Two of the most amazing trees you could ever hope to meet are General Sherman and Methuselah. In the same day, you can visit both the largest tree and the oldest tree on the planet.
The General Sherman tree stands prominently in the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. Methuselah grows about 70 miles to the north, in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
General Sherman is a sequoia tree that is approximately 2,000 years old, and stands 275’ tall. It is the largest tree, measured by volume. The lowest branch on the tree emerges at 130’ above the ground.
To put this in perspective, there are only a few trees in Wisconsin which surpass 150’ in height. It is very likely every tree you have come across in Wisconsin would not even reach the General Sherman Tree’s lowest branch.
The footprint of its trunk covers almost 1,000 square feet. How does that compare to the size of your house?
Methuselah is about 4,850 years old, yet stands less than 50’ tall. The other measurements don’t mean much when you allow its age to sink in. The Pyramids of Giza were built around the time Methuselah was turning 500 years old.
What’s more, there is another bristlecone pine, WPN-114, recently found to be about 5,060 years old.
I have spent most my life visiting and interacting with trees, but the time I spent in the midst of particular trees is an experience I will never forget. These trees are in a class all to themselves. It’s as if they come from a different world and another time.
There are other impressive trees to meet around the world, but we are fortunate to have incredible trees that are a little more accessible to us.
Trees of Wisconsin
The trees and forests of Wisconsin were cleared for agriculture or heavily logged in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Trees and forests are also removed for development and growing population. This means that the vast majority of the trees we come across today are less than 150 years old.
For that reason, it is a pleasure to enjoy trees which pre-date European settlement. Some of our more notable trees reach heights over 150’ and ages near 450 years.
Ancient and big trees tend to capture the imagination of many people. Because of this, the Department of Natural Resources keeps a list of Wisconsin Champion Trees, keeping track of the largest trees in our state. The list is searchable by species or County.
I enjoy searching out these large trees. Calling attention to large and notable trees is important and plays a role in helping raise awareness and appreciation for the value of trees. In the end however, a tree’s measurements are only one aspect of its overall personality.
What Makes a Tree Great?
What is your favorite tree? Is there a tree that holds significance to you? Picture this tree in your mind.
Is it a sugar maple your grandparents planted in their backyard? Do you pass this tree on your daily commute? Does it shade your house? Did you plant the tree in honor of a loved one?
When I travel around Wisconsin, I consider the changes a tree has witnessed over the years. Some of the oaks we climb have been growing for 250-300 years. These trees were friends of the Menominee, Sauk, Ojibwe and other Native American tribes. They witnessed population growth as European immigrants continued to move into the area, and saw the territory achieve statehood in 1848.
Do you enjoy any one of the numerous lone bur oaks across Wisconsin, with sprawling branches and rising from a field of corn? Have you looked up the trunk of an eastern cottonwood shooting towards the clouds like skyscraper?
There are many majestic trees in the forests, fields and cities throughout Wisconsin.
Connecting with trees gives me a feeling of place within history and time. With the future in mind, I plant trees to celebrate certain people and events in my life. They are a symbol of future growth and prosperity. They are a tribute to the legacy of my loved ones and connect me to future generations.
Most trees will keep their stories to themselves. Those who take time to listen and observe, can draw upon the wisdom a tree has gathered during its time rooted in soil.
We may not be able to run out to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest this weekend, nor stroll through the Giant Forest after lunch; but, we have plenty of amazing trees in our Wisconsin landscapes that are awaiting your visit.
I encourage you to spend time in a tree’s shade, whether during a hike or pausing beneath on a sunny day, and take time to listen and imagine the tales it could tell.
At Treetop Explorer, we are fortunate to get up close and personal with some amazing trees. Check out our climb schedule and we’d love to introduce you!
Who am I? Why am I the way I am? What factors have affected me through life which contributed to who I am today?
These are questions I often ask myself.
During a parent-teacher conference, my 3rd grade teacher told my parents that I always came in with a big smile on my face. I was a little too chatty, but she loved how happy I was.
Who was that little boy? Is he still inside me today or did I chase him off?
Connecting With Kids
Today I am sitting near the top of The First. This white oak has become a trusted friend and mentor over the past few years.
The First is our primary climbing tree at camp. Sitting at the top, I am looking down on the cabins below. I have a clear line of sight to the swimming area where children will splash and play come summer. The backdrop to this end of camp is bright blue thanks to the clear sky and its reflection across the lake.
This week we have 3rd graders in camp. This is likely the first time they have experienced life in the woods. They are introduced to wildlife, plants, minerals, sights, sounds, and smells that may not be part of everyday life in the city where they live. For most, this is the first time they have been away from mom and dad for an entire week.
Sitting high above the children below, I am out of their line of sight. They are enjoying free play with each other. Digging in the dirt, building forts out of fallen branches, throwing a football, and singing songs. Their imaginations guide them.
