Coming up next

The European Tree Climbing Championships will take place in Prague this year. Really looking forwards to returning to there.

If you have nothing planned, why not stop by. There will be camping on site, Stromovka Park is pretty central and within walking distance of town centre.

Know your history

A participant of a recent level one climbing course insisted on calling the Prusik knot a Sputnik, which I though was really cool, because, well… Sputnik was just so iconic.

Then I was looking for an image of Karl Prusik, the inventor of the Prusik knot to illustrate this blog post. This knot is pretty ubiquitous in alpinism as a back up knot when using a figure of eight, in tree care also it is the foundation of traditional work positioning systems – besides maybe the Tautline or the Blake’s Hitch.

I was quite concerned when a number of the images that a web search threw up were of him in a Waffen SS uniform. This made me dig a bit deeper, the history surrounding that period is not happy, with Prusik, sadly enough, very much a part of it.

The German and Austrian Alpine Association, same as the League of German Gymnasts, preempted Hitler’s racist ideology by a good ten years.

In 1924, whilst Hitler was incarcerated in Landsberg and busy sketching out his ideas of a rule of Arian supremacy in Mein Kampf, these circles were very much acting as an avant-garde for future developments by permeating society with militarized and racist ideologies, which in turn laid the foundation for the road which ultimately led to rampant expansionism and the holocaust. In fact, as early as the 1890s the association started excluding Jewish people from being members, forcing them to found own sections. Placards proclaiming Jews not welcome were a common sight on alpine huts from the 1920s onwards.

Not only was racial purity seen as a prerequisite for extreme climbing feats, segregation of the sexes was also introduced as a measure to cleanse mind and body of impure thoughts. Prusik, a mountain guide and later a captain in the Waffen SS, stated in 1926 that “celibacy in the mythical alpine space”, as was already practiced by ancient Germanic people, was the foundation for extraordinary achievements.

This controversy is not new, Reinhold Messner, the famous alpinist, attacked the Alpine Association for not coming clean with its dark past, but rather attempting to cover up or deny these clear links to the Nazi regime and its ideologies. Rainer Amstätter documented all the above in his book “Der Alpinismus” in great depth, since then the DAV has sponsored a number of exhibitions attempting to document the breadth and depth of its own historical involvement with the Nazi atrocities.

I have to confess that after having read all this, I find the fact that today we still use the name Prusik for this hitch more than just a little disturbing. I am not suggesting that we purge all reference to dark times from our collective memory – on the contrary, I believe critical debate around such issues to be essential, if we are not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, but this feels uncomfortably like an unbroken tradition.

This is certainly a story I will be telling in the future when I introduce this hitch.

Hey, how about a name change to the Sophie Scholl Hitch? Now that would get my vote!


Spaces that are not

In certain places in Switzerland (and other countries also), as part of the building permission process, future buildings are required to be staked out with tall profiles to indicate their size and position…

The virtual spaces these profiles create often make me thoughtful. They will sometimes be erected in free space, in a woodland, in a field or jutting out of the roof of an old building, in anticipation of some structure that is going to fill that space in the future.

I find this quite surreal.

A bit like when you remove a tree… you climb it in the morning, establish an anchor point and get to work. Gradually you dismantle the tree, bit by bit until you have it all on the ground and through the chipper. Looking up at the space where the tree used to be just a short moment ago, now there is nothing – yet up there, twenty meters in the air, is where your anchor point was this morning. Due to my intervention the structure at that point is irreversibly no longer there… I am also frequently struck by the void left by a big tree once it has had to been removed, as though echoes of the essence of the tree linger on for a moment, likewise the vegetation surrounding the space the tree used to take up still mirrors it and will only encroach upon the newly freed up space over time.

I find both instances interesting, as they form an interesting dichotomy in the sense that the first represents the anticipation of ways in which spaces will be filled and altered in the future, the second the void left behind when structures – be it artificial or grown ones – are removed and the resulting empty space.

Well, there you go, that is then kind of thing that I can ponder. Yes, I have probably spent too much time driving this week…

Poor old blog

I always feel a bit guilty after not having fed our blog for a while… but the last couple of days have packed quite a punch.

A whole week of training, a level two course, topped off with the final day of a three day climbing and rigging technique course for this year’s certified arborist candidates. The whole matter was spiced up a bit by some pretty atrocious weather – please, should someone find my summer, I would really like to have it back! In fact, scrap that, I would like to have it at all!

