2015? Let’s make it diverse!

So, 2014 almost done and dusted.

Christmas, New Year’s Eve?

A bit like national flags and borders, they are a kind of consensual hallucination, random lines drawn on maps, patterns on fabric or days that are – for whatever reason – assigned special significance and meaning. Still, seasons are an objective reality, so I suppose some of these dates symbolise the passing of seasons, I will grant you that.

My pet niggle of the past few days? People using cheap and cheerful templates…

My Year on Facebook, In a Relationship with… , Microsoft PowerPoint templates and mass media, mainstream opinions? In a time and a culture where individuality seems to be so highly rated, with people going to extreme lengths to demonstrate how different, extreme, beautiful, witty, brave or whatever else they are, I find it puzzling how at the same time they readily default to easy, stereotype, pre-packaged templates and patterns. Surely, if you wanted to rise above the masses you would go that extra mile to invest the time and effort to actually create something truly individual.

But no, that would mean taking a risk, exposing oneself to ridicule or derision. Much easier to just click «accept» on the pre-fabricated photo album that Facebook offers, rather than get truly creative.

I am not being grumpy here, mind you, merely puzzled.

So I suggest, rather than letting Zuckerberg, Bezos, Musk and co. define us and stunt our creativity, let us celebrate true diversity and embrace variance. Let us get out there, meet up, interact and discuss, forge true friendships and relationships. And while we are on that topic, why not aim for high-quality, meaningful upload, rather than meaningless, mindless download – this is not always easy, not saying that I alway achieve it by any means, but it is a target we can strive towards.

Here is to diversity and creativity! Have a good New Year and I look forwards to meeting up in 2015!

When E.T. goes bad

More snow. Piffle…

So, what do you do? You start catching up on films.

Like «Prometheus» for instance, which sees Ridley Scott continuing to implant a fear of dark spaces and slimy egg-shaped things in our subconscious in a further installment of his Alien franchise. I enjoyed the film, but what tickled me especially is the scene towards the end, where the heroine Liz Shaw is desperately trying to escape from a grumpy alien.

During her escape there comes a point where she needs to abseil out of a spaceship – rapidamente! To do so she uses a Petzl I’D… what is so funny is the way she desperately pumps the handle of the device into the anti-panic position. Naturally, her progress is slow.

This clearly demonstrates a couple of points:

  1. When escaping a rabid alien, not all devices are equally suitable. Probably a good idea to avoid anti-panic features, as you may be in a bit of a rush and not thinking quite so clearly.
  2. Where the hell is my jet pack? We get all the way to the 24th century and are still abseiling using I’Ds and rope? Seriously? Give me a break here! Anti-gravity plates on the soles of my shoes would be the minimum I would expect!
  3. Memo to Ridley: When filming a Hollywood blockbuster, make sure that your stunt coordinator takes the time to instruct your actors how to operate a device correctly… preferably before the shot.

So, I suppose the lesson out of this is to chose the tools you use wisely – regardless of whether you are escaping aliens, felling or pruning a tree or abseiling down a canyon.

P.S. Just thought of a point 4: Do not hang around grumpy, rabid aliens that want to incubate their young in your body. Or eat their way into your brain and remote control you. Or inject your body with acid and drink you through a straw.

Well, you get the idea…


This is how I like snow: Looking at it from the inside out, rather than the other way round. Glad we do not get much of the stuff, I reckon it is pretty over-rated. It is nice for the first five minutes, I will grant you that, but then it gets cold, wet, grey and mushy. Pffff.

A bit like Polar Bears, actually, come to think of it: It always really tickles me how Polar Bears are portrayed in kid’s books as nice, white and cuddly. When actually, they are large, smelly and want to eat you.

Mental Jiu Jitsu

I was introduced to this model by Serge, my companion and partner of many of years at Baumpartner. It allows you to assess an activity or work under the following three three criteria:

  • Work: the work to be performed
  • Person: the person(s) you are working with, this can be the client or the employer
  • Money: the budget available to perform the work

The model then looks like this…

The point being that a minimum of two of the three points need to be given in order for a job to be viable. If it is only one, it is probably wiser to walk away from the job, as the likelihood for conflict or trouble is high.