The First and I are relaxing and taking it all in. I am enjoying this youthful energy carried up to me in sounds of laughter and chatter. These sounds take me back.
Connecting To Nature
Can you remember what you were like in 3rd grade? It seems like when I was not in school, my brothers and I were playing outside. We had a huge open field behind our house and plenty of lakes and parks within walking distance. I remember field trips to the zoo, aquarium, planetarium, nature centers, and the Everglades.
I do not recall what grade I was in, but one of our field trips took us into a mangrove swamp. Trudging through the knee-deep water, we used nets to skim the surface of the water and scoop up muck from the bottoms. We were collecting samples of the different types of animal life found in that ecosystem. I can still picture the sea cucumber we collected quite vividly. I remember the contrasting responses of “cool” and “gross” ringing above the hum of “oohs” and “eews.”
Years after I scooped up that sea cucumber, new friends were introducing me to the excitement of repelling off cliffs and climbing rock faces. Hiking and camping were common weekend getaways during my years at college. Numerous lakes and rivers in the area provided the opportunity to fish, swim, and canoe.
Is there a specific aspect of Nature you find yourself drawn to? For me, trees have piqued my curiosity.
I find both comfort and a sense of excitement when I am spending time amongst trees. For whatever reason this connection exists, it is ultimately responsible for the direction my professional career has taken over the years.
Reconnecting With Myself
Spending personal time in nature is where I tap into pure and concentrated life energy. It is essential for health and well-being.
Call it maturity or call it life, somewhere along the way, my focus on how I spent personal time gradually shifted.
Commitments, responsibilities, and other demands for my time increased over the years. These impacted the amount of time I set aside for personal time, let alone that time being outdoors. I watched this shift over the years. What used to be something I did because I enjoyed it, like spending time in the garden pulling weeds and watering plants, was now viewed as a chore I have to tend to.
As I considered the subtle change over the years, the innocence of the children below brought my younger self out of the mangroves and onto a nearby branch. My reflections back upon the beginning of my career allowed that young adult to join us.
The three of us sit together. Looking at both of them, I realize they are still very much a part of who I am. We were each part of discovering who I am and determining the direction I would move forward. Our intentions were to make wise decisions that our future self would be inheriting.
As a kid, I learned the correlation between healthy ecosystems and healthy organisms. I also knew the joy of spending time outdoors.
I still have the same joy in my heart and have continued on the journey I envisioned at each age sitting before me. I am happy with my successes and know they would be proud of the man they have become.
Spending these past few moments thinking about The First, listening to the children below, and spending time with my younger selves, I feel revitalized. My vision is clear.
I remember who I wanted to be.
Looking back, what were the experiences and memories that shaped you? Do you have a connection to nature and the outdoors that informs your values and choices? Do you want to be able to give those same experiences in the trees and forests to your own children and the next generation?
You never know what experiences will become memories or even passions in our lives. The important thing is to get out, open our eyes, and follow our hearts.
At Treetop Explorer, we love seeing the excitement people feel when they first learn to climb tall trees with rope and saddle. Maybe you saw that same excitement in your son or daughter when you came to one of our climbing events. Even if you did not climb with them, did you feel a sense of adventure and excitement just thinking about climbing into large trees?
There are many ways to experience tree climbing. Sometimes I am simply looking to have a little fun and play with my feet off the ground. Other times I work on developing my skills and technique. When I have the opportunity to head out with friends, I enjoy the freedom of heading off in search of a new adventure together. A new tree to explore.
Given the variety of possible experiences, our climb offerings provide different opportunities with the intent of making these experiences available to you.
Our Rec Climbs are perfect for people interested in trying out tree climbing, with plenty of opportunities through the year to climb as often as your schedule permits if you enjoy it as an exciting way to get outside. Our Climbing Club is geared towards those who are looking to dive a little deeper into climbing as a hobby, developing your climbing abilities and learning about trees. Our Learn-to-Climb classes prepare you head off on your own to enjoy this unique and rapidly growing recreational activity and corresponding career opportunities.
Climbing For Fun
Our Rec Climbs enable you to climb as often as you’d like, leaving the logistics, permits, equipment and technical aspects to us. It’s the way most people are introduced to tree climbing and, in fact, doing a rec climb is a pre-requisite for joining our climbing club..
In this setting, it’s all about having fun and getting that rush of excitement, without worrying about the details. Our rec climbs happen all over Southeastern Wisconsin, and many of them sell out through the local recreation program, so it requires some planning and coordination.
If you are interested in an opportunity to climb multiple times, our Rec Climb schedule affords numerous dates and a variety of trees and parks to choose from.
If you have climbed with us and felt a connection or desire to progress further, it makes sense to consider the next level of our climbing programs.
Our Climber Community
Some people exhibit a natural talent for or connection to climbing trees. Maybe you are driven to challenge yourself in new ways. Learn new techniques. Engage more fully, all the while immersed in nature.
