Atlantic City

After the couple of days in Brooklyn, I got the opportunity to speak at the New Jersey ISA chapter’s annual conference in Atlantic City.

The drive there was a bit of an adventure, Mark C. kindly picked me up in Brooklyn, which was nice as it gave us a bit of time to catch up and have a chat on the way down to AC. It was also a bit exciting as we were hit by one of the Nor’easters, which dumped copious amounts of snow on… everything. The freeway was a mess, with cars spun out into to the woodlands and central divider every couple of miles. Still, we made it down in one piece.

On his 1982 album “Nebraska”, Bruce Springsteen penned a song about Atlantic City. The chorus goes:

Everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty and
Meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Put it this way, things appear not to have gone uphill for the area since the Boss sang about it in ’82. The atmosphere feels somewhat… dilapidated. Granted, a Trump Plaza opened there in 1984, but that shut down again in 2014 – and it is  probably debatable whether this really added to the attraction of the resort.

The convention took place in the Tropicana, which was quite an experience: a mix of a hotel, resort, casino and convention centre. To be fair, the hotel was really rather nice, loved the view.

Having spent my childhood holidays in the similarly dilapidated Victorian sea side resort of Hastings on the English channel, I have to confess to having a bit of a soft spot for these kind of slightly run-down places.

Some of the things you stumble across were definitively on the weird side. Wet Willies? Seriously? I do not even want to contemplate what they sell in there! And I thought the 3000 pound weight limit in the lift for 12 passengers spoke to the clientele of the Tropicana. That works out at 250 pounds (roughly 125kg)  per person. On average… eek!

I was fascinated by the atrium on the right with its artificial sky. Felt a bit From Dusk til Dawn. Gamble until you drop! Oh, and the casino! Everybody seemed to be in a hurry spending money they probably do not have, whilst smoking and drinking. It felt a bit like a battery farm harvesting humans, all attached to their blinking, pining, neon-bright machines, sucking them dry of their life-blood.

That aside though, I really enjoyed the NJ arborists’ conference.

It was attended by a dynamic group of switched-on arborists, whom I had the opportunity to run a number of presentations past, the interest was lively, with plenty of interesting feedback and comments. I also enjoyed the opportunity to get to chat with people during Teufelberger’s Happy Hour on the first evening, as well as during the dinners. Oftentimes during these events I seem to spend my time rushing around like a headless chicken – not so here, nice and relaxed, with plenty of time to drink coffee and chat. There other talks I managed to go and see touched upon a good range of arb-related topics, offering plenty of food for thought.

Overall, I was impressed by the professionalism and effort which the NJ chapter invests into making this annual, two-day event happen, they pull off a high-quality event, for which I commend them.

Events like this make travel worthwhile in my books, you get to see places and people you would otherwise not see – and I get to spend time hanging out with arborists 😊

Let’s talk about it

I had to opportunity to spend another couple of days working in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery a couple of weeks ago, thanks once again to Phil for having me along for the ride. There is something very humbling and moving working on these often veteran trees, surrounded by almost two centuries of stories which the headstones tell of people from all over the world. Apart from that, the work is also very challenging, as the trees present multiple challenges, biomechanical defects, decay, die-back – or a combination of all of the above. This means you really have to think out of the box, considering very carefully what exactly you are trying to achieve, and how you intend to do so. In this process I found it invaluable to have Phil as a second competent person on site to bounce ideas off and to discuss issues through with.

Also, I was once again very impressed by the diligence and professionalism which Joseph Charap and his team display when caring for and maintaining this important area of urban forest surrounded by densely populated Brooklyn and the constant bustle of millions of people going around their daily business.

There was one interesting situation we had on the last evening which I thought was worth writing about…

Apart from the issues I described above, the trees also present formidable climbing challenges, really forcing you to dig deep into your work-positioning tool box and now and again stretching out as far as you can. After we had finished up we went for a bite to eat and a drink and were chatting about the past few days.

After a bit of hesitation I said to Phil that there was one thing I wanted to mention, as a feedback, which was that there were one or two anchor points he had used during the past two days which I had felt uneasy about as they were quite low diameter. Phil said that that was interesting, because my flat rope angels had stressed him out a bit. So we got talking. Phil explained that he had had an accident years ago where he fell on a flat rope angle and had impacted against the stem very hard, injuring his shoulder. Consequently, today he tends to opt for higher anchor points when given the choice between height and flat rope angels. I tend to go not for the very last viable anchor point, as I just do not want to spend the day wondering about my anchor point strength, but by doing so take into account that I will need to manage flatter rope angles. I actually rather enjoy this, as from a technical point of view it is quite challenging: I find myself using V-rigs, throwing hooks, the second end of my line, redirects and/ or my lanyard to mitigate the risk of a pendular swing.

The discussion showed me though how valuable it is to be able to have this kind of discussion, I was glad that Phil did not hear my initial statement as a destructive criticism of him and his climbing, which was by no means what was intended, but rather was able to react to it, talk about it – and give me feedback regarding my climbing and issues which had stressed him out. Rather than being touchy feely, I found this very interesting, as it offers insight and understanding, it allows you to reflect upon choices you make and how (and whether) your mitigate risks that they entail.

And finally, it spoke to me to the quality of relationship and trust between Phil and myself, to be able to enter into such a discussion. Communication, without a doubt is the key – yet to achieve good communication we need to strive to understand what the person opposite us is actually trying to tell us, rather than what I think I am hearing.

Drawings, again…

On a closing note for now, here is a quick video I knocked together of the process of drawing the climber nomenclature image the other day… didn’t realise you could do this, and thought it was rather fun.

Having said that, time lapse filming always makes feel a bit as through I were watching my life rushing by. Bad enough as it is!

