Memes are weird

The Falling Stars challenge started off in Russia in August and has since gone viral. It involved wealthy kids staging images of themselves falling out of their cars, jets, boats, whatever… with their luxury goods – designer handbags, jewellery, champagne glasses – casually strewn around them.


However, I was thinking that as arborists we drag plenty of stuff around with us on a daily basis – and are up for a challenge, so here is our iteration of the #fallingstarschallenge2018…

Memes are weird indeed…

An unexpected encounter

Many, many years ago, probably in the late nineties, we were doing some work in the zoo here in Basel. Opposite the catering and restaurant area there is a very striking group of large Pinus nigra. The spec here was to remove dead wood and the crows’ nests. The trees consisted of very long, straight trunks without any limbs and a narrow canopy, so getting ourselves up there was a bit of a fiddle, especially due to the fact that this was in the days before we were using throw-lines.

Still, I got myself to the top of the tree, poked my head through the canopy to a rather fine view, wind-swept view over town. There was also quite a lot of guano in evidence, lots of bird action going on up there. While I was looking around, something caught my eye on one of the limbs sticking out of the canopy… upon closer inspection it turned out to be a rather nice golden watch, strapped to the limb – 25 meters up, in a black Pine.

I have heard of magpies being attracted to shiny things, but this really took the biscuit, especially as the clasp was done up and all. Warily I looked around at the birds in the vicinity, making sure none of them was giving me the eye! Talk about a Hitchcock moment!

I decided to leave the watch where I found it up there, just seemed to weird to tamper with it. Just as well, it turned out, as it turned out that it had belonged to one of the gardeners in the zoo who had received it as a present from his fiancée – and when that went sour, he nipped up the tree to leave it up there. Umm, yes, that’ll teach her!

You could not make this stuff up.

A matter of perspective

The other day I was visiting a site which we did some work on some years ago, when I was struck by a couple of large Populus logs laying off to one side. They had obviously been there for quite some time, the bark had largely flaked off and the wood is colonised by a wide range of fungi…

I was struck by the beauty of the fruiting bodies of the fungi, but what I found even more striking the condition of the wood in view of the fact that apparently these trunks have been lying there for 18 years! That is a long time for a wood which I would have assumed would have decomposed to a fairly high degree over such an extended period. Not so. The wood is still firm with little sign of decomposition.

This got me thinking how we often have the tendency to try to fit complex issues into handy boxes, creating a model of the world surrounding us that is easier to handle and more palatable. Fungi, for instance, from an arborist perspective spell trouble. They are often an indicator of stress, decay or mechanical damage. Certainly, when performing a visual tree assessment this is the kind of thing we will pick up on: Wearing my VTA goggles, fruiting bodies are not good news.

Yet this is only one way of viewing fungi and it falls short of a more complex reality. Neville Fay of Treework Environmental Practice, who has done lots of work on veteran tree preservation speaks eloquently to the beauty of fungi, of how they are an integral part of life cycles of trees, performing an essential task in a process of decay and renewal. And indeed, autumn is that time of year when I cannot help but marvel at the diversity of fungi, the myriad shapes, sizes and colours they come in, some big, some small, some toxic, some edible, some beautiful, some less sightly… sometimes it seems to me as though nature let its creativity off the leash when it came to thinking up fungi – yet of course, much more than merely being pretty, each of them performs a specific task in a specific niche – in a highly efficient manner.

Indeed, the way in which we behold something is all a matter of perspective and context. Obviously if we are trying to preserve a tree which is valuable to its owner, extensive colonisation of the base of the tree by fruiting bodies (depending on the species) it is probably not good news, yet in all honesty this does not make the fungi bad guy, as often as not the root of the problem lies somewhere else, such as damage to the roots during construction work, compacted soil, drought stress, large pruning cuts, superficial damage to roots by lawnmowers etc.

It will be interesting to see where this goes in the coming years as our knowledge of how exactly fungi decompose wood improves. Amongst others, Francis Schwarze has been doing interesting work in this area, researching natural antagonists, such as Trichoderma harzianum which he has used to counteract fungal infection in trees. I believe we stand to gain through an improved knowledge of the complex interactions between trees and fungi, as they have co-existed since the very beginning and viewing fungi as inherently bad falls short of a much more complex reality.

Seasons are so yesterday

Intermediate seasons seem to be passé. Here at least we seem to be heading towards going from summer seamlessly into winter. Having said that, the colors are fantastic none the less…

What? You think the colors might have something to do with licking the fly agaric? 🤪

That aside, the conditions are an absolute cracker to be climbing in, I absolutely love how the new gear integrates seamlessly into my climbing and work processes.

I was thinking back to ETCC in Valencia in 2000 today, the first ETCC I took part in as a competitor, in fact. Somehow I managed to forget my protective glasses, so I asked some random person whether he had a pair to spare. That person turned out to be Chris, we got chatting, which later led to working together, to a friendship and to treemagineers – which of course also included Beddes. Sooooo I was thinking thank goodness I was fuzzy whilst packing for Valencia and forgot my glasses, or else I might not have met Chris, treemagineers might never have happened and I would not have all this great gear for climbing in trees today.