Our Climbing Club provides the opportunity for those seeking to more fully engage in tree climbing. It gives people the chance to have multiple climbing experiences over a period of time. We will learn more about how and why the system works the way it does and about the trees themselves, exploring a new topic at each climb. We will try new techniques to develop your climbing skills, climb to higher branches, and stretch in ways that aren’t possible at a recreational climb.
Whether on your own, for your child, or as a family, the Climbing Club provides a unique opportunity to explore tree climbing beyond the sheer enjoyment of playing in trees.
Thankfully, playing in trees is so much fun that you won’t even realize you were tricked into learning applied concepts of geometry, physiology, physics, or biology!
License to Climb
I made that up. There isn’t a climber’s license per se. There is, however, endless joy for people who decide to take up tree climbing as a hobby or for use in a career.
Do you remember the freedom you gained when you got your driver’s license?
I got a taste of responsibility thanks to the ability to step on the gas and pull out from under my parents’ control. I enjoyed the sense of freedom and control from behind the wheel.
These days, freedom feels like a saddle over one shoulder and rope over the other. Hiking through the woods in search of a tree, walking up to a tree I have been given permission to climb, or simply walking out my back door, my worries fall off my shoulder with each step.
When I reach my destination, I scan the crown of the tree to see if a particular branch is calling out to me. During the ascent, I keep my mind and eyes open for whatever unknowns may present themselves.
Once I find a spot to sit back and relax, I find it quite easy to dive into my journal. My thoughts flow freely. I’d probably never be mistaken for an artist, but creativity feels almost within reach on the days I doodle and sketch at the top of a tree.
I can share a limb with a friend. String my hammock between branches 35’ above the ground. Let my mind wander. Read a book. I am on my own schedule. I am in another world.
It is an incredible feeling when you realize that you may very well be the only person who will ever climb a particular tree.
This is why I climb.
Enrollment in our climbing classes continues to grow, which tells me I am not the only nut out here!
Which Experience Will You Choose?
Climbing trees opens up a whole new frontier for your adventurous spirit to explore. We have a variety of offerings designed to help you explore them at the level you desire.
Rec Climbs make it very easy to get outside and play in the trees.
The Climbing Club dives a little deeper into some of the intricacies of technical tree climbing.
Our Learn To Climb courses provide the training that forms the proper foundation for all professional climbers, arborists and recreational climbers alike.
See you in the trees!
Hiking through Minooka Park recently to enjoy the fresh snowfall, I came across a young boy who was out for his first ride in the snow on his new fat tire bike. It looked like a lot of fun, although drastically different conditions than when I first learned to ride my bike.
I got my first bicycle for Christmas; a purple Schwinn Sting-Ray with a banana seat. We lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, so I was able to head right outside and learn to ride. I was ready to take on the world, or at least the street in front of our house per mom’s rules.
I rode practically every day that winter with shorts, t-shirt and socks pulled up to my knees.
A few years later, we were living in Miami, FL. Winters were a bit different as it got cold there. More like ‘chilly,’ given my perspective today as a Wisconsin transplant. Still, it was a season that actually brought a change in temperatures.
There were days we could actually see our breath! I was mesmerized by the phenomenon. There were times I’d get light-headed and dizzy from exhaling for prolonged periods of time, just so I could see my breath.
My parents continued their northerly migration, landing us in St. Louis as I headed into high school. Right before Thanksgiving that first year, we received our first snow flurries of the season. That is my earliest memory of enjoying snow falling from the sky.
The moment I stepped off our front porch, I was immersed in the shower of snowflakes. I watched flakes land on my new winter gloves. I was able to focus on the details and designs of those flakes. The tiniest of details. I was amazed. I had never looked at one that close.
To this day, I feel the same sense of excitement when I see the lightest of flurries.
That was then, and this is now
In the years between then and now, discovering winter has provided many exciting experiences for me.
This morning, the sun is casting the shadows of our maple trees’ branches across the driveway and snow covered landscape beneath. These same trees shield us in the summer as they shade our backyard sitting area. Covered with snow however, another personality is on display.
Taking a stroll through the garden, I am able to appreciate the time I’ve spent planning and adding landscape details to provide interest in each season. Details that draw me outside regardless of temperature. After all, these details are only visible during the winter.
Arborvitae and coneflower seed heads frosted with snow. Little bluestem and lichens providing a splash of color.
In winter I spend more of my work day sitting behind my desk than I do sitting in the branches. Your work hours are probably similar. Because of this, we miss most of the daylight. If we do get a view of daylight, the color spectrum is noticeably void of the colorful splashes of flowers and greens of summer.
That’s why I keep an eye out for when the sunshine calls. I do not want to let too many days go by without getting outside to enjoy the sunshine.
I trust you too have been watching the daylight stretching longer as the days have progressed.
