Target fixation

We had one of those classic situation yesterday, the sort you often talk about, but rarely encounter in such undiluted quality…

Mid-morning, still working our way through the plane tree alignment, we were three climbers up two trees, loads of hung-up, suspended branches. Four town employees, all high-vizzed up were doing ground work and keeping an eye that no one enters the cordoned off are. We had scissor fences up, the ground was littered with braches, plus barrier tape.

I heard some commotion on the ground, people shouting, and all of a sudden Vito, over in the next tree starts hollering. Quod the… ?!

I look down and see a senior citizen, fully kitted out in a track suit, two nordic walking sticks and big over-ear headphones on, totally unperturbed by all the hullaballoo going on around him, skipping the scissor fencing, weaving his way through the branches, dodging the city boys, heading right towards where we were working.

Umm, yes.

Finally, two of the city bods physically blocked his way, I could see him gesturing in a very vigorous fashion in the way he obviously intended to proceed, which on that morning happened to be right below the trees we were working in. Not to be put off by the risk of being buried below a gorilla nest’s-worth of branches, he shoved the guys to one side and took off again. I was literally holding my breath… until he was clear of the canopies, carrying on his way. Unbelievable.

Expect the unexpected and all that is all very well. But this really took the biscuit. It was like watching a really hazardous situation evolving, totally helpless to do anything, other than hope that the branches suspended would not chose that exact moment to come loose. Which, luckily, they did not.

Probably, he does his nordic walking spin every Friday, on exactly this route, and there was no way he would be deterred from doing so today by a bunch of tree guys!

Whilst there may be a comic element to this story, there is of course also a darker side to it. If the manic walker had been hit by something, taking the attitude that all the blame is on the crew of the town might well not fly. It is not as easy as saying that all which I am responsible for is up above, all which happens on the ground has nothing to do with me. A friend was involved in a similar situation, where he was working for a town, dropped a stump, which was deflected by a limb, to hit a passer by (who happened to be a lawyer). Despite the fact that employees of the town were in charge of the ground, the guy went after the person in the tree. An unpleasant business, on all levels.

Apart from the fact that we were obviously dealing with a stubborn old boy, another major factor in this situation was target fixation, a very interesting topic I wrote a piece about for this month’s edition of ISA’s Arborist News – I will pop it on the blog once it has been published.

So, I guess the points I take away from all this (once again) is to be alert at all times, talk to the guys on the ground prior to starting aloft, making sure they have done a thorough job of closing off the workspace, and finally, to check and give a warning before dropping anything major.