There are an amazing number of things you can discover in a tree: tiny details of the tree, organisms which live in and on and around the tree, distant views, personal insight.
As an amateur photographer, I love taking pictures of our climbing adventures. Many times I'm on the ground helping others experience it for themselves. But when I have the chance to be up in a tree, I like to capture some of the things we discover up there.
Last week I headed to the top of a white oak, where I was able to find a place to stand with my head just feet below the top of the tree.
From that vantage point, I could look across the tops of the neighboring trees and peer through windows in the forest’s skyline. I explored the entire crown, and the view stretched far off to the horizon, which brought on a sense of peace and self-reflection.
Clouds strolled across the sky. Their shadows danced and rays of sun sparkled throughout the canopy. Songbirds sang all around and squirrels gnawed away on walnuts in a neighboring tree. The afternoon culminated as a hummingbird decided to join me, zipping around the tree in pursuit of an afternoon meal.
While it's not exactly like being up there yourself, here are a few moments I caught on film to give you a sense of the things you can discover...
Life in Transition
Insects are typically easy to spot. As we move through the seasons, we can find them in their different life stages if we know what to look for. Occasionally, we find them in the brief moment of transition from one life stage to the next! Here an adult cicada emerges from it pupal casing and pauses while its wings dry out in preparation for flight.
A Fresh Start
As trees resume seasonal growth in the spring, their buds open up to reveal the fruits of their labor from the previous year. Miniature leaves emerge, appearing to be perfect and without flaws before the elements of nature have a chance to impact them.
By the end of the season, many leaves will be tattered and discolored in response to the numerous stresses they encountered during the year. Reading the leaves can help you gain appreciation and understanding for what your companion has been dealing with. Leaf spots, insect activity, nutrient deficiencies, and various environmental stresses work together to create living works of art.
Window on the World
Standing alone at the top of a tree, your body is buzzing with adrenaline. Blood is pumping into your muscles. Your vision tends to focus on the details at hand. Your spirit is in tune with the living being which is holding you high above. Eventually, your vision broadens and becomes aware of the incredible world around you. At this point, you find peace.
Circle of Life
The female gypsy moth, even though it is an invasive insect often causing severe defoliation, is an attractive moth. We often find the caterpillars, with their vibrant red and blue spots, climbing on trunks or even our homes. Not everyone is fortunate enough to see the adult moths, especially in the process of laying eggs!
A gall is a swelling in plant tissue, most commonly caused by a tiny parasitic wasp or mite. These young insects and mites develop inside the swelling protected from predators, yet seldom cause health issues for the tree. Often times, these galls can take on incredible shapes and come in a variety of colors. Often times we can find them in abundance. Other times it is like finding a gem stone in a pile of rocks, like this spiny oak gall.
Trees Have Many Stories To Tell
Sitting with my 92-year-old grandmother, I am treated to stories and insight into what it was like to live during the times I’ve studied in history class. Houses without running water. Home life during the Great Depression. Her time in the work force when Grandpa was overseas during WWII. What has this tree seen in the years it has been growing since the mid-1800’s? Trees can give us a new perspective if we are willing to see it.
During one of our climbs last May, we had people from 7 years to 76 years of age in a tree at the same time. There was a family of 2 children, mom, dad, and grandfather who all had time on rope. There was a father and son as well as a mother and daughter climbing that day. Like most climbs, we also had a few siblings as well as a handful of single climbers.
Growing up in a house of 6 boys, many of our back yard activities involved sports. That was a lot of fun; if you were the oldest. It was hard to get a fair game of 3-on-3 football going when dealing with an age span from 7 to 19 and height difference from 3 ½’ to 5 ½’.
Gatherings with my brothers and their families these days presents us with an age span of 5 to 50. Probably the same as your family, we see the different age groups splintering off to play with each other.
That all changes when Uncle Curt shows up and the ropes are set in the tree. Everyone comes wandering back together for an afternoon of family fun.
Individual Challenge, Joint Experience
With tree climbing, each person climbs on their own rope. There could be twelve of us in the tree at any given time. While climbing the tree together, you get to face your own challenges, set your own goals, and have your own successes. And I get to have mine.
At the multi-generational climb in May, a fear of heights was the challenge for two of the climbers. One successfully reached the first branch at 15 feet above the ground. The other was able to push until she could sit on a branch 25 feet up.
One person was challenged with the technique, yet he persisted and reached his goal of climbing high enough to see out across the park.
With the father and son, we were able to help the young boy reach the height he was most comfortable at. Once he returned closer to the ground, he repeated the ascent process. When he discovered the sensation of being swung through the air, we could not swing him high enough! Once the father realized the son was able to climb on his own, dad was able to focus inward and head for the top of the tree. Pushing himself ever higher, he too reached his goal as he stood on a branch near the top of the tree.
A young girl’s face glowed with excitement as she watched her parents and grandfather climbing the tree with her and her sister! Her lack of fear and inhibition led her to higher points in the tree, all the while encouraging her family to continue their journeys and join her. Three generations playing together.
The mother and daughter were able to ascend ropes next to each other and approached the climb similar to a casual hike. The bond they shared was apparent in their conversation during their time together that morning.
Two of the observing parents commented on how focused their children were while climbing, that they never asked for their electronic devices which were left back in the car.
For those who had never visited the park we were climbing in that day, most were unaware that a river flows by only 30 feet from our climbing tree as it is screened by tall grass along the bank. With the elevated perspective, the river came into view for the climbers. At one point, all climbers were able to catch a glimpse of passing canoeists and shout out a cheerful greeting to the bewildered paddlers. I would have loved to seen the faces of the paddlers, or better yet, had their view of people hanging in the trees on a seemingly secluded stretch of the Fox River.
While all of the climbers enjoyed the same tree and views of the river and park, they each came away with something completely different. Every ascent is a new venture, a new challenge, and an opportunity to reach a new goal. We spend the time together, yet it is your personal experience which provides the greatest impact and long-lasting memories.
Afterwards, climbers often continue the conversation over lunch or on the ride home in order to share personal experiences, observations, and successes during their day in the trees.
These kinds of climbs, with diverse groups and even my own brothers, nieces and nephews at a family gathering are what make me treasure activities like tree climbing. Activities that open up an experience that can be enjoyed by individuals, families, couples, friends, clubs, and a variety of groups or teams. The bond that is created is real.
What diverse group are you part of that could benefit from being in a tree together?
As an I.S.A. Board Certified Master Arborist, T.C.I.A. Certified Treecare Safety Professional, T.C.I.A. Tree Care Specialist, and G.O.T.C. Recognized Instructor, Curt has spent over 30 years dedicated to the study and care of trees.