Although it’s challenging, one of my winter tasks includes searching out new trees for climbing programs. Whether I call it work or not, at least it gets me outside during the week to enjoy the daylight and keep me connected with Nature.
No matter how low the temperature, I cannot miss the opportunity to enjoy the sunny day ahead. Winter would not be as enjoyable if I simply hunkered down inside and waited for it to pass.
Soon enough, we will return to the trees. We have many opportunities lined up for you to climb with us this spring.
With the summer season set, I’m excited to announce that we will be climbing in a few new communities this summer. Fox Crossing, Kaukauna, and Waunakee dates have just been finalized!
Climbing begins on April 14th, and registration is open at this time! Visit our climbing calendar for the details.
I hope you can join us for one of them.
Your confidence has a major impact on your level of happiness.
Confidence can determine how much you achieve in life.
When I lack confidence in myself to handle a specific task, I find myself immobilized by fear, uncertainty, and feelings of anxiety. My mind says things like, "I can't", "I don't know how", and "I haven't done this before". The view forward is obscured and the task appears overwhelming.
Have you experienced this? Have you seen it in your children?
Confidence plays an important role in everybody’s life. It is so powerful that confidence early in life has strong influence on a person’s success when they enter the work force.
Fortunately, as it is with most skills, we can maintain and build confidence through regular practice.
Learning new guitar pieces, working through rock-climbing problems, and climbing trees are not only hobbies I enjoy, they also provide opportunities to work on building my confidence.
Working through the challenges I face in these hobbies can either build or diminish my level of confidence. Since tree climbing is a hobby I share with others, it provides me the additional perspective of watching others work through their own challenges.
In working with many climbers through the years, I have noticed that there appears to be three important steps to building confidence: overcome self-doubt, split a hefty goal into a series of smaller goals, and focus attention inward.
Overcoming Self Doubt
"Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right."
Negative self-talk is the first thing that must go.
As the case with most challenges, if you are to have any chance at successfully climbing to the top of the tree you will need to overcome self-doubt. This doubt tends to be triggered by fear.
Each of us has our own fears to work through. Fear of heights. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of failure. Brand new experiences can be scary.
Simply taking the initiative to try something new may be enough to help you overcome your fear, thereby giving you a boost in confidence. Once paired with the know-how, you are able to pursue your goal for the day.
For others who are still working through their fear, self-doubt creates an obstacle.
My role as a facilitator is to aid you on your journey to reaching your goal. I can show you the technique yet I cannot climb the tree for you. Once you are on rope, my words are all I have to help you. They are more than enough.
Our fears express themselves in the words we use. The words you use have a profound impact on how well you will perform. "I can't" seems to be the most common and inhibiting phrase I hear people say.
These words are typically uttered within one minute of trying to climb. This leads me to believe they are spoken more out of reflex or conditioning.
In order to move forward, we must stop the negative self-talk. We then replace them with positive words like, "I can do this" and "I am doing it." Speaking and thinking positive words and thoughts instills confidence.
Building on a Series of Smaller Goals
"What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"
Sometimes our goal is so lofty that we have no idea how to achieve it. In order to reach the goal, we will need to break it down into smaller steps.
There are many reasons why this approach leads to success, but I think a primary driver is that it allows us to realize success at each step. This gives us a boost in confidence. With each successive step our confidence continues to grow.
Thomas came to climb with us earlier this summer. When he first arrived, his sight was set on climbing to the top of the tree. He came with confidence.
As he began to ascend, his focus appeared to be strictly on reaching the top. Focused on that goal, he began to struggle because he tried to skip some of the steps involved in the climbing technique.
The sit-stand method is the foundation of the climbing technique. Given the struggle, he naturally resorted to trying alternative methods like pulling with his arms and kicking his legs out. He then realized he was not getting higher. His frustration began to build while confidence plummeted.
When trying to help a person build confidence, they must be allowed to work on their challenges. Personal growth happens through personal experiences of trial and error. Constantly telling a person how to do something or doing it for them robs them of these invaluable lessons.
By having Thomas turn his attention back to the climbing technique, he was able to focus on the fundamental steps. The steps necessary to reach his overall goal.
With his focus back on using his legs versus his arms, he began to regain some of his confidence. After repeating the process a few times, he was able to realize and acknowledge that he had ascended to 15 feet on his own. In a short period of time, his smaller goal of reaching the first branch was achieved. Eventually, his ultimate goal was only a few feet away.
Thomas' goal of climbing to the top was unachievable until he broke it down into smaller attainable steps. With each success, his confidence grew. With each boost to his confidence, he was prepared to take on the next challenge. Gradually, his ultimate goal came into focus.
Do Not Compare Yourself to Others
"It doesn't matter what others are doing. It matters what you are doing."
Building confidence in yourself has nothing to do with other people. Confidence is understanding and knowing what you are good at or the value you provide.
