A guided, mindful walk in the woods
This year, my wife and I spent a few weeks camping in North Dakota. The majority of our hikes took us through remote wilderness areas where we spent hours without seeing another person. There were a number of hours spent where we heard no sound of human civilization. No road traffic. No airplanes.
Recently we spent a few days hiking trails in some of our State Parks and natural areas from Milwaukee to Door County. It rained much of our trip, which meant we again found ourselves alone on most of the trails we walked.
For the past few years I have been focussed on improving the quality of the time I spend outdoors and the associated benefits. Simply looking at pictures of nature can have positive and measurable impacts on our well-being. Walking into a forested area is even more powerful in part because you are breathing in essential plant compounds. But, is there a way I can improve my experience?
I have been amazed at how much impact these benefits can have, and I created the following video to share part of this journey with you. You might feel better just watching it!
As the sun begins to set on the eastern coast of Australia & Asia on September 15th, hundreds of tree climbers and forest adventurers will take to the trees to celebrate the beauty of forests as part of the Big Canopy Campout.
As the setting sun progresses around the globe and dusk falls upon the diverse forests across the continents, people from all walks of life and cultures will be united during the world’s biggest coordinated canopy adventure. The community of passionate forest explorers will spend this night in the treetops or on the forest floor.
While camping in the canopy requires specialized equipment and skills, you can join in the spirit of the celebration by spending time in the forests, parks, and trees near you. Mark your calendar, and spend the day hiking through the forest, string a hammock, treat yourself to the energizing effects of relaxing in the presence of trees.
As the vice president of the Global Organization of Tree Climbers and a member of the global community of tree and forest enthusiasts, I work to introduce and connect people to the trees and forests of Wisconsin.
At Treetop Explorer, we are celebrating the event with public climbs in Wauwatosa and Greendale both days that weekend. I will then join the world-wide community that evening in a private stand of trees in Waukesha County.
We are excited to offer the opportunity for you to flirt with this kind of experience during our Camping-Climbing weekend, which will take place on October 26th & 27th. Visit www.treetopexplorer.com/2018campclimb for all the details and registration.
While we won’t be sleeping in the trees like in the Big Canopy Campout, you will have two opportunities to hang out in the canopy as the sun sets, spending your evening in a stand of oaks growing on a high ridge formed during the last glacial period. Return to the ground to enjoy time around the campfire and reflect upon your experience.
Wisconsin is fortunate to have numerous organizations and people dedicated to our forests and trees. But events like the Big Canopy Campout call attention to the value of and raise money for the protection of vanishing forest ecosystems.
The funds raised this year will be used to purchase forested land in the biosphere reserve of Sierra Gorda in Mexico, which includes a section of critically threatened cloud forest. The World Land Trust uses the funds to purchase biologically significant habitats and create reserves to provide protection for habitats and wildlife.
As the sun rises the following day, The Big Canopy Campout will have travelled the earth in a celebration of its diverse and complex forest ecosystems. Whether you climb with us, enjoy your local trees, or sleep under the stars, we are all part of this beautiful community.
Links of interest:
Height: 55 ft
Trunk Diameter: 46”
Spread of Branches: 85 ft
175-225 years old
About the Tree
This tree stands alone in a remote area of the park. With the spread of its branches a lot wider than the tree is tall, its long, swooping branches are like embracing arms. A few of these branches swoop to within feet of the ground, so it is easy to climb onto the lowest branches even without rope.
Climbing into the branches is how I really connect with a tree. It’s like the “heart center” of the tree. When I stand back and look towards the crown of a tall tree, I see a quiet retreat. Rope and saddle allow me to span the gap between the ground and the crown. It can feel like visiting another world -- one that very few people will ever visit.
In the case of this beautiful oak in Woodfield Park, the crown begins near the ground. Walking up to this tree and under its sheltering branches, you can feel its energy radiating. It is peaceful to simply lay beneath the tree and stare up through its branches. I can spend hours sitting at its base and reading a book.
We pass by numerous trees during our day. Most of them seldom receive a second glance from the people walking by. Other trees stand out and might even seem like a good acquaintance. This tree is one of those trees that has a character all its own. For me, this tree is a personal friend.
I use the tree often in my 2-day learn-to-climb classes. I enjoy aerial yoga in silks suspended from the branches. I offer a Rec Climb in this tree once per year. Basically, I love every opportunity to introduce others to the beauty of this tree.
We will climb this tree on Sunday, September 23rd. I hope you can join us. (Register through Waukesha Parks, Recreation & Forestry, or visit our website for the link).
By Sarah Schwab
My kids had several different reactions when I told them we were going to go tree climbing. “That’s cool” they said at first. It’s something different and even exciting.
Then, when we were on our way to the climb, my older son’s nerves started to kick in. “How high do we climb in the tree?” he asked. I told him it’s possible to get up pretty high, but assured him he wouldn’t have to go any higher than he was comfortable and could stop at any time.
Meanwhile, the youngest one was tired, hungry and a little cranky and decided he no longer wanted to go. “I changed my mind” he said. My daughter was quiet the entire time, just going along obediently.
