“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
Songs like these echo out of our radios (more like streaming services these days) to remind us of the magic of the holidays. Decorations all around, thoughts of snow as the temperatures drop, and, of course, presents around the Christmas tree.
While we climbers are excited about this time of year for all the same reasons, we get equally excited about what this time also means for us. Yes, we will have presents around the tree, most likely climbing-related trinkets. But the real presents are how the trees show themselves off with the changing of colors, shedding of leaves, and showing their structure. The area’s trees are visible in a way that they haven’t been for the past six months allowing us to now see the actual growth and map out how they will be climbed in a way we have trouble with when foliage is present. The lack of foliage also means that the limbs removed from the tree take up less space in the truck when chipped. A practical and often overlooked benefit for people, but we are very much aware and excited by it. Fewer trips to the dump mean more time in the trees, which, if we’re being honest, is the thing we desire most. As much time off the ground in the Richmond playground as possible!
Route planning from the ground (which I alluded to earlier) is a benefit of no foliage, but more so than that is identifying what we can tie our ropes into from the ground. You see, we don’t know how strong our attachment points in the trees truly are. So much of our work is one giant hypothesis based mostly upon experience with some biology mixed in. In every other at-height discipline (think of folks working on towers, fire/rescue, or oil rigs) the anchor point they climb off of is fully rated. Essentially, they know when something will break, based on specific testing on just that: When does concrete or steel break? In trees, we don’t have that luxury, which makes the climbing that much more adventurous as well as intentional. Our life-support attachment to the tree itself requires a lot of trust. Trust in our experience, training, knowledge, and what our gut instinct has to say.
In the natural world, there are lots of different types of trees, and we sure do have a lot of them in RVA. Part of what makes being a tree climber in Richmond so awesome is the diversity that is afforded us. That said, it also means there are more things to keep dialed into the mental Rolodex. Some trees are stronger than others. Some bend more than others. Some rot faster internally than others. While some (amazingly) get harder when they die. All these factors are part of what a tree climber must assess prior to each climb, usually within the first couple of minutes of setting foot in someone’s yard. As we gain experience, this assessment gets not only faster but, believe it or not, more thorough. We know more of what to look for as well as how certain species either give us confidence or scare the crap out of us. Lack of leaves means our job gets easier, which makes us happy.
So, tying this all back to how this convo started, is why this is a magical time of year for us. It allows our risk assessments to happen faster. There are fewer things in the way that are blocking our view. We can make the best decisions about where to tie our ropes to the tree and how to access them. It gives us the opportunity to care for trees in a little bit of a better way with our pruning cuts. A side benefit is we can also be seen a lot easier, especially in our Truetimber-branded red shirts, so we look way cooler! But it also allows us to keep tabs on one another to make sure everyone is still good.
When it comes down to it, most of us are excited this time of year for the cooler temperatures, making the climbing not quite as hard, and the shorter workdays mean we get more time to rest our bodies as well as spend more time with our families. If you see a Truetimber truck rolling around, know that you’re watching a group of folks heading to climb some trees knowing that we have the best job in the world. We’re off to swing around in your trees, hoot and holler, and bask in the most wonderful time of year to be a tree climber. Here’s to hoping that you have a happy holiday season from your friendly neighborhood tree climbers!
In this edition of the Climbers Corner, I wanted to highlight a key component of identifying a passionate tree climber. An immediate clue is to see if the person climbing your trees is thinking about their own personal safety. Do they have a helmet on? It seems like such a simple question, maybe a no-brainer (because that’s what the helmet is doing, protecting that brain) but it’s something that our industry battles regularly.
Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, is our first line of defense against the risks and hazards we climbers are subjected to each and every day. Sure, we have standards that are set forth by government agencies to ensure that employees are protected by their employers, but when the rubber meets the road, it comes down to the individual caring enough about protecting themselves to put the helmet on.
It’s always been a challenge at times in the industry to get people to buy into this concept. Whether it’s a helmet, safety glasses, ear protection, or chainsaw protection, the person has to believe in what the equipment does for them to allow for a long and injury-free career aloft. The crux of the issue, though, has always been how to get people to believe in it without having an experience that wakes them up to the reality of what we’re exposed to. In my experience, the best way to get that buy-in from people is to make them feel cool in it. Not necessarily cool in a temperature sense, but cool in a Ron Burgundy sense of “Hey everyone, come see how good I look!”
Think about it. When we get dressed for the day, are we thinking about how we present ourselves to the world? Do we want to display to the world the type of person we are with what we wear? How many times have you changed shirts before walking out the door because you didn’t like the way it vibed with your appearance? I know this is something I do. When I think about myself as a climber, it’s no different.
Think about football: Everyone on the team is wearing a uniform and, for the most part, everyone looks the same. It helps them know in an instant who is on their team and who isn’t. Super important, but if you zoom in and look closely, you’ll notice that while everyone is wearing the same jersey, pants, and helmets, each player inserts a piece of individual flare to help them feel like themselves, to look cool. Some players have a different face shield on their helmet. Some players have unique cleats of all different colors so as they run down the field, they really stand out on TV. The point being, everyone is on the same team, yet there is a personal decision to add something to their uniform to make them feel cool. They stand out, and it helps them perform better because they’ve bought into what they’re doing. They feel cool.
So, how does this tie into what I’m talking about? If I think about Truetimber specifically, we’re all out there rocking our red shirts with the TT logo on our back. We’re pretty much all wearing the same style of pants and boots, but what really allows us to get creative in our personal touch though, is that helmet. The different safety glasses. The neat-looking chainsaw pants. Different styles and colors, face shields or visors, stickers, etc. It may not seem like much, but it’s in this effort to make PPE cool again. If it’s cool, then people will wear it. Helmets help to keep our brain nestled nicely inside our head, unscathed from the constant bonking on branches or pieces of equipment. It’s not that we’re constantly head-butting things, but the nature of our work takes us into environments that are not overly friendly to humans.