In order to build confidence, you must be focused on yourself and your own experience.
When Thomas began to struggle, his frustration was further compounded when he noticed that others were higher than him. He lost confidence when he confused his ability to perform as well as the others as a reflection on his ability to succeed.
His ability to climb had absolutely nothing to do with how well the other climbers did. Comparing himself to others only allowed negative self-talk to return and diminish his confidence.
Almost like a light switch, when he returned his focus to his own progress, his confidence returned immediately.
Hobbies That Build Confidence
“The more risks you allow your children to make, the better they learn to look after themselves.”
I value activities that challenge me and provide opportunities for growth.
From April through October, I am surrounded by people. My weeks are filled with facilitating tree climbs 6 out of 7 days. With this comes the ability to climb regularly. Together they keep me focused on maintaining and building my own confidence.
With winter rolling in, I will not be in the trees as often. My other hobbies like rock wall climbing, learning guitar, and training for half-marathons take on a bigger part of my weekly schedule. These activities provide many of the same benefits that tree climbing does. They help me remain aware of and practice the 3 steps to building confidence.
The confidence I gain from these hobbies further benefits me when I take on new challenges and pursue new goals in other areas of my life.
I have experienced the power that having confidence in myself provides. I have seen the same in many of you who have climbed with us.
April 14th is the first day of our 2018 climbing season. Until then, I encourage you to seek out other hobbies and experiences that can help you and your children continue to build confidence.
With confidence, happiness and success follow.
When we first met, it was likely as we clipped you on rope and had you sit back in your saddle during one of our Recreational Climbs.
Do you remember how you felt after the first time you climbed with us?
Most new climbers experience feelings of excitement paired with apprehension. Like you, we have no idea how you will do nor what challenges you may face. We discovered those together as you began ascending on your own.
The climber we take off rope once you’ve returned to the ground is a changed person.
The excitement is still there, but now glowing with pride. The short time you spent in the tree was enough to have a profound impact. The feeling of accomplishment is a boost to your self-esteem.
If you listen, the benefits of tree climbing can be hear in the conversations and comments made by climbers in the tree. The interactions between climbers and those on the ground are revealing. The feedback from climbers and parents is enlightening.
Each of these speak to the value of tree climbing.
What’s the Next Step
As I wrap up the final recreational climbs and stow the gear for the winter, a lot of fond memories and faces run through my head.
Many of the people we met this year were looking for a unique experience, and found it.
How did her friends respond when your daughter told them she had climbed a large tree over the weekend? Were your friends and family amazed when you shared the pictures of your son in the tree?
During the busy climbing season, we are focused on giving this experience to as many people as possible. Now we are offering some additional opportunities to those who are interested in taking their experience to the next level.
Learning To Climb
Many people are perfectly happy to let me set everything up and facilitate their climbing experience.
Others, however, long for the freedom to head out and climb on their own. With proper training and experience, you can begin your journey into the trees and become part of the international community of recreational tree climbers.
Do you remember how it felt to get behind the steering wheel of a car for the first time? Getting a driver’s license was a rite of passage. With driving lessons and the ability to drive under supervision, you were able to learn the rules of the road and develop safe driving skills.
Our Beginning Tree Climbing course is the entry point into this exciting and rewarding hobby. It is designed specifically for the recreational tree climber. While tree climbing does not require a license, successful completion of this course might remind you of how you felt when you finally got your driver’s license!
We pack a lot of value into the 16 hours of personalized instruction along with a copy of the Beginning Tree Climbing reference manual. One of our goals during class time is to expose you to a variety of equipment in hopes of helping you find the gear you like when it comes time to purchase. The wish list for a new climber quickly adds up!
Many new climbers find equal value in the 6-post class climbs we offer.
My goal is to get you climbing and practicing your climbing skills. For some, these 6 climbs provide a level of comfort in having a coach on site. It also allows you to spread out the cost of your initial investment in personal gear. The cost of climbing gear pales in comparison to buying your own car. But, as with all hobbies, there is an expense all the same.
How Can We Help You Continue Your Journey
I view tree climbing as a place to be. I can spend hours sitting in the canopy. Meditating. Journaling. Swinging. Drawing. Relaxing.
Trees provide an essential energy source. Sitting in their presence exposes you to this energy, thereby reducing feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety. Tapping into this source helps me find balance in my life.
Hopefully one of our offerings will touch you in the same way.
For those ready to take control of the wheel, our next Beginning Tree Climbing class is rapidly approaching! It will take place on November 11&12th. Learn more here and sign up to join us!
Fall is my favorite season.
Tending to the final details in preparation for our upcoming Camping/Climbing weekend, I find myself trying to figure out what I enjoy most about this time of year.
Part of the excitement is the anticipation scenic drives through the Wisconsin countryside. With each passing day, we the trees take a step closer to peak color. However, my love of fall goes far deeper than scenic drives, a trip to the apple orchard, and cooler weather.