“Oh boy,” I thought to myself, “this is going to be interesting.”
When we arrived and the kids started getting harnessed up, their demeanor changed. They learned the technique for climbing up the rope, and as their feet lifted off the ground, smiles spread across their faces. “Hey mom! Look at me!”
At this point, parents seem to make one of three choices…
Stay And Watch
Many parents stand on the sidelines, watching their kids ascend the rope and get up into the tree. They snap some pictures, enjoying the view from a distance.
As parents, we are used to sitting and watching as our kids play sports, perform in concerts, take lessons, play laser tag at a birthday party, or whatever. So it is understandable that many parents stand outside the roped-off perimeter, keeping their feet on the ground.
In some cases, when kids are registered to be climbing trees for a couple of hours, parents will drop them off at the beginning and pick them back up again at the end, taking the opportunity to have some time on their own. The kids are in good hands with the staff, and adults can get a little time to run errands or do something for themselves.
At the climb we did at Fox Brook Park, one mom ran around the lake getting her own exercise and checking in each time she passed by.
Tree climbing is one of the rare opportunities for parents to join in with their kids. That’s what I did! Once the kids were off the ground, I saddled up and started to climb as well. It’s really special to share an experience like that together.
When the kids said “Hey mom, look at this!” they knew I could really appreciate what they were showing me. We were able to laugh with each other, meet up in the branches of the tree, and try fun tricks together. I still got some great pictures, only from up in the tree rather than down on the ground.
Of course, I’m also the mom who suited up and played laser tag at the birthday party! I think parents should be able to try new things and have some fun as well, even if we feel a little scared or uncomfortable. If we want our kids to challenge themselves, then modeling that behavior is important. After all, kids are more likely to do what we do and not what we say.
Watch Your Words
Speaking of the things parents say, the rule of thumb is to say as little as possible. No matter which choice you make as a parent, one of the hardest but most important things is to keep your mouth shut.
Parents usually want to be encouraging, and it is tempting to yell things to the kids – “Climb higher! Keep going! Lift up your knees.” It is done with good intensions, but can actually end up negatively impacting everyone’s experience.
The kids are learning something new. Maybe they are focusing on the technique, maybe they are overcoming a fear of heights, maybe they just want to stop and enjoy the feeling and the view. When you aren’t up in the tree, you can’t relate to their experience. Even encouragement can cause distraction, both for your kids, the other climbers, and the staff.
An important piece of the tree-climbing experience is leaving the kids alone to do it themselves. Each kid learns in a different way, climbs at a different pace, and enjoys different aspects of the experience. It’s not a race, and there is no winning or losing.
My kids all had a blast, climbed different ropes, reached different heights. And in the end, we all had a shared memory we could talk about together. That seems like a win to me!
Stability provides comfort. Dealing with feelings of instability can provide for personal growth. Come along as we look at the tree climbing experience and the ways we transfer our feelings of security and stability from rope to branch.
A discussion of Stability and Instability - how to enjoy your climb even more.
Height: 50 feet
Trunk Diameter: 33 inches
Spread of Branches: 70 feet
Approximate Age: 100-150 years old
About the Tree
Pearl is a beautiful white oak standing in the transition area between the forest and prairie. With plenty of sunlight, it has formed a full canopy with numerous branches for us to play in!
Whenever you climb a tree on a slope, it enhances your height perspective. You feel even higher than you are as the landscape stretches off beneath you. With Pearl, the view southwest across the prairie is particularly enjoyable as the suns sets lower during our late afternoon climbs.
Pearl is an enjoyable tree to climb for a few reasons. With the large number of branches, there are many places to sit, stand, lay back on, and one of my favorite places to enjoy the sunset.
Experienced climbers are able to climb into a cozy spot at the top of tree, about 8 feet from the highest leaves. Our Climbing Club had the opportunity to enjoy this experience during our June Club Climb!
Located in Mukwonago Park, Pearl is a popular selection for our private climbs for scout groups and family adventure weekends. The park has a lot to offer… a lake for fishing, an archery range, a dog park, camping and hiking. As one of the Waukesha County Parks on the outskirts of Metro Milwaukee, It’s a great place get-away without having to drive too far.
Mark your calendar for October 27 & 28, 2018 for a camping-climbing weekend. We’ll be climbing a variety of trees, including Pearl. You will have the opportunity to join us for the camping-climbing experience, or simply purchase a day-pass.
State Champ for the species: The largest known white oak in Wisconsin at this time also grows in Waukesha County. This current champion stands 115’ tall, has a crown spread of 85’, and trunk about 66” (almost 5½ feet wide!).
Feeling stressed? Looking to escape? Need a break from the demands for your time?
It sounds like you could benefit from a change in altitude.
This past winter, Jen and I spent time on a tiny island off the coast of southern Florida. The 10-acre island had a handful of cottages, a walking trail, a restaurant, and a few chairs down by the water. No television, spotty cell service, and limited Wi-Fi access.
We rented a skiff one day to get to a neighboring island to enjoy a desolate beach. We saw more dolphins, sharks and stingrays than people that day.