So, here are a couple of examples:

  • You have been asked to do some work on a beautiful old Oak tree for some friends you have known for many years. Great work for good people. BUT they do not have a lot of spare cash. Going through the triangle model, I have two points given as good: person and work, so I decide in this case to go ahead. The wages will be covered, we will not make a profit, but in this case that is ok.
  • You get a call from a client, a rather eccentric, slightly unbalanced elderly gentleman, whom you struggle to keep your temper with every time you meet, but who keeps coming back. He has rather a nice property outside of town with a beautiful alignment of Lime trees leading up to the house that needs pruning. Although you struggle with the client, the work on his property is interesting and he has never complained about the price of the work you do and pays the invoices within ten days of receiving them without fail. In this case, although the client is difficult, work and money are given… according to the model this is a thumbs up.
  • An architect has asked you to have a look at a tree on a construction site. The tree is a Silver Maple that was topped hard about fifteen years ago with extensive decay and cavities at the old topping wounds – a real mess. You have been asked to do a crown reduction on the tree. You get on well with the architect, he gives you quite a bit of work, but on this job he explains that he has next to no budget. What to do? Well, let’s have a think about what the model says: Person is good, but neither the work, nor the money is given. Soooooo, I decide to talk to the client about the condition of the tree, that I think it is not viable to retain this tree in this location (next to a road on one side and extensive excavation planned on the other) and that I therefore think that rather than messing the tree around further, in this case it makes more sense to remove the tree – and when the building is finished, to replant a viable, young tree.

And so on… you get the idea. Essentially this is nothing else than mental self defense. It prevents you from getting backed into a corner, trying to resolve a unsolvable dilemma. In some cases it is wiser to have a clear, unambiguous position in regards to what conditions need to be fulfilled in order for you to take on the job – and to make it viable, without getting unpleasant or defensive about it – and often as not, in my experience, people will hear what you are saying and come round to your point of view, or at least to a reasonable compromise.

In very rare cases, should all else fail, it also allows you to step away from a job.

It pays to bear in mind that in many cases where systems fail catastrophically, i.e. there is an accident on site, the chain of events started way back, before the team arrives on site or even left the yard, for instance due to a flawed offer with an insufficient price on the job, meaning that from the word go, the team on site is under pressure to cut corners to make the work performed fit the price.

The triangle model can help to avoid this mental pitfall. After all, there is that term of ultimate un-ambiguity that can be very helpful in such instances: NO. Or, if you want to soften the blow somewhat: No, thank you.

An apple a day keeps the… vet away?

Here is another thing that puzzles me – one of many…

The situation is all to familiar: You turn up to an appointment to have a look at a tree and the owner says that he or she had it pruned by a different tree care company and is not so sure about the result. Guess what: the tree has been absolutely demolished. Happens so often and is upsetting every time – because it is so unnecessary. Especially in view of the fact that when you start digging it turns out that the company who did the work is by no means a tree care company, but a forestry, landscaping, facility management company. Or the local farmer. But they are all tree care experts. Not.

A local landscaping company here has a running tree as its logo. Not surprising, really, in view of some of the work done, I reckon I would run too!

What I find really puzzling is why people step into this mental trap every time? Is it due to ignorance? Or is the decision price-driven? Probably it is a bit of both. And, last but not least, it probably has also to do with the fact that whether arborist, landscaper or forestry worker, they all deal with trees and greenery, right?

A bit like medicine. Vets and doctors both have to do with health and medicines. So I wonder whether that same client, next time she is ill will go and see the vet? Well, after all, it is cheaper and he also deals with medicine.

I can just picture it…

Vet (all latexed-up, ready to go, brandishing the mother of all syringes): Ok then, Mr. Bridge. We’ll sort this out in just a jiffy. If you wouldn’t mind dropping your trousers and bending over? I believe an enema is just the thing to sort your stomach upset.

Me (whimpering and turning an interesting shade of pale green): … oh-oh. Not sure this was a good idea after all. Don’t you just have some pills I could take?

No, it does not happen that way – probably just as well!

So obviously people are able to differentiate in some areas better than in others. Hopefully this change of mind will continue to cover other areas over time and bad, destructive tree work will increasingly be recognised and named as such – not least because of the high costs that the consequences of a tree-topping, for example, generate.

It is up to each and every one of us in our everyday work to define and communicate sustainable solutions that take into account the situation and the integrity of the tree.

I wonder?

OK, so here is the exercise I was doing…


It can hardly be the reason I am getting tweaks in my elbow, now can it? Surely? I mean, I was only doing four sets of fifty, three times a day. How bad can that be?!

You crossfit peeps reckon you’re hard? Get yourself a crane hook and then we can start talking!


Never mind the lifestyle, here is your choice

Isn’t it funny how you only realize what you had when you don’t have it anymore?

Well, that is actually being a bit over-dramatic. Some things you only lose on a temporary basis. I am definitely noticing at the moment how many movements involve the elbow and lower arm strength. Almost all of them, actually. Heavy days climbing are obviously not what the doctor recommends in such cases.