Fall overwhelms my senses as each one is stimulated simultaneously.
The colors of fall are beginning to pop up around our area. The color contrast is striking when the yellows, oranges and reds of the leaves are set against the green grass and blue sky. The colors are further enhanced thanks to the lower angle of the afternoon sun.
Fall’s approach is announced with the sound of crunching leaves beneath my feet, chatter of the chipmunks and squirrels preparing for the winter, and the sound of geese heading south overhead.
The smoke from backyard campfires wafts throughout the neighborhood. The earthy smell of the fallen leaves during a stroll in the woods sends chills down my spine.
I am tantalized by the feeling of cool breezes brushing against my skin. Inhaling the crisp autumn air, my thoughts turn to reflection and contemplation.
We experience a wide range of weather patterns in Wisconsin, many times in the same week and sometimes even the same day! It is this variability in the weather and the change of seasons that I enjoy.
The rainy weather pattern we have seen over the past few weeks and warmer temperatures triggered an unwelcomed flurry of activity from mosquitoes, but they also provide a huge benefit to trees as they head into winter. Thanks to those rains, one piece of the puzzle is laid leading up to what is likely to be a season of optimal fall color in many areas.
With summer fading away, this period of transition triggers a feeling of excitement for the one ahead and a sense of closure on the one we are leaving behind.
I am particularly excited as fall is still my favorite time to be in trees.
I spend time reflecting upon the experiences of the past year. I am tuned into Nature’s rhythm, which puts me at peace. I feel a spike in my creative energy as I look towards the future and begin identifying ways to enhance my life energy in the coming year.
Falling Leaves & Climbing Trees
Getting my feet off the ground and the freedom of being on rope heighten my sensory perception. Simple pleasures I enjoy on the ground are enhanced while climbing trees. Come fall, they turn into bursts of energy felt throughout my body.
Laying on a branch in a sugar maple allows you to bask in the tree’s red-orange-yellow aura. Sitting within the pool of light emitted by the surrounding leafy mosaic, it is easy to get a sense of why John Muir referred to trees and forests as Nature’s temples and cathedrals.
Your view is obscured when a tree is in leaf. The foliage acts as walls between the rooms and levels of your climbing tree and those of neighboring trees. As the balance of leaves covering the ground increases from those remaining on branches, your depth of visibility increases to reveal the structural beauty of scaffold limbs.
The sound of crinkling leaves carries across the distances, enabling you to envision the playful nature of squirrels even if they are out of sight. If you sit long enough, the leaves may signal the approach of deer. It is a neat experience to sit above and watch grazing deer meander by without being alerted of your presence.
Despite the lower temperatures, the physical nature of climbing warms your body. Even a slight hint of perspiration is enough to energize you when a cool breeze passes by.
Once the leaves have fallen, you are able to enjoy shades of brown, gray, and black. You can focus your attention on the details and variety of leaf shapes strewn about below. The ground provides a canvas as the shadows cast by the trunks and branches convert the three-dimensional world into a dynamic line-drawing.
Enjoying this abstract art work of shadows and leaves, you’ll eventually find your silhouette projected on the ground.
The realization of looking down upon myself is a type of out-of-body experience that brings me back into the present moment and my sensory system back into check.
Do you often think back on your childhood with fond memories of seemingly endless summers being spent outside? Do you remember family vacations in National or State parks? Did you enjoy exploring the nearby woods? Did you have a favorite climbing tree?
I remember the impact the Smoky Mountains had on me, with their ever changing shades of green fading to blue as the ridgetops seemed to pop up endlessly into the horizon. I can still picture the vast amount of sky surrounding us on an airboat ride through sawgrass marshes in the Everglades. Even with these neat adventures, no summer was complete without our family’s annual camping trips.
A large part of who I am today was formed and influenced by these experiences, and possibly more so through my time simply playing outside and spending time in nature.
Benefits of Being Outside
Growing up, my 5 brothers and I spent most summer days outside. Even in the heat and humidity of southern Florida, we’d much rather be riding our bikes around the neighborhood, exploring the field behind our house, or hiking to the nearby lake to play along the shore and cool off in the water.
We often pitched our tents in the backyard simply because we enjoyed the simplicity and freedom of spending time detached from the television and electronic distractions inside (I'm talking about the 1980’s, so think Atari and MTV). If it weren’t for my parents’ willingness to let us ‘rough’ it in the back yard and insistence that we get outside and play, I can only wonder where my life’s journey would have brought me to today.
When we were younger, we knew that spending time outdoors was the key to a happy life!
Countless studies support this notion, explaining how crucial outside free-play is for us and our children. Free-play allows us to foster our creativity and decision-making skills. Children, in particular, benefit as they are developing motor planning skills and trying to discover their interests.
