I Want To Be A Tree… Surgeon

I had the most brilliant day yesterday! I managed to escape the confines of my claustrophobic energy sapping office where I normally work 9-5 as an accountant. Instead I spent the day with some friends that have their own tree surgery business, giving them a hand as a groundsman in exchange for the experience of finding out what it would be like to have a physical job working outside with Mother Nature.

I have had a feeling deep inside me for a few years now that I was not put on this planet to be an accountant. No matter how much I think about what a sensible job it is and the fact that if I did my chartered exams I would be financially comfortable for the rest of life, something keeps holding me back. In fact, my friend Clare, who owns the tree surgery business, said yesterday that the feelings are coming from my soul; I think she is right. My soul keeps whispering to me, trying to direct me on my true path.

Anyway, more about my day’s work. The tree we were working on was in Slimbridge at a private house. It was a 40 foot Walnut that was starting to lean somewhat and was therefore in need of a canopy reduction to lower its centre of gravity, allow the wind to blow thorugh it with less obstruction and hopefully preserve it for many more years to come.

Initially there was not a lot to do except wait until Mat, the climber, had lopped enough branches off for us to start collecting them up and feeding them into the chipper. This was amazing in itself, just watching him spring up the tree to the topmost branches like a squirrel. He seemed so light on his feet and must have a superb sense of balance as he precariously reached out in all directions, trimming here, lopping there, with his one handed chainsaw. Obvioulsy it goes without saying he was wearing a full safety harness, but even so, the skills he demonstrated have taken him 10 years in the trade to perfect.

Apparantly this tree was a very nice job as it was on level ground and in the middle of a field, therefore meaning there were no greenhouses, conservatories, delicate garden ornaments or other such breakables that normally go hand in hand with private residential jobs. This meant there was no concern over branches having to be passed to the ground in a controlled manner. The rain also managed to hold off all day which was another bonus, although I am under no illusion that rain would be allowed to get in the way of performing a scheduled job. In any case, I am not one to mind the rain much providing I have the appropriate waterproofs etc.

Other members of the team were my friend Louise, Clare and Adrian, all working on the ground, cutting up larger branches with ground saws before feeding them to the chipper. They are lovely people, all slightly quirky (just my type) with a strong love for nature and the outdoors (goes without saying I guess). The other interesting thing that Clare pointed out to me was the strong bond they all shared. She said this was important in this line of work due to its potentially dangerous nature. With noisy chainsaws and other equipment in use and ear defenders being worn the majority of the time, one needs to be aware of where people are and what they are doing so as to avoid nasty accidents.

All in all, the day was fairly strenuous but by no means overly so. The most taxing job was at the end, raking up all the leaves and small branches in order to leave the customer’s land neat and tidy as though we had never been there – very important if you want to leave a good impression and be recommended to other potential customers.

As we were finishing up Louise had a go at climbing for the first time. She is considering taking an aerial chainsaw course in order to become a climber so obviously a practice with heights is a good idea. She looked a little nervous but seemed to manage very well. However, I did not expect, on my first day, to be offered the same opportunity.

It was with some trepidation (actually lots as I am pretty terrified of heights) that I donned the spare security harness and began to climb the ladder up to the first branches. Mat was above me talking me through what to do with the rope as I ascended and I concentrated very hard on not looking down. Once I had reached the first few branches and had a few beneath me I felt a lot more comfortable and was ready to continue further up. This was harder than it sounds however, as the walnut tree was very large and had rather large gaps between some of its branches. This meant it wasn’t possible to physically climb up and instead a method is used by which you pull down hard on one end of the rope, thrust your hips in the air and are then able to move the knot in the other rope up. This effectively hitches you up a foot or so each time but is extremely labour intensive and requires good upper body fitness. As I was a newbie Mat did all the hard work for me, pulling on my ropes etc, and all I did was walk up the tree moving the knot as I went.

It still took effort but was well worth it when we eventually got to the top of the canopy (now about 30 feet up after its haircut) and could comfortably perch on a branch and take in the spectacular view. I even started to look down and found my fear had totally left me. I felt secure and protected by the tree at the same time as being on a total buzz from the experience.

The descent was easy, just like abseiling. All I had to do was keep my legs straight whilst pulling on the knot and walking down the trunk. If the rope started ot slide too fast I juts had to let go of the knot and it would stop. Once on the ground Clare immediatley commented on how sparkling I looked. I find it difficult to describe the elation that I felt after having done that. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was pleasantly surprised at how little I worried about how far from the ground i was. I suspect it is not always that easy but the experience has definitely been worthwhile in that I think it is something I will now seriously consider persuing.

I think I will try and have a few more days work experience first to try and get a well rounded idea of pleasant and nasty jobs. Then, if I am stil just as enthusiastic, the first goal will be to get my basic chainsaw operation license. This will enable me to be a lot more useful so perhaps I can start doing one day a week or something whilst being paid a minimal salary for gaining experience.

It is all a way off yet and as I said before, I think I need to do some more odd days before I make up my mind and commit to something more definite. However, the experience has been invaluable to me and has provided me with much food for thought.

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