Alternate realities are weird.

P.S. Kids, don’t lick fly agaric. It is not a good idea.


What is this?!

Something that tumbled out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where famously the main protagonist, Winston Smith is mindwashed in an attempt to make him accept that two plus two equals five?

Or PPE from a parallel dimension, where the Einsteinian space-time continuum is weirdly not applicable and the laws of thermodynamics unheard of?

Ooooooor simply a mistake? 😉

I rather fancy option two. Could be interesting…



One of my personal highlights this year was certainly spending some time up in the Swiss alps before vertical-connect with a group of climbers and Richard Delaney. Richard, for those of you who do not know him has a background in engineering and academia, which he then turned his back on to spend years as a mountain and ski guide. Today he is active, amongst other things, with Rope Lab, where he explores the intricacies of working with and on ropes.

The whole experience up in the mountains was engergising, no chest thumping, no ego involved, simply a group of people sharing information freely, keen to expand their horizons. Richard fit into this really well. He is a person who is deeply competent at what he does, yet, as so often seems to be the case, he does not feel the need to shout about it or TO JAM IT UP IN YOUR FACE IN CAPS! He even posts videos without flashy effects and filters! How crass is that?! 😊

Thank you to everybody who joined us at Evergrin, looking forwards to a re-run.


I had the opportunity to be participate in the activities around Condor Safety’s 10 anniversary in Menen, Belgium a couple of weeks ago.

Patsy, Vally, Wouter and the rest of the Condor crew have been incredibly supportive of the Belgian arb community, who in turn have supplied a cohort of stalwart supporters for various European arb events, not to mention the Treemagicbeers! So it was nice to have an opportunity to give back to them.

The Condor building is impressive, large open spaces, lots of height and structure to play in and on, not to mention loads of shiny gear to fondle. As opposed to last time I was there five years ago, when the space was new, now it had a well-used and lived-in feel about it.

I did two sessions, one considering the use of connectors when working at height. In 45 minutes? Whew. Where to start?! Talk about a broad topic to fit into a limited amount of time. However, I do find this kind of challenge interesting, as it forces you to focus on the essence of what you are trying to convey. Bit annoyed with myself in hindsight, the space did not feel very large and there were not so many people there when we started at three o’clock, so I decided not to use the headset and PA system… talk about a rookie mistake. Of course the space filled up, was slightly echo-y, which made it hard for people in the back to understand what was being said. Ho-hum. Another memo to self…

The second talk was on balancers. With headset and PA, let it not be said that I do not learn from my mistakes! This time the space was packed… we rigged up the big metal limb I use to run this session, discussing procedures, tools and means to balance unwieldy limbs. I enjoy this session, it is lively, plenty of points to talk about and lots of movement. Mind you, the situation was not entirely straight-forward: as the space was a bit limited, people were sitting right up close to the demo area. Right behind us was the high glass facade. Not exactly ideal when you are balancing a heavy metal limb on a pivot… as I was rattling along, the foot slipped out from underneath the straps we had used to attach it to a lump of wood. There ensued a hectic bit of problem-solving… thanks to Lucas and Vito for lending a hand.

Mind you, I am actually not too fussed about things like this: I would never maintained of myself that I never make mistakes, things sometimes do go wrong. It would not occur to me to judge someone on this, however, what is interesting is how problem-solving skills are applied. Are you capable of overcoming an unforeseen hiccup, remedy it and push on? We concluded the workshop with no further drama, did not whack anyone in the face and did not smash a glass window pane. All good. 😊

Then big outdoor feed, wood-fire pizza, wrapped up by Treemagicbeers doing their thing. Oh, that, and an eight-hour drive back to Basel…

Thanks to all involved and for Condor Safety for all the contribute they have in the past and continue to make to the climbing scene in Belgium and beyond.

All pictures courtesy of Condor Safety.

Look closer

The sessions in Japan last week were interesting.

The suggested topics were anchor points for the sessions in Ina and rigging systems for the Maruichi training in Ooka. I went into the events with an outline, an introduction, a whiteboard, as well as various bits and pieces of gear. I also had a PowerPoint presentation for the anchor points session as a plan B, but actually today I really prefer to use PowerPoint in homeopathic doses – if at all. However, I was glad in this case of having it there, as the prequel to typhoon Trami dumped copious amounts of rain on the venue in Ina, so we split the day into an indoor session in the morning, with discussion revolving around the PowerPoint, in the afternoon we installed various systems in the space above the ODSK shop.

The interesting thing I find about running workshops with only a rudimentary framework in place is that they force you to be reactive to the location and people around you, as well as taking you places you do not expect to end up in.

