Ok, quick sneak preview… the talk I have been working on for Climbers’ Forum next week revolves around resilience, a super-interesting topic that I will be pestering you all with in the future, fear ye not!

One point that struck me was a text by a psychologist saying that in his opinion a key element to psychological resilience is humor.

Which everyone can probably confirm: You find yourself in a really grim, unpleasant situation, someone cracks a joke and it somehow puts things back in perspective.

So, for this morning I thought I would share with you the shortest joke I know…

Velcro. A rip-off!

Yup. That would qualify as being pretty short. It is also true.

New Products

Well, not really.

But Chris suggested these last week and I think they are a really good idea and might well prove to come  very handy in every-day arboricultural practice.

At any rate, I thought they merited a picture…

So what have we go here?

  • Work Positioning Competence Cream™: Apply liberally to ensure best possible work positioning results, can also be daubed on your PPE. Why waste years training when this can give you instant results? Will allow you to climb like a champion!
  • Arboreal Hurt Pride Ointment™: Actually a traditional herbal remedy containing lemon that was recently re-discovered and tweaked for use in tree care. Applied during the post-fuckup phase,  it will greatly reduce the pain and reduce bruising to the ego.
  • And finally, the good old stalwart arborist evergreen… the Can of Harden Up™. Your lower lip trembling during an especially tricky dismantling job? Worried about your anchor point prior to ascent? Scared to make the swing? Just crack a Can of Harden Up – works instantly. This is guaranteed to have you swinging off cranes! Can also be used in case of minor abrasions, cuts and blisters. A word of caution however: Make sure that you follow the included user instructions in regards to dosage… overdoing this stuff can lead to seriously flawed judgement.

There you go.

Hopefully your local dealer will be selling these great products very soon – and remember, you saw them here first!

Counting down

With the Climbers’ Forum at the German Tree Care Days less than ten days away, I will freely admit to getting rather excited!

These days are a blur of sorting stuff out…

  • Putting final touches to the new presentation, ironing out last niggles and sticky points, making sure I have really got my head round the topic
  • Finalising technical requirements from the AV company
  • Talking to the lady in charge of the simultaneous translations and providing documentation for them
  • Gah! A cancellation… coming up with a means to fill an empty speaking slot – sorted.
  • Coordinating tower transportation and set-up
  • and so the list goes on… and on.

Did I mention I have a day job? I do.

This may sound like me whinging away, but it is most certainly not. Yes, it is intense, but the truth is that I love it… that moment when everything starts to come together, when you know that people from all over the world are starting to converge towards a location – and the best thing is that I get to spend time with all these fantastic people! Whoop whoop!

Another aspect that I greatly enjoy is seeing what people have made of their topics.

Often the way the way this has worked these last years is that I come up with thematic blocks for the program and then start approaching people about presenting – or, alternatively, people make suggestions for topics which are then fitted into the program. It is so interesting seeing what and how people finally present their topic… is it going to be a practical or formal presentation, is it going to be dead-serious or have a funny twist to it. Will they employ some really clever analogy that allows me to reflect upon an aspect of a topic that I had not seen before. This is very much an end point of a creative process, the unveiling of the speakers’ thoughts regarding their chosen topics.

Also, we have four female speakers this year which I am very happy about, as it moves the whole forum towards a slightly more balanced gender ratio – I get tired of guys-only events, we have enough of those in arboriculture as it is.

I could ramble on and on about this or that aspect. However, I will leave it at that, suffice to say that I am excited. Hopefully we get to meet up there – and if you are at a loose end for something to do the week after next, you could always pop over to Augsburg.

Did I mention I am excited about the new gear being launched at the show? I did not? Well, I am.

Don’t hold back with your creativity

What fascinates me about climbers’ culture within the greater arboriculture is how diverse and vibrant it is. This is due mainly to the people attracted to this line of work, which in turn creates a really interesting pool of skills and abilities.

Now let’s apply them!

Do not be shy to bring your own special set of skills to the table and find an area that you can apply them in, be it music, art – or something totally different; be it on the job site, at a conference or a tree climbing competition, main thing is simply to get stuck in.

Below is the Aerial Rescue scenario sheet from ETCC in 2013 in Thun.

The clown casualty made me laugh… really just a glorified doodle, but still, stuff like this adds texture and depth. In the end it is just someone making an effort. Coming up with AR scenarios is great, working with the team, finding something that will fit in the tree and the timescale and is at the same time meaningful – really brings everything together.

On saying no

I was watching a video today on YouTube that someone posted of them dismantling a tree that had died two years ago. The tree was looking pretty tired and the climber was using rigging techniques to dismantle it.

This got me thinking.

But before I go any further I need to clarify a couple of points:

I know the person who posted the video and he is a strong climber and I would deem him to be a competent operator. Of course a video always is only able to reflect one aspect of a situation – and not even that very well. So it is perfectly possible – and probably even likely – that the risks this job entailed were well managed. In which case I wish to make clear that the following thoughts are not applicable to this specific case, yet without a doubt they touch upon a reality of tree work.

The impression I got from the video was that what I was watching was a pretty borderline situation, with a climbing anchor point with the bark already coming off it and a tree with a very wide and spreading canopy.

I can totally understand how such a situation could evolve:

You go and look at the job, the situation is  a real challenge, tight location, with lots of structure and stuff under the tree and a potential client looking to you for a solution. So what are you doing to do? Should be ok, let’s bosh it out… Yet realistically, how do you assess residual strength of a Horse Chestnut that has been dead for two years? Where do you cross the line? If I had to hazard a guess I would suggest that we have entered into the realm of tunnel vision and target fixation here: I am able to recognize the starting and ending points, yet I blank out the in-between, the actually nitty-gritty of  getting from A to B…

In such situations I have found the term of ultimate un-ambiguity can come in very handy: NO. Or, if you prefer, “No, ma’m/ sir”.

