Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: I’ve been climbing trees, technically, for over 20 years.
I started off as an arborist in 1993. But eventually I took a different path. Now I teach people how to access, connect, and experience the top of trees in a safe manner. Some of my students include adventure seekers, nature lovers, poets, birders, arborists, canopy researchers, eco-tourism guides, photographers, film crews, camp directors, etc.
Q: How did you get from arborist to where you are today?
A: I started doing tree work with the founder of the world’s first tree-climbing school. At that time I had no idea he had a public tree-climbing school.
I was taught how to climb for tree work, which was a very physical demanding activity back then.
Q: What was the school like?
A: Because of the upper-body strength needed to climb to do tree work, I thought it would be all athletes. But when I arrived, there were people from six to 75 years old.
Specifically, there were these two 75-year-old ladies who caught my eye, and I was thinking there was NO WAY they could do this. I was in my early 20s and it was a good work out for me.
But I was shown some different techniques and tools which made climbing much easier than what I’d been doing for tree work. It took longer, but it was much more user friendly.
With tree work, time is money. But this was an inspirational tree climb, climbing at your own pace. Before you knew it, these women were 25 feet up, sitting on a branch. They were tickled pink. They hadn’t climbed a tree in 65 years, and they were reminiscing about climbing their backyard apple trees when they were young.
These ladies sat up on that branch for over an hour just soaking it all in and filled with smiles and laughter. I remember these two little kids tugging at me, asking, “When is it our turn? Those ladies have been up there for a long time.” And I thought, “These women waited 65 years, they can take their time.”
When they came down they were touched by what they experienced and gave me such heartfelt hugs, which I can still feel today.
Q: This sounds so nice.
A: Yeah. I remember looking up in the tree that day and seeing a seven-year-old girl climbing next to a fifteen-year-old punk rock kid who was next to a conservative couple, and a hippie chick trying to communicate to a family from Germany. It was awesome. Everybody was sharing this new experience together, an experience that brought them together. People were just being people. I thought, “There’s something magical happening right now.”
Something shifted in me at that point. I thought, “This HAS to get out into the world.” I started volunteering all the time after that.
Q: So what do you do now?
A: I have an international tree-climbing school. Students from around the world come to my home-base location near Portland. I also travel around our planet, introducing the art of inspirational/technical tree climbing to novices and experts.
Q: Can you make a full-time living at this?
A: Yes and no. Teaching tree climbing in Oregon is a seasonal activity; not many people want to climb trees in the Pacific Northwest in February. So I schedule my international travel during the winter months. I usually hit Hawaii, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile and/or the Amazon every year. I’ve also been teaching over in Denmark and Sweden the past few springs. Inspirational tree climbing is spreading its roots around the world.
I have been fortunate to climb trees in 49 states (missing Alaska) and in over 15 countries. It’s been a true blessing to experience so many different arboreal ecosystems around the world.
Q: Are some trees harder to climb than others?
A: Some trees are more challenging than others. It usually depends on the climate and what’s living in the tree.
In the Amazon you have to climb slow and almost methodical due to the abundance of life and the creepy-crawlies that reside in the tree. If you go too fast they could be attracted to you. There are killer bees, ants, things with stingers and teeth; remember you are visiting their home.
We also want to be very mindful of the ecosystem that we are climbing in. Some of these ecosystems have taken hundreds of years to get where they are today. It’s like climbing in a coral reef. We take the utmost care of being respectful of where we are.
Q: Do people sleep in the trees?
A: Yes. Sleeping in the trees is magical. We use a specially-designed hammock called a Treeboat. Since it ties off in four corners, it’s very stable and much safer than your typical hammock.
It’s a totally different experience when you sleep in a tree. The nocturnal sounds are enchanting and the way the moon light filters thru the leaves and branches can almost be mesmerizing.
After a good night’s sleep aloft, you arise to a symphony of bird songs, singing above, below, and all around you. It’s quite peaceful except when you’re six inches away from a robin chirping—that can be DEAFENING.
Q: What if you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night?
A: That question ALWAYS comes up! We try to think of it ahead of time so it isn’t an issue. In the oak tree here, you can come down and go. But if you’re 200 feet up a giant redwood or in the Amazon, we have specially marked bottles.
Q: This sounds like such a nice job.
A: For myself, tree-climbing is more about the experience you receive when you are in the trees, rather than the actual climbing of the tree itself. Trees are everywhere. Even in the largest city, once you climb into the crown of a tree you are surrounded by nature and your worldly problems seems to sink back to the ground. I love introducing folks into this unique realm where time seems to stand still and nature comes back alive, aka Treetime.