Eye, ear, and head protection are critical in helping professional arborists maintain a long and prosperous career aloft. The longer we climb, the more we realize how important these pieces of equipment truly are. Wearing chainsaw protection for our legs when cutting with a saw on the ground is awesome because of how it protects us. Those saws cut through wood and laugh at the soft nature of our bodies. We wear that saw protection to keep the sharp stuff away from the soft stuff. We don’t want to find this out the hard way, so again, we try to make it cool.
At times it’s inconvenient and honestly kinda miserable to wear this stuff. Especially in the heat of the Richmond summer, adding layers adds a level of sweat that’s rivaled by few, but we wear PPE to protect ourselves anyway because we know it’s the right thing to do. We know it protects us from the risks we’re subject to. And when I think about what’s cool, being able to show up every day to keep climbing trees without injury is about the coolest thing I could do.
So, when you’re considering hiring a company to climb your trees, take a look: Do they have a helmet on? Are they wearing the basic pieces of equipment that prioritize their own safety? Do they care enough to protect themselves against the risks? I truly hope so. As a climber, I won’t leave home without my PPE. Personally, I want to do this for a long time, and this is the first step to take each day to ensure I accomplish that goal. As a group, this step sets a tone for the day, the week, the month, and the rest of our lives. It tells everyone on site, the community, and the world that we care. That we care enough about ourselves and our fellow tree climbers that we want to be here tomorrow. To be honest, it’s a beautiful thing and I want to see more of it. Wear your lid, protect your brain, and live to climb another day.
Welcome to the first Climbers’ Corner!
I’m happy to have the opportunity to contribute to UrbanForestDweller.com in a different kind of way, sharing with you all what it’s like to live a life off the ground! The goal of this first Climbers’ Corner piece is to offer some insight into this life we tree climbers so passionately love and lean into each and every day. Make no mistake, we climbers are inherently unapologetic about how weird and nerdy we are on this topic. From the subtle way we set up our harness to the reasons for our favorite trees to climb, each climbing arborist brings something unique to the table.
One of the beautiful things about climbing trees is that it offers some beautiful metaphors that we can apply to our day-to-day life. We often hear from others, “Be like a tree…stand tall and proud,” but more of what I’m referring to are the aspects of our work that we apply to life outside of tree climbing. No two trees are the same, thus no two climbs are the same. In life, no two days are the same. The mental fortitude gained from our work inspires a level of confidence that’s unique, in my opinion. I know, in my life, I’ve been in some hairy situations in trees where the consequences were high if things didn’t go right, possibly leading to major damage and/or injury. When I became a father, I leaned into that confidence and experience. Knowing that there’s always a way to make something happen. It may not be glamorous, and you’ll be exhausted by the end of it, but there is always a way.
We experience brand new terrain each and every day, which is part of what makes it all so interesting. It’s why I refer to this as a lifestyle over a career. It consumes us. We are the people in a group of people who are looking up when out in public. We’re looking for tie-in points, redirects, where we should make cuts (also analyzing cuts made by others), where we can set up a cool swing through the crown, and all the while wondering what the view from the top of the tree looks like. Rest assured, the view from the treetops is the best you’ll get, no matter where you are in the world, but especially here in RVA. The perspective you gain from interacting with such giant organisms and seeing what they get to see every day is humbling and gratifying all at the same time.
To be captivated in this way is something rare. Many people search their whole lives to find their passion. Even fewer get to apply said passion to their day-to-day work. Arboriculture, and specifically climbing trees, is unique in this way. We like to say that you don’t find tree work, it finds you. In my career, this theme has played out time and time again. Some hear about climbing trees and think they’ll check it out, seemingly in a very random way. Others maybe saw someone dancing around in the top of a tree at their neighbor’s house, or noticed something moving in the tree while working in their cubicle. They were looking out the window, longing to be outside, and, low and behold, there was someone in the tree doing some work. In that moment, they knew they wanted that freedom instead of being trapped in their office. Others might have a rock climbing background and discovered tree climbing from a desire to live a life aloft. However we come to the business of climbing trees, it’s not a feeling you easily shake. Trees become the canvas on which we paint our artistry for the world. You may have different trails in life that lead us to this profession, but once you discover it, it gets in your blood and you can’t shake it. You’re fully committed and bound for a life of sawdust in your hair and a constant itch to keep your feet off the ground.
We say it’s a calling, it’s a lifestyle, it’s who we are. We are tree climbers. We get dirty and sweaty, A LOT! We get to have an intimate relationship with Mother Nature and the seasons she cycles through. We get wet, either from weather, sweat, blood, or tears, but smiling through most of it because we know we have the greatest job in the world. We’re proud of the calluses and the muscles that the trees demand in order to access their playground. Through storms and sunny days. When the gentle breeze blows on our faces in the treetops. When we’re in a cloud of humidity, trapped in a holler, while climbing the monster trees down by the James. You’ll see us laughing, smiling, swinging, dancing, and living life to the fullest. We know we have the greatest life in the world because we climb trees. It’s who we are, and we’re darn proud of it.
Our hope through Climbers’ Corner, is that you gain some inspiration from a climber’s humble contribution to this space. We’re excited to share with the world a bit of what we get into, and we look forward to the articles ahead. Bear with us as we try to put into words what we experience aloft. It can be kind of difficult at times. The passion, though, is what we are trying to convey to the world, and that never fails to shine through. Take care, stay safe, please wave hello to us when you see us dancing aloft, and give us a call…we’d be absolutely stoked to come climb your trees and show you why we love this life so much.