Monday, December 5, 2011

Up in the tree tops

 Rutland State Park, MA

I've gotten a new hobby. In February I went to a Saturday workshop about winter tree pruning at the Arnold Arboretum. The instructor mentioned that she was hosting a Women's tree climbing workshop in September and I immediately felt attracted to it even if I had no real idea of what it meant. But I sent in my registration, and eventually, September arrived. In a beautiful old mansion with a garden outside Boston, currently run by a non-profit educational organization, I spent a weekend together with women from all parts of the country and all walks of life, hosted by the New England chapter of ISA, International Society of Arborists.
The instructors were all certified, experienced, and excellent women arborists who wanted to encourage more women to become involved in this very male dominated line of work. The participants were aspiring arborists, horticulturists, gardeners, nature lovers, most of us professionals or students of different "nature" oriented fields. Together there were about 25 of us. We learned about each other, why we had chosen to come, and eventually, of course, we learned about ourselves as well. We learned about equipment and safety routines, and how to never climb alone and how to get the most out of this truly humbling - and empowering - experience.
Through a network of climbers I have been fortunate to find experienced climbing friends close to where I live, so I have already gone on a few more outings - the pictures are from some of them.

Here, the instructors at the workshop are showing saddles or harnesses as they also are called. These come in many different styles and it's a good thing to try a number of them to find a favorite.

One of many knots that one needs to know to be safe. This is the Anchor hitch and I've practiced it at home for the past weeks - it needs to be so ingrained that my hands themselves know what to do, without me even thinking.

Here the group is out practicing throwing throw lines - the way to actually get the ropes up into the trees. It can be quite challenging.

This picture is from my latest climb, where me and my friend are struggling with getting the throw lines up in a good spot. It certainly takes time. Before you hit the branch you want to reach your line will go over other branches, get stuck in twigs or hooked on bark, tangle itself hopelessly, get caught on a dead limb or just never go where you want to. It takes a lot of practice - and usually a better half of the time we have to climb is spent just trying to get a line in.

Eventually I got mine positioned and I could attach my rope and pull it up over the branch, and with a lot of help from our instructor Andrew Joslin I was soon on my way up. This is a big, old, strong white oak tree, and the three of us were climbing it together.
 And it is beautiful up there!

The low stonewalls tell us of the history of the land. Once the woods here were cleared and this was an animal pasture.

Here my friend Alana is hanging comfortably in her harness, taking a break on her way up.

About halfway up we saw the deer family, the doe with her two fawns. We were watching them from 40 ft up and even though they saw us we were apparently nothing to fear.

 This was only my 4th climb ever, and I've never been any higher than 40 ft or so before. That's about as high I can throw my line anyway. But this time Andrew climbed almost twice as high, and when I reached the top of my rope he had prepared a second rope for me so I could safely switch to the new rope and climb an additional 20 ft. Here is how happy I am...

When you see this picture you can't hear that the I-93 runs to the right of the wetlands and that we could hear the distant traffic noise all the time. But the peace and mindful serenity one finds up in the canopy is not disturbed by that. I can't wait to get up again.

Some of the deer pictures and the pictures of me and my friend were taken by Andrew Joslin. 


  1. Oh boy, does that look like fun! Good for you, adding another level to your experience of the woods.

  2. Nicely done! Beautiful photos of the deer grooming, shows how relaxed they were in our presence.

  3. hi asita, mind if I follow your wonderful blog ?
    you are so brave to get up in those trees - and then you get to see deer from up there, too - what a day !