Ode to the Tree Cutting Man
To all the men and women we hire to cut down our trees. I may be a tree preservationist now, but back in the day, I’ve cut down my share of trees. My father before me. His father before him. Someone has to cut them down. Why not a professional who loves his profession?
Though there isn’t much I haven’t seen in the tree cutting world, I’m still amazed how arborists are able to remove a gargantuan tree in a tight backyard, while leaving the house standing, the gutters attached, the utility shed un-dented, and everything in place (well, most everything).
Yes, I call tree cutters ‘arborists’. I know we’ve reserved the title for those who are certified. But an arborist is ‘anyone who possesses the necessary skills to care for individual trees.’ That would have to include those who depose them when they have outlived their usefulness. After all, you’re not going to call a proctologist when a tree is threatening your home. And anyone who believes special skills are not needed, may be in for a rude awakening, if they’re going try it for themselves. Guys, this is one job better left to the professionals.
The days of the stereotypical, grizzled tree man, driving an old, beat-up pick-up, and wielding a chainsaw are far behind us. Don’t get me wrong. Brawn still comes in handy. But today’s arboriculture is a thinking man’s game. Would you believe that climber hold’s two degrees? And that ground-man left a job that paid twice as much, just to sling sawdust and sweat on hot, sticky day?
Today’s arborist must be able to drive and operate a dump trunk, a logging truck, an aerial lift, a crane, a knuckle-boom loader, a skid-steer and a bobcat, and possess a CDL. He must be skilled at operating a chainsaw, a wood chipper, a stump grinder, a pole saw, a blower and a power drill. He has to be adept at using a number of hand tools, rigging and ropes.
The arborist must be a resource manager, and best utilize his time, stamina, equipment, physical space, technology and crew.
The arborist must be a safety manager. He must wear safety clothing and equipment, provide a safe workplace for his crew, as well as pedestrians and on-lookers, follow OSHA, ANSI, ISA Best Management Practices, and recommended equipment operation procedures, as well as establish and maintain a culture of safety.
The arborist must be a communication specialist. With chainsaws and a chipper running, trees falling, and branches dropping, an arborist’s workplace can be a very noisy and dangerous place. Arborists must communicate well with each other, and function as a single organism. Short, repetitious commands, as well as hand and arms signals, are essential.
The arborist must be a risk manager. He doesn’t want to access a tree that could fall over while in it. He must also consider his crew, the pets, the property and the lives of others.
The arborist must to be a botanist. You don’t want to cut down the wrong tree. The way an oak hinges is much different than a hickory.
The arborist must be a tree and rope climber. Not only must he be able to ascend and decend quickly, he must be thoroughly familiar with knots, ropes and climbing equipment.
The arborist must be a high balancing artist when walking out on a flimsy branch. Though tied in, one slip could slam him back into the tree.
The arborist must be a pathologist. The signs of hypoxylon can easily go unnoticed until a limb gives out beneath him, or a hinge breaks off too soon.
The arborist must be a wildlife manager. You can never tell what you’ll encounter when entering a tree. I have had to fend off ‘possums, racoons, raptors, rattlesnakes, bees, hornets and wasps; and even rescue baby squirrels, songbirds and a non-cooperative, stranded cat.
The arborist must be an electrician. There are always energized utility lines near trees. A climber’s rope coming in contact with a bare conductor can end it for him. A tree getting away from a ground-man can take out the power for a city block, and bring in an early 4th of July.
The arborist must be a meteorologist. A storm miles away can deliver a fatal electrical charge to a climber. Rain, snow and ice can make conditions in a tree treacherous. My first tree job found me out on an icy limb, hanging upside down, without being tied in.
The arborist must be an engineer. Tree work is all about math, geometry, gravity, leverage, angles, and trial and error.
The arborist must be an archeologist and look for hidden artifacts. Cutting into metal, concrete and pottery can definitely slow the take down. I once ruined 3 chains, a bar, a sprocket and burnt up a big Huskie (that’s not a dog) on one large, red oak. I encountered over 300 nails, 11 spikes, 3 clothesline hooks, and a concrete-filled cavity. Needless to say, I did not make a profit on that job.
The arborist must be a mechanic; both small engine and large. A hundred feet up a tree with a sputtering chainsaw is no place to call in a mechanic.
The arborist must be a public relations specialist. Most of us struggle with this. Sometimes, the best you can do is provide literature for the tree-hugger next door, and patiently explain why you must cut this tree down. I did this once. The concerned neighbor threw my brochure to the ground, and fled to the sanctuary of her home, walking past 12 freshly cut stumps in her own yard. But not before I asked why she had her trees cut down. Before slamming the door, she tritely replied, “They needed to be cut down.”
And finally, the arborist must be an educator. Whether it’s training our men and women, or keeping the public abreast of the latest science, ours is a necessary and noble profession. We have something to share.