The week gave us time to talk, sit, read, write, nap, and enjoy our time together. It was quiet. We were relaxed.
Trips like these can be a great way to decompress and recharge. They are a small part of the life component in the “work-life balance.”
Whether it is during your return flight, the moment you reclaim your suitcase or walk through your front door, there is probably a specific moment where your mind jumps back into your responsibilities and your To Do list. Vacation is over.
Even if that line for you is blurred more than the picture I describe, and I hope it is, there comes a time when you find yourself back in your daily and weekly routine. It is a feeling similar to wading across a stream.
You start by heading into the water, eventually finding yourself in the current. You are focused on heading in the direction you’ve set your sights on, yet not fully aware of the gradual increase in energy you are expending to keep your footing and head above water. At times, the current may pull you off course slightly. Your drive gets you to the other side, but you are exhausted.
Wouldn’t it be nice to take a break when the current of life seems to be unrelenting? Fast-forward to the next vacation?
Thankfully the current fluctuates. Some days are easier and more productive, others are more challenging. For you, it may seem like months before the current lets up. It might not let up until summer break. Or perhaps the slow-season in your industry, as in mine, doesn’t come until winter.
Thankfully, not even 15 feet above the ground, lies the same peaceful escape.
Days Like These
I do not like to wish my life away. It will pass by soon enough.
That’s why I love having the ability to change my altitude when stress seems to be building. It only takes an hour or two out of my day to climb to a different level, and the benefits are often as great as a week in the tropics.
Up there, your mind will find peace. It’s as if the worries of ground life are restrained by gravity. As your attention turns towards the mechanics of climbing the rope, your mind is left with little room for outside worries. All of that weight falls from your shoulders relatively quickly.
By the time I reach my resting branch, it’s as if I flew back to the island.
The sounds of the palm fronds in the breeze and ocean waves lapping against the mangroves are replaced with the rustle of the oak leaves unfurling ahead of the upcoming growing season. An assortment of birds singing and squirrels chirping help me connect to the present moment.
My senses are consumed with an appreciation for the unique perspective from where I sit. The tree holds and protects me from the chaos below.
Time is of no concern when you spend time in a tree. The breeze, movement of the leaves, and connection with Nature’s energy will consume you.
The change in altitude brings with it a change in attitude.
This all happens without intentional thought. You enter tree-time as if entering a 3-dimensional field of energy. You can climb trees for something to DO, but most of us discover it is actually a place to BE.
When you return to the ground and get your land legs back, you begin to realize your worries and demands are waiting patiently. One by one, you pick them up and head back into your daily routine.
Nature is in no rush. The trees carry on about their business. They will await your return.
Most of our Rec Climbs are hosted by municipal recreation departments. More times than not, you will find these climbs listed in the youth section of their activity guides, which may give the impression that tree climbing is for children.
In reality, tree climbing is enjoyed by people of all ages. Tree climbing is for people who want to stay young at heart and of healthy mind.
Come out and enjoy the benefits of a change in altitude.
One of the more common fears people face is the fear of heights, or fear of falling. Come along with me as we take a look at ways tree climbing allows you to challenge yourself and overcome these fears.
Click below to see how to take steps to lessen your fears.
The vigorous growth of the tree indicates it is still in its prime, especially when you consider bur oaks can reach 300-400 years of age.
The size of this tree makes it a stand out when looking at bur oaks. Having its upper branches reaching over 70 feet high and spreading over 90 feet across puts this tree in a unique class of the largest bur oaks in Wisconsin. However, with a trunk that measures about 4 feet wide, it is rather slender if you compare it to the champions that have trunks 6-7 feet wide!
This large tree and its smaller hickory companion, stand prominently in the City of Waukesha’s Fox River Parkway north park. It is a photogenic tree that dwarfs climbers amongst its branches. It is an incredible experience to spend time in its branches.
Once you climb over 20 feet, you are able to peer over the shrubs and small trees that border the park and obscure the distant views for people back on the ground.
The park is surrounded by the Fox River wetlands, with fields of reeds and grasses stretching to the south. While you enjoy a quiet and peaceful rest in the branches, you can watch the river flow gently by on its way to the Illinois River, 200 miles away.
Being able to climb over 60 feet is a neat experience for seasoned climbers. There are also plenty of large branches to lay your head on and stare skyward.
Often times when we climb trees, we look down to appreciate the height we are sitting at. But it’s also really cool to look UP, and really appreciate the scope of the tree. It’s structure and size. It’s sprawling branches forming somewhat randomly. Knowing that this large, living thing grew from just a tiny acorn.
This is one of the largest trees we climb in our Rec Climb programs. We’ll return to its branches on Friday, July 13th. You can join us by registering through the Waukesha Recreation Department.
State Bur Oak Champ:
The current known champion bur oak in Wisconsin grows outside of Dousman. Standing nearly 65 feet tall, it is just shy of the Fox River Parkway oak’s height. However, the tree’s double forked trunk measures an impressive 7 feet across!
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!
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.