When you climb a tree you meet a friend –even if you’re the only person around.
Guest blog by Patrick Brandt – Piedmont Tree Climbing
David’s recent blog post beautifully describes the joy of climbing trees and why kids AND adults should do it more. I thank David for inviting me to write a sequel to that post with some of my complementary thoughts and experiencesI’ve helped more than 1500 novice tree climbers, ages 5 -75 years, climb into the canopy. Each of these climbers is unique but inevitably each one finds the same few things in the tree – and I’m not just talking about souvenir leaves, friendly ants, and lichens.
Here are some of the lasting benefits of tree climbing:
- Climbers of all ages discover an increased appreciation for nature and ecosystems – especially trees!
- Climbers overcome their fears in a safe and supportive environment. Each climber ends up feeling like they accomplished something incredible no matter how high they go!
- Tree climbing is a great small group activity where climbers support and encourage one another thereby building self confidence and group identity/unity.
- You don’t have to be an athlete, or super-strong, or extra-coordinated to climb trees on rope. In fact children and adults with disabilities can often climb on their own power. There are setups that favor arms, or legs, and mechanical advantage systems can be used by those who aren’t as strong.
- Recreational tree climbing does not harm the tree and with a little care can easily abide by Leave No Trace principles.
Let me illustrate what I mean by sharing a few real tree experiences. Last fall a pre-teen girl came to her friend’s tree climbing birthday party with her arm in a cast thinking that she would have to watch all the fun from the ground. Instead, she climbed too – with a broken arm! Tree climbing is a great group activity where climbers support and encourage one another thereby building self-confidence and group identity/unity.
Back in 2016, a father whose leg had been amputated below the knee climbed a tree adeptly with his kids (he’s wearing a prosthetic leg in the picture) . You don’t have to be an athlete, or super-strong, or extra-coordinated to climb trees on rope. In fact children and adults with disabilities can often climb on their own power. There are setups that favor arms, or legs, and mechanical advantage systems can be used by those who aren’t as strong.
On a recent public climb, a young girl was anxious about attempting a small limb walk to ring a cow bell. She really wanted to ring the bell, but even with my encouragement and insistence that she would be safe, she couldn’t take the last couple of steps toward the bell. A moment later, when my attention had turned to another climber, I heard the bell ring and turned to see her, bell in hand, with a huge smile on her face. Climbers overcome their fears in a safe and supportive environment. Each climber ends up feeling like they accomplished something incredible no matter how high they go!In 2017 a grandmother, her daughter, and her granddaughter all climbed together in a tree that was twice as old as all of them put together. That brought new meaning to the phrase family tree! Trees bring people of all ages together.
For the last 3 semesters, a university English class reads and discusses tree books in the classroom, comes climbing with me in the trees, and then participates in a tree-focused citizen science initiative at the local arboretum. Trusting your life to the limbs of a tree brings renewed appreciation for trees and their place in the ecosystem. Trees are generous, calm, and strong. They soak up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and they exhale life-giving oxygen. Throughout their life and even in their death they provide habitat for insects, mammals, birds and other plant life. They shade our homes – saving us energy that would otherwise be used on air conditioning. They add beauty, form and variety everywhere they grow.
Could some of these lessons be learned on a climbing wall or rock face, and could similar experiences take place on a high ropes course? Yes, but when learned in a living, breathing tree, there is an added benefit – a new (or renewed) conservation mentality; appreciation for trees and by extension their place in the larger ecosystem.
When you spend time with someone you get to know them better and appreciate them more. The same is true of people who climb into a tree. The experience transforms them. As they drive back home they look up. They see trees along the highway that they have never noticed before despite traveling that route hundreds of times before. I believe this is a lasting change that will produce tangible results in the form of more time spent outside, more trees planted, fewer trees cut down, more donations to conservation groups, and more advocating for nature.
See you in the trees!
Postblog: I have climbed hundreds of trees. Here are some of my most memorable experiences:
- Once when climbing a 140 foot tall tulip tree growing in the riparian zone along a winding river, I heard the laughing call of a pileated woodpecker – one of the largest and most elusive woodpecker species in the Eastern USA. As I looking around to locate the call, I saw the red-crested woodpecker fly through the canopy below me following the river!
- If spending an hour in a tree leads to greater tree-preciation, imagine the experience of spending the night in the arms of trees! I’ve spent a handful of nights in a hammock suspended in the canopy. There is nothing like watching the stars appear and disappear on a clear night as the breeze gently moves the leaves and branches above your hammock. It is equally transformative to wake up in the morning as the light hits the canopy and the birds are singing under, above, and all around you.
- I’ve installed close to 200 custom tree swings from Washington DC to Atlanta and as far away as Honduras. I see tree swings as another great tool for getting kids and adults outside and away from a screen to enjoy tree-enabled active play.
- Usually it’s not much fun to be outside in the pouring rain without an umbrella. Being up in a tree when it is raining is not generally my idea of a fun time either, but on a few occasions I’ve been “stuck” in the canopy as a rain shower blows through. The sound of the rain drops approaching through the forest, then spattering on the leaves around you is really quite magical.
About the author: Patrick Brandt is owner of Piedmont Tree Climbing in Mebane, NC. He and his wife, Julie, lead public and private tree climbs and install custom tree swings throughout the Piedmont region of North Carolina. They have 3 wonderful children, all of whom have spent time in the trees. Patrick’s formal education is as a biochemist and his full time work is in the Office of Biomedical Graduate Education at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. He has rescued close to 200 cats from trees (see www.rescuemycat.org), has 3 cats of his own, and has been known to commute to work on his mountain unicycle. Piedmont Tree Climbing is on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.