instead of creating something really temporary, an imitation of reality, I had to learn to build things that were meant to last a hundred years.”

“It’s great to invest yourself whole-heartedly in what interests you in the moment, but it’s so important to be open to changing as time goes on,” Rauch said when asked what advice he’d give to current Antioch students. “Don’t get stuck in one channel. Keep your eyes open.”