Studies have shown the benefits of spending time in nature is even greater than simply being outside. If you are one who enjoys hiking, camping, hunting, or canoeing, you are probably already aware of nature’s power to make you relax beyond how you feel when you take a walk around your neighborhood.
Reduced stress, improved short-term memory, reduced inflammation, improved concentration, sharper thinking, immune system boosts, and improved mental health are some of the benefits that I have experienced firsthand. I wasn't too surprised when I began looking into and reading studies showing the relationship between children who spend less time in nature and the likelihood they experience attention disorders and depression.
I have worked outside for a living most of my life. Even if your job has you indoors through the day, neither of us can escape the fact that we need time in nature and free-play.
Making Time To Play Outside
In the typical progression we call life, things get more complicated. A brief outline of my life is likely quite similar to yours.
Now, enjoying our careers, it is quite easy to put in the extra hours. Home repairs pop up. There’s a lawn to mow, meals to make, dishes to clean, garden to weed, and so on.
If you have kids, this list expands ten-fold, which can make it seem more difficult to send the kids outside for hours on end. Their schedules are filled with structured activities. You may face pressure from people who have different priorities and approaches for their kids.
Kids aside, how about your own well-being? I am sure you still find time for fun, entertainment, and getting outside; but, what does your outside time look like these days? Does it most commonly consist of yard work, relaxing on the back patio, at the kids’ soccer game, or attending one of the many festivals throughout the summer?
How much time do you spend in nature? Whatever happened to play time? Do you not have time for either anymore?
While I do not play nor spend time in nature nearly as much as I did when I was younger, I know it should be a priority. If the opportunity escapes me for too long, I know it is imperative that I make time as it is as important as proper nutrition.
I had many favorite climbing trees when I was a kid. In Puerto Rico, there was a magnificent rubber tree (Ficus elastica) at the school playground whose aerial roots and large limbs demanded I swing in the canopy like Tarzan. There was also a rubber tree in our neighbor’s yard in Miami which catered to my later fantasy of living a life like I saw on Swiss Family Robinson.
Those who have climbed in or even tended to the more moderate house plant, know how sticky the sap of a rubber tree is. I don’t think my mom ever quite understood that swinging through the trees relied heavily on having sap-layered hands and feet for grip. The sticky arms, legs, clothes and hair were a small price to pay for safety!
I had a number of favorite climbing trees through the years. Every one of them provided me a place I could go to be alone. I could read a book, challenge my nerve, take a nap or simply lose myself in the serenity of the treetop.
Even today, the benefits I receive from tree climbing often exceed that of other activities primarily because I am outside, breathing fresh air and inhaling the essential oils and compounds emitted by the trees and other components of the natural environment. The further away from concrete & asphalt and the larger the forest ecosystem the tree is growing in, the greater the effect.
The climbing process itself heightens your senses and has a profound impact on your brain. You will feel energized once your feet leave the ground, yet you will find peace when you sit back and take in the views. Negative emotions, anxiety and stress will fade away, ushering in positive emotions and a boost in self-confidence and creativity.
Feel Better. Be Happy.
As much as I love hiking and playing in my gardens, much of my free-play during the summer is climbing trees for fun. Even though I can get in a personal climb during some of my work days, it is the climbing I do outside of work which impacts me the most.
There is no right or wrong way to climb a specific tree, which means you are free to explore as you desire that particular day. One rule: stay tied in on rope at all times…the rest you just make up as you go. Nothing compares to how I feel when I am playing out in the woods, high in a tree. Everything comes into balance. Physically, mentally, emotionally.
For me it is climbing trees. For you it may be hiking. Don’t wait for a doctor to prescribe it to you. Spend a few hours playing in nature this weekend.
We were right all along…playing outside is key to a happy life!
So much of our lives is about doing things faster and more efficiently. We run around like we are in a race to do as much as we possibly can. In truth, we often run ourselves ragged. Can you relate?
We understand the value of being able to do things quickly, but there is also tremendous value in slowing down.
Have you ever noticed that each year goes by faster as you get older? As we age, our careers demand more time, we are running kids from one activity to the next, and we find ourselves rushing home from the gym to make dinner.
Setting The Pace
Tree climbing is an exciting and engaging way to slow down. The simple fact that it helps me focus inward and be mindful of my existence is what drives me into the trees on a regular basis.
There was nothing quick about my first ascent into a tree on rope.
It was a mature white oak on a beautiful estate in western Illinois. We were on site as the sun was rising, given we had numerous trees to tend to that day before our return back into St. Louis. Having my line set by my trainer, I suited up and began the arduous task of climbing up to the first branch.
I was very much aware of my surroundings and progress during that first ascent. Having worked ground support on a climbing crew, I had watched in awe at the ease in which our climbing arborists moved through the trees. They made it look so much easier than what I was experiencing that morning.