Dodging thunderstorms and torrential downpours is just such fun whist trying to run a climbing course. Not. There came a moment when I got really grumpy and was wondering what on earth could happen to make my day any worse, when I slipped and fell over flat on my face – in the mud. Et voilà, I give you worse.

Oh yes, and then on my way home on Wednesday traffic went all kaputt around Basle. Took me ages to get home with other drivers morphing into homicidal killer maniacs, or so it seemed to me at any rate. Made it home in one piece, that is the good news.

Traffic jams… at least you are never lonely

But today at least things dried up a bit… the course was interesting and we got to mess around with flip charts and bits of gear, which I enjoy.

All in all, as I was discussing in a post a couple of days ago, teaching and training remains a challenge, but after a week like this, despite the meteorological challenges, working with motivated and switched on people makes it feel like you are making a little contribution and a difference.

The price of knowledge

The other day I wrote about granular vs. global views when teaching or considering a topic.

This got me thinking about the price of knowledge, or assessing value to knowledge.

My take on knowledge has always been that theoretical knowledge per se is fine and dandy, but ultimately it only comes into its own when it is applied in a practical context (unless you are an theoretical particle physicist or something similar, that is). Similar considerations apply to sharing information: I profited from people who passed their knowledge onto me, such as Stanley Longstaff, Rip Tompkins, Knut Foppe – and many, many others.

Therefore, from an ethical point of view, I consider the only right thing to do is to continue to pass on insights and understanding I have gained over the years, be this through things I learned from the folk I mentioned above or read about, from practical experience, testing or from research. This is after all a key motivator to travel and do presentations or workshops, to organize and take part in industry events: which is to facilitate and engage in the process of sharing information and knowledge.

This is not to be confused with the open source concept.

I believe it is correct to quote the provenance of concepts or ideas where possible, it is only fair to give credit where the origins are clear, not merely for altruistic reasons but also because this is part of our cultural heritage, take for example Jason Blake’s first description of the Blake’s Hitch in an arboricultural context in Arbor Age in 1994, Francois Dussenne’s introduction of the Machârd tresse at ITCC in Halifax, also in 1994 or Ulli Distel’s mis-tying of a Swabish Prusik, unintentionally creating the Distel. Today, when I demonstrate the V-Rig (or M-Rig, whichever cuts the mustard for you), I will credit Jon Hartil and Mark Chisholm as the first people I saw using this technique and so on…

Sharing knowledge is a mindset that has always been very much at the heart of tree climbers’ culture – after all, the first jamborees (that would later evolve into ITCC and all the other TCCs) aimed to share and disseminate knowledge and information.

I am therefore puzzled and somewhat nonplussed by an seemingly increasing tendency of people putting a price to their knowledge. I understand and accept that when someone has invested time and effort, they expect some form of return on investment – yet selling ideas? How about the people they gained their knowledge from? Was that also on a paid basis? Does this train of thought not lead to a point where every exchange of information is degraded to an mere monetary transaction? Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting that ideas have no value or should be handed out for free – on the contrary –, rather that there ought to be a balance… some ideas are part of a bigger picture and should be shared, other information, especially if it is novel and required a lot of background research needs to be credited and acknowledged, in whatever form – monetary acknowledgement is after all only one form of such recognition.

But hold on, Mark, you are applying double standards there. I attended a treemagineers workshop a while back in ☐ Rivendell, ☐ Gotham, ☐ Shangri-La, ☐ …. (tick as applicable) – and I certainly paid for that! So in fact you are charging for the information you are offering.

Not really.

To make these events financially viable for the individuals, companies or organizations who host them we work with a pretty moderate day rate, that essentially covers for one day of presentation and one day of travel… anything less and I can earn more staying at home doing tree work. So in fact you are paying for the expense of putting on the event, not the content that is delivered…

In my opinion if we lost that open flow and exchange of ideas it would be very sad and we would lose something essential: an open and balanced discussion about techniques and tools also introduces checks and balances that will (hopefully) weed out the really weird and whacky stuff. However, if in the future all these discussions were to take place in closed groups or get locked up behind pay walls, they may fail to attain the same depth of critical review they might have otherwise.

So I would suggest that we continue to share rather than hoard our knowledge – by doing so each of us contributes an aspect of his or her specific skill set to the great mosaic of collective knowledge surrounding working in trees.

Smart Monkey