For the rigging session in Ooka, we went on site the day before and discussed what we could install where. Based upon that, I came up with an outline, which was to build a “simple” system on the first day and a complex one on the second day. The simple system would involve snatching a log onto a block, the complex system would be a full-blown high line. The idea was to explore how we plan and configure each of these options, the components we use and to discuss the challenges that each presents. On the first day we set up a test-bed, took a 200 kg log off the top of a spar and spent the afternoon doing fully static drops into the rigging system, using 10 and 12mm Teufelberger Sirius, as well as a 12mm HMPE rigging line. I was interested in seeing what kind of forces would occur, how the rigging system would respond the repeated loading, whether we could induce a failure – and if so, where this would occur.

We also filmed the drops, this was only partially successful, the GoPro filming side-on proved to be a bit temperamental, but we got some good footage regardless. A number of interesting observations were possible based on this:

  • Peak forces were around 15kN, with the HPME line producing lower peak forces, which was unexpected. However, it seemed that due to the material being slippery, the line slipped through the attachment knots, buy doing do dissipating force.
  • The Port-A-Wrap was all over the place during the first part of the drop, lots of movement going on there. Obviously, if you are trying to generate as high a forces as possible, a fixed bollard would be preferable, however, we did not have a suitable one at hand. This footage certainly emphasises the need to get Port-A-Wraps as tightly snugged up as possible.
  • The shots from below clearly show the pushing-backwards movement of the stem as the log pushes off and how it is pulled forwards as the log is caught by the rigging system. A further interesting observation is how the slow oscillation during the first part of the drop is cancelled out by the counter-oscillation when the movement travelling down are cancelled out by the movement travelling upwards. This happens after the log impacts onto the base of the stem.
  • The shots of the base of the tree clearly show the shock waves travelling outwards through the root system, the energy being dissipated into the ground.

This in itself was interesting, as there was all kind of variability that was unexpected. This was not least due to the fact that the stem had a bit of a lean on it. Without a doubt this in itself soaked up a lot of energy. We dropped three times onto each line, the 10 and 12mm Sirius, i.e. a polyester double braid, as well as onto the HMPE line, which was a 12mm hollow braid. None of the drops resulted in a failure, there was some glazing, but nothing overly dramatic.

What this demonstrated though is that something that is superficially simple may not be. When dynamically snatching onto an anchor point below the mass, there are so many variables in play that it can be hard to predict how it is going to play out. The first day in Ooka cleary demonstrated this.

The second day, we discussed the plan of how we were going to rig the high-line…

Then we went out onto the site, laid the components out on the ground and started to build them into the two anchor trees. We were using one of DMM’s Offya trolleys on a 16mm polyester high line, with a low-elongation pure polyester line for lifting and lowering, the control lines were non-descript 12mm lines. The plan was to use the high line to dismantle the spar we had left standing the day before from the rigging system testing.

Visibly, people were struggling to wrap their head around the set-up, however, when we broke it down into its constituent components, step by step, and started running lifts, with two people on the control line top and bottom, one person on the lift/ lower line, one person cutting on the spar and one person coordinating the lift, things came together nicely, by the end running smoothly, with the mass being moved in a coordinated fashion laterally and down simultaneously.

What these days demonstrated clearly was how simple systems, depending upon how closely you examine them, may well turn out to be not quite that simple – and that complex systems can be broken down into sub-systems, which are neither that complex, nor that hard to understand.

A big thank you goes out to all who attended these sessions and to those who made them possible: Kinshita-san at ODSK and Iwasa-san at Maruichi, as well as the Poynter family for their hospitality and Takashi Osaka for his fantastic translation skills. It would not have been possible without you all…

Ah, yes…

Keep it tidy, I said. Pass the lines outside of your body, I said…  then I turn my back on the lads for half a minute to turn back to… this:

And that is why we train aerial rescue. What may be vaguely humorous during a training course could potentially pose a problem in a real-life situation.



Slacking on the blog, I know. But I have always said that the blog needs to be fun, if it were to become a chore it would lose something essential. So there you go: life kicks, simply out of the time and head space necessary to sit down and give things sufficient thought to then be able to write about them in a more or less coherent fashion. Not for the lack of themes, mind you!

In Japan right now. After the earth quake last time, this time I can add a typhoon to my Japan experience list. That was a lot of wind and water.

Had a great few days at Shop K in Ina. It was a pleasure talking for two days to the group there about how we select anchor points in tree care. This involved practical demos and breaking some stuff, as well as screen- and whiteboard based elements. And lots of discussion. I love running this kind of session, as apart from an outline you do not really know where you are going to end. As well as keeping me on my toes, I also learn a lot from these discussion.

It was also a good opportunity to chat to people about the treeMOTION evo, DMM’s Transformer, the new Hitch Climber Excentric and the Offya trolley.

Thank you to Atsunori Yamaguchi for the video…

Up to Oona in Nagano province tomorrow to do two days discussing rigging systems with the crews of Maruichi.

A big thank you goes out to all who made this trip possible, all at ODSK, Takashi Osaka and the Poynter family… as well as everybody who made time to come along and attend the workshops.