In the end one has to ask the question who has been negligent.

In this case, without a doubt, the client failed to take action in regards to an obviously dead tree in their garden in a densely populated area with lots of other gardens around it – for not just one, but two years. Now, even someone who does not have a clue about trees is aware that leaflessness is a sure-fire indicator that not all is well with your tree. Two years in succession, well, it’s probably dead. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

The point I am trying to make is this: up to whom is it to take the risk to sort this mess out? Is it up to you to provide a solution, i.e. dismantling a potentially structurally unsound tree without damage to its surroundings with no access for machinery available? Or does a consequence of the client’s inaction have to be that he or she has to take into account that damage it going to be inevitable in order to guarantee the safety of the person aloft.

I am totally clear in my mind that this is not our risk to take. To be forced to take unacceptable risks due to someone else’s lack of vision just does not make sense, neither from an operational, nor from an ethical point of view.

The HSE and Forestry Commission’s Evaluation of current rigging and dismantling practices used in arboriculture document has a clever flow chart that illustrates clearly the options available to us to resolve such a situation…

As you can see, the final route, option four, describes a situation in which there is not access for machinery, the tree cannot be stabilized and there are not anchor point alternatives, so we fell the tree from the ground or drop large bits – and simply factor the repairs of the damage to the surrounding into the offer.

I had exactly this case a couple of years back:

A customer with a fair-size Norway Spruce, maybe about twenty five meters high, in his garden that had been dead for four years with a marquee below it, and… oh yes, they cut all the roots off on one side under the marquee because they were lifting the foundation of the tent.

Customer: So, Mr. Bridge, can you fell the tree?

Me: Yup, not a problem. Right across your garden. We’ll try to minimize the damage, but I am not promising anything.

Customer, flustered: But… but… 

Me: Look, I am sorry, I’m not trying to be funny here, but you have to understand that there is no way I am sending someone up that tree – or doing it myself, come to that – it would be plain irresponsible and highly dangerous.

Customer: *sigh* Ok, then. Crack on.

So that is what we did. Felled the tree right across his flower beds and shrubs.

Being able to recognize a situation that would bring unacceptably high risks with it and being able to say no to it is not always easy. But it is certainly the right thing to do. Importantly, it is not being rude, rather it displaying professional behavior. Often as not, the customer will recognize and respect this – and if not… so be it. Dead trees are dangerous and represent a risk that is hard to assess and to mitigate – do not attempt to compensate someone else’s negligence by letting yourself be forced to accept risks you would normally walk away from.

Just say “No”.

And some days you just feel like you’ve won

Sometimes, in this line of work, there are days when everything just clicks into place.

The past two days were simply stunning: blue skies and brilliant sunshine, big tree on Monday and tricky crane felling yesterday. Whilst many activities have many different kind of rewards and satisfactions, I do find these aspects of tree care and climbing almost irresistibly attractive.. and most certainly addictive.

Certainly helps me get my head straight.

No to fortress Europe

Again, after a further nutshell sinking in the Mediterranean yesterday that was filled to the gunwales with people attempting the crossing the Europe, the death toll rises yet further.

The scenes unfolding in the Mediterranean – and on other borders, where affluent, industrialised nations and poorer states meet – are deeply disturbing and totally unacceptable. The cycle that fuels this exodus towards a perceived better life is so depressingly repetitive: civil unrest, war, sexual, religious and/ or political persecution, lack of economic perspective, hunger… the list goes on and on.

Yet somehow, despite the high price in terms of human misery, there always seems to be a group of individuals who profit from this sad state of affairs: the human traffickers organizing the trips across the borders, armed groups extorting money from people who already have nothing – not to forget the reactionary political leaders in the rich nations who use this to argue for a militarization of the borders or to stoke xenophobic tendencies with their simplistic slogans.

Turning parts of the world into fortresses, or gated communities, cannot be the answer.

On the contrary: Closing our eyes to the daily dramas unfolding on our borders or looking away with a sense of aloof superiority (based on what I do not know) are the worst conceivable responses. A strong, solidarical and internationalist response is what is needed, with a genuine will to address issues in the countries where the streams of migrants originate, addressing problems there and creating viable futures for people in their home countries – rather than supporting corrupt potentates merely because they are sitting on barrels of oil! By this I do not mean by offering development aid, as this can lead to a quite patronizing view of the “underdeveloped” nations it seeks to develop – the aim has to be a push towards a world that offers opportunities and justice to all, not just a select few!

Alex Shigo once said that compartmentalization in trees is good, but in humans it is deadly. In that spirit, let’s work towards preventing Europe being turned into a fortress!


And here is one that is actually really old, still makes me smile though.

What is this?

What? You need a clue?

Pffffff… ok then: We do not use them in tree care as we are in work positioning, not in fall arrest. There, now I have given it away.

Answers on a postcard, first correct answer wins… something. A t-shirt. If you get stuck, check back tomorrow for the solution.

Did I say “No more T Rex”?

Well, I did not mean “no more” T Rex in an absolute sense – maybe I meant it more as in, “not every day”?

Be that as it may, this one made me laugh… unanticipated skills in a T Rex: ingesting and farting algebra! Whatever next? One thing is for sure: This student deserved top score in my books.

Thanks, Tim, for pointing this one out.