I am confident though that I can sort this out, I am working hard at it at any rate. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about what caused the pain to start with and came to realize that the irony is that it is at least in part down to an exercise I started doing to sort out some niggles I was experiencing with my elbows – and I obviously overdid it.

Sounds silly, but is really quite easy to do.

The great thing about bodies is that they are quite forgiving, as long you are not utterly unreasonable. Being attentive and understanding signals your body is giving you is a good point to start from in my books…

There is another truth here though, and that is that there is not one solution that fits all. As I wrote in the last post, same as with the trees, we are all different characters with different biographies, predispositions, weaknesses and strengths. Accordingly what can work fantastically for one person may be meaningless to the next.

Thanks to Colin Bugg for the link to Kelly Starrett‘s talks. Starett is an author of books on physical fitness, a motivational coach and trainer – and a whole bunch of other things, too. Whilst I am sure that Kelly makes some valid points, I feel the delivery is… debatable. But who am I to judge?! More to the point though, what struck me is that  he is quite forceful when discussing the “right” way to do things, and the scope of what he is discussing is far-ranging, some of the issues he touches upon being are really deeply individual, personal and quite intimate choices: Whether you choose to go vegetarian or vegan, Atkins or Flexitarian… it is really for you to find out what works for you. Same as all other choices you make in life: straight, bi or gay; believing in God, Buddha or the Great Spaghetti Monster in the Sky; yoga, Feldenkrais or Crossfit? All these choices we make are ours to make and in my opinion are not really open to debate.

All too much time seems to be spent trying to convince others that yours is the right and only way – when actually it probably makes more sense to just get on with it.

Lifestyle choices are overrated.

Trees as neural networks

This topic has been bounced around the press a fair amount lately, but I found Anil Anthaswamy’s article “Roots of Consciousness” that was publish in the first December edition of New Scientist especially poignant (see below).

(By the way, if you are at a loss what to get yourself for Christmas, you could do a lot worse that to blow yourself to a New Scientist subscription. New Scientist is a sort of in-between publication between really specialist journals and the mainstream press and gives you an greater insight into a wide range of topics than the run of the mill media does)

Anthaswamy writes about how plants have a keen perception of their environment, respond to it, learn to recognize threats and have a memory.

This reminded me of Lena and Gernot’s presentation Wie schnackt der Baum? that they held at a number of industry events, amongst others also at this years Climbers’ Forum in Augsburg. They also talked about these complex, cooperative networks, that are very much at odds with the rather Victorian tooth and claw  vision of nature. One of the points we talked about afterwards is the risk of anthropomorphizing trees in this discussion, i.e. to project human behaviour into them. Trees are not humans, period. Their awareness is radically different, they have no neurons, for starters, so to talk about a brain is a flawed premise. Yet what recent research is showing increasingly is that there is a high degree of electric activity and impulses – essentially information – being shuttled around the tree in an extensive neural-type network, see Anil’s article for more details on this.

Now I am definitively not a scientist, but as a person with an open mind and senses, after all theses years of working in, on and around trees, I have come to the conclusion that trees are highly-energetic beings. Also, no two trees are the same: Two trees of the same species and age can be standing next to each other, yet they “feel” different. My explanation for this is that we are essentially dealing with different and unique characters. I also believe, that when we work on trees, we are – at some level, even be it chemical– perceived and responded to by the tree.

All the more reason to be respectful in our interactions with trees. They are truly extraordinary entities, from the most humble to the most majestic, I am always stunned by how a blueprint deploys from a minuscule seed and these highly-complex structures emerge. Of course, sometimes in the line of work we do, we fell trees. But even then, this can be done in a more or less respectful fashion. Felling a tree is not the same as taking an old washing machine to the recycling plant – it is, after all, a living, breathing being.

Oh yes. And did I mention that without them, we would be choking? Sometimes it is good to recall that trees are not merely a commodity,  there to supply us with wood for our IKEA furniture, but also rather importantly supply our planet with the Oxygen that is the basis for all life.

Welcome to the Pit!

Just re-emerged from the cellar, had a bit of an epic tidy-up, after months-worth of doing events, coming home, dumping all in a pile on the cellar floor, to re-pack from the ever increasing mound for the next event.


This afternoon was time for a full-frontal attack, here is the result.

Left to its own devices, gear just seems to accrete and cluster – forming a sort of PPE coral reef. Which would make arborists reef dwellers, I suppose.

Arbor Nemo anyone? Never really pictured myself as an Anemone. Or a clown fish.