Finally being able to climb into the canopies of these majestic trees was one memory I doubt I'll ever forget; especially considering that my trainer had set my tie-in point to allow me to make a 20' swing to another branch. I gained the ability to explore the world of trees beyond what I had ever done as a kid. What a rush!
Life By The Clock
As rewarding and invigorating as that first climb was, it was also the beginning of my journey into climbing trees under the clock. Get up, get done, get down. Production tree care is extremely rewarding, but in order for any business to be profitable they must work efficiently and safely.
This is true in many areas of our lives, and probably sounds familiar to you.
After 20 years of climbing, I had conditioned my mindset to approach every climb with the view of how can I best access the tree and return to the ground within a reasonable time. My attention needed to be completely on the tasks at hand and the people and obstacles below. Of course you can steal a minute here and there to sit back and take in the view... like Clark Griswald taking a brief moment to enjoy the view of the Grand Canyon before rushing the family back in the car in National Lampoon's Vacation.
Even when I climbed trees for fun, I had the learned tendency to perform as if I were being timed.
Enjoying The Journey
A couple years ago, I finally made the deliberate effort to enjoy the climb.
Stop racing to the top. Take pause on occasion to take in the experience, the tree, the view. Like I did that very first time I climbed.
These days, I get to help many people experience the excitement and beauty of climbing trees. We climb for many reasons and reap many benefits. One of these is to slow down and enjoy our time.
Before a climber descends, I try to remember to have them pause and take in the distant view from where they sit. They worked hard to get to that point, and should enjoy their just reward of the views, which very few people will ever get.
There are many things I love about my time in the trees. Making acquaintances with the ants, preying mantises, squirrels, orioles, hawks, and cicadas I encounter is as enjoyable as inspecting lichens, moss, tree seedlings, mistletoe, or Spanish moss.
I often find myself within reach of the highest leaves of the tree or looking back down the living being I have scaled at its firm foothold, maintaining my connection to Earth.
Try Slowing Down A Little
Climbing trees is one way people are able to slow down and revisit the days of their childhood when days seemed to stretch on endlessly. Our Open and Private Climb events are designed to provide you this opportunity.
Please treat yourself this year and make time to join us for one of our Open Climbs. Discover for yourself the power of “tree time.”
When I tell people that I climb trees, it triggers their own memories and stories about climbing a tree as children. Without fail, a smile comes across their face as they enjoy the memories in their mind while sharing a story with me.
I have climbed trees professionally for over 20 years now. I have climbed to prune them. Climbed to remove them. Climbed to perform other surgical tasks.
A few years ago, I learned that some people climb them simply to be in them. They use the same climbing system that we do as arborists, yet they have no predetermined reason for ascending into the tree other than to get to know the tree.
From that conversation, I was hooked. I had climbed a trees outside of work to practice new techniques for the job. I had even taken friends and family into trees so they could experience the sense of accomplishment reaching the top, and the joy of taking in the view. But it never occurred to me that it was okay to climb solely for the enjoyment. Just as I did when I was a kid.
This is how a 20-year veteran of climbing trees came to “discover” the joy of tree climbing.
The Climbing Tree is taken from an essay I wrote years ago. It describes the impact that tree time had on me as a child. Something I guess I have never outgrown.
The Climbing Tree
I do not recall the species of my first climbing tree. Ash, elm, oak, I couldn’t say. The memories, however, are still vivid in my mind.
At first, I had to ask my older brothers to give me a boost. As they hoisted me high, I stretched my scratched, bruised summer-time kid arms up to the lowest limb and pulled myself up with an “umph” to sit on the worn branch. In time I grew and was able to jump up and touch the limb. Not much longer after that, I was able to jump up and grab the limb all on my own! That was the climactic day that I could finally get myself into the tree relying solely on my own strength and skill.
By that time, I had already been climbing higher into the canopy and further out on branches. My older brothers had shown me where to hold with my hands and where to place my feet so I could discover different spots in the tree. They encouraged me to challenge myself until I could confidently reach out to the two swinging limbs- limbs you could hold onto with both hands and let yourself hang and swing and yell out wild calls into the canopy.
We had many adventures in that tree. We schemed harmless heists and mused over the standard philosophical schoolboy chatter. The tree served as our fort where we would plot our neighborhood mischief for the day. Even though it was our fort, we never used a single nail or board. The number of branches and the perfect sitting areas throughout the crown of the tree served as the ideal fort for us.
Oftentimes I'd head up alone on a hot summer day to lay back on one of the limbs that held me as if they had grown for just that particular purpose. Other times I would climb to the "crow's nest", a point where five branches emerged at the same point and curved upward to create a seat that cradled my upper body.
It was here that I could read a book, while swinging one leg lazily between limbs or doze off in the calmness and serenity of the canopy, as thousands of emerald leaves twisted and turned around me in a soft summer breeze. I had discovered tree time.
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.