Playing it down

The way we approach a task will have a large influence on how we go about fulfilling it. Our mindset plays a major part in this. Especially if the perception of the task is that it is maybe is routine, boring and/ or low in challenge, we may well have the tendency to play it down…

“It’s only a shitty little cherry tree”

Yes, granted, not every job sets the body pumping adrenaline in the same way, yet I am convinced that if someone is unable to apply work techniques to a small tree in a professional and safe manner, he or she will be equally unable to do so when it comes to larger trees – on the contrary, in fact! What is happening here is that if I fall into this mental pit fall, I am letting the structure dictate my performance: On a small tree this may therefore entice me to cut corners (I won’t bother with a helmet, it’s only a small tree or I won’t bother tying in, it’s hardly worth it), in a larger tree, it may lead to me feeling dominated by the size, width or height of the tree, which in turn may lead to me feeling daunted, or in the worst case, paralysed by the structure.

My approach tends to be to approach every job as a challenge to get things right, to apply my physical tools and those in my mental tool box in the most efficient manner possible – and hey, even if the is “only” a small tree, it is a practicing ground for the next big tree also.

“It’s only a battery powered chainsaw”

If you asked me which I considered more dangerous, a battery-powered top handle saw or a big Stihl MS880, I would struggle to answer the question, as there are many variables in play and there is therefore probably not one correct answer. But without a doubt, we play down the risk of serious injury with light saws at our peril. Especially in light saws the degree of discipline required of the operator to keep both hands on the saw, to diligently activate the chain brake, to take the time to assume a good work position prior to activating the saw is higher than when running larger chainsaws – for purely practical reasons. The saw is lighter and makes less, or in the case of the battery powered models, close to no noise. This has an adverse effect on your perception of risk, as the external danger signs, the black and yellow stripes, so to speak, or the big skull and cross bone sticker is missing, your sense of being at risk decreases. This can lead to corners being cut…

“It’s only a piffling little removal”

This is a trap which is all to easy to fall prey to. In fact, it happened to me just a couple of weeks ago: it was Friday, everybody was feeling a bit run down, the job booked for the day was the removal of a medium-sized black pine. Discussing it in the yard, we decided as it is only a small removal, we would not bother taking all the heavy rigging gear with us, as most of the branches and stem could be dropped anyway. On site, I got myself up the tree, to then realise that there was an over-head tram power line on the far side of the tree and I had also forgotten how close the sidewalk is. Hmmm. Lucky we brought a lowering line with us. I then started quasi-rigging the tree, getting everything down to the ground fine in the end, but in all honesty? It would have been faster and easier if we had simply prepped the whole tree correctly, installing a lowering bollard instead of taking wraps on stubs, attaching a pulley up at the anchor point to allow for fast and efficient lowering rather than natural crotching.

What happened? In my mind I played the job down. The frame of mind I was in when I was preparing for the job had a direct influence on how I was able to perform the work.

The point I am trying to make with these examples is in regards to observing my inner dialogue that when I start saying things like, “It’s only…”, this ought to be a red flag, similar to “That’ll be alright”. Often as not, this kind of underestimation of a situation can easily become the first link in a chain leading towards overload and potential system failure. Do not play down or belittle the task, treat every job with the diligence and professionalism it deserves – if it is easy, all the better! Make the most of the breather and take it as practice for times when you are having to go flat-out, pedal to the metal!

On the same topic, as my brother Tim just pointed out, in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, after King Arthur had chopped his arm off, the Black Knight famously quipped :

“’Tis but a flesh wound!”

Right. What can go wrong?!

Know your roots

One of the fascinating things about work positioning techniques used to move around and work position in trees is how scaleable they are. You can make literally make them as complex or simple as the situation requires, as corresponds to your level of ability – or even to your mood.

Thinking back to the early nineties, when it came to tree climbing, life was certainly more straight-forward. You were not exactly drowning in choice when it came to what model harness to chose or what techniques to employ to access the canopy, unlike today! I write this free of judgement, as both extremes – too much, as well as too little choice – pose their own set of challenges when it comes to making sound, well-founded choices.

Naturally, one can build elaborate structures, celebrating complexity and advanced techniques, yet I always find it interesting breaking it back down to  basic techniques, such as body thrusting, three knot systems or footlocking. These form the foundation of what came after. They, of course, in turn build on what went before. I believe it is important that we have a working understanding of these techniques which form part of our (arbori)cultural heritage, to lose it would mean an impoverishment of our tribal history… not that I would want to body thrust to work every day, but sometimes it can indeed be a quick, dirty and easy means to move up the first few meters in a tree – when the only thing you have to hand is your climbing line… by doing so, merging traditional techniques with modern equipment and tools.

I was mulling this over whilst working on the current illustration project, reworking our training manuals. What better way to reflect the simplicity of body thrusting than in black and white line drawings?


After a lengthy silence, I find myself sitting down to the treemagineers blog for the first time in quite a while.

On the surface the reason for this has been that I have been absorbed by other projects and preparing for up-coming events. Whilst this is at least partly true, thinking about it, I have to admit to myself that the main reason lies somewhere else. In the aftermath of Florim’s accident I have struggled to find back to the more light-hearted themes. The full range of topics, from technical to philosophical, from flippant to profound, from humorous to serious, is an important aspect of what I find interesting in exploring in this blog.

Take that away, and… I feel muted in my expression.

As so often, giving things a bit of time had proven to be wise counsel. Time does alter your outlook on things, so whilst looking back to the events of the beginning of this year remains hard and upsetting, I realise today that I miss this outlet to share thoughts and stories with others, so I am determined to move on, setting my sights in direction of the future!

Onwards, me hearties! The horizon calls!!