Bob Redman isn't out of his tree, but he understands why people think he might be. Over an eight-year period Redman, 22, covertly planned and built a series of 13 elaborate tree houses high above New York's Central Park, leading park officials on a mad chase to dismantle his work but winning their admiration in the process.

Redman rarely used nails, collected all his wood from city dumpsters and had about 1,000 pounds of lumber in his final structure. "I had five floors in the last tree house," he recalls wistfully. "If they hadn't caught me, there would have been six floors and a skylight." Specifically it was Frank C. Serpe, director of horticulture for the Central Park Conservancy, who finally tracked Redman down. Says Serpe, "Bob and I did a little talking between the ground and the sky. I saw a person with great enthusiasm not only for life but for nature. We came to an understanding that he wouldn't do it again."

Although Serpe figures it cost the city roughly $2,000 to undo Redman's antics, respect for the architect's imaginative construction and obvious affection for trees led to more than an understanding. Last year Bob was hired as one of four tree-care technicians employed by the Conservancy.

Redman, who lives with his mother on Manhattan's Upper West Side, is thrilled to be working in trees, but his life has taken an unexpected turn. An article in the New York Times a month ago spawned so much press attention that Redman has hired an agent to preserve his sanity. "I'm pretty shy," he says softly as he listens to Jimmy Breslin's urgent request for an interview come crackling over his new answering machine. He has also received overtures from Disney, Fox, Warner Bros, and Dick Clark Productions to buy the rights to his story. Who says money doesn't grow on trees?