This is James
Okay, so this is the real story. I have been planning an arborist resource website for a really long time. It was a combination of busyness, babies, and bullshit that delayed it, what Steven Pressfield labels “The Resistance”. But this summer (2016), I finally did get around to designing the shell of this site. Part of me worried that the name of the site might sound pretentious. I certainly hope that people don’t think this is me saying that I know more than anyone else out there. I am a college dropout, my only education is in the school of hard knocks. The site is geared towards the education of a climber, and so I named it EducatedClimber.
The problem was, I didn’t really have an angle, an overarching plan of what I was trying to achieve, other than cataloguing the fundamental skills of our trade. Later in the season however, I was approached by a young guy named James. He is 22 years old and an outright greenhorn, a total noob. He was quiet and watchful on the job, and he asked good questions. He was interested in learning, and wanted to do an apprenticeship. Now I had never signed an apprentice before, but I had known for a long time that I would, and I had been looking forward to the opportunity.
We did the apprenticeship paperwork and put him on the list to go to school (schooling is 2 terms of 12 weeks). The schooling, from my perspective, was free training in the basics during our off-season, including a bunch of climbing experience. I had figured that I could pick up where they left off and then show him my way of doing things. He was promptly told that he wouldn’t be getting into school any time soon, there was already a waiting list. He was disappointed, to say the least.
So I said screw it, I can teach you twice as much in half the time. And in that moment, I realized the real purpose of this website.
When you work with experienced people for long enough, it is very easy to get out of touch with your former self. You start to take for granted so much of the skills and knowledge that you use on a daily basis. This is why most seasoned veterans prefer working with experienced people – everyone knows their role and what is expected of them. It takes a greenhorn on the jobsite to help you appreciate just how much knowledge you really have. This is why teaching someone from scratch is so expensive and time consuming. Most people have trouble teaching complex concepts, mostly because they have never taken the time to really think and dwell on the topic long enough. They usually figure out what works and what doesn’t, and then when they try to teach this knowledge to someone else, they end up showing the how, but not always the why.
And this is what draws me towards teaching. Good teaching forces me to fully wrap my head around something, to explore the logic of it, the why and not just the how. I am forced to identify inconsistencies and question everything. I try to teach to other people the way I would like to be shown. As a lifelong student myself, I am the guy who is never satisfied with just knowing how to do something, I always want to know why. Why do we do this at all? Why do we do it this way when there are all kinds of other possibilities? Is this really the best way to do this?
So EducatedClimber fulfills a dual role for me. This is the best way for me to record and catalogue the basic skills and knowledge that my apprentice James needs to know, starting from the very beginning. This is especially convenient for us in the winter when we are not working very much – James can study and learn this stuff at home, on his own time, and it is exactly how I would teach it in person. At the same time, anybody else in the trade can go to the site and benefit from the knowledge there. It truly is a win-win situation.
So there you have it. This is the mission statement. I am committed to showing my apprentice, James, everything that he needs to know to learn the basics in the trade. This site is the vehicle for that training. And if anyone else can benefit from this knowledge then I am even happier. I hope to be a positive influence on the younger generation and if my materials can help even one aspiring tree surgeon then I will consider this experiment a success. So James, this one’s for you. Cheers.
Start With the End in Mind
Tree surgery is the art of removal. As arborists, we cannot add any branches or foliage or presence or beauty to the trees we climb, we can only remove from them. Be it dead wood or live wood, our sole function in tree work is the removal of tissue from trees in a safe and efficient manner. A good arborist approaches each tree, each leader, each branch, and each cut with confidence because he knows exactly what is required for the situation. This confidence eventually translates itself into increased speed in the tree, more safety for the climber and ground crew, and a more professional job performance overall. The true professionals in this trade combine theoretical knowledge with practical skills derived from training and experience to tackle complex physical challenges in real time. We treat all trees with an incredible respect, never forgetting that these impressive and majestic specimens are also huge, 3-dimensional puzzles capable of incredible destruction. It is this unique perspective that drives us to constantly learn and improve our skills and expand our horizons on both a personal and professional level.
Our trade comprises an enormous body of knowledge which is ever expanding. Thanks to the internet and the vital link between communities of professionals that it fosters, we have seen an explosion of innovation in just the past decade. Every year there are constant improvements in equipment, gear and techniques, and the pace of change is accelerating. It is fast becoming a full-time job to stay current and up to date.
This site is designed to help accelerate the learning curve for new recruits. It is in no way a substitute for schooling, on-the-job training, and experience that comes from doing the work and putting in the time. I do not hope to present a snapshot of cutting edge thinking and methodology in this information age, but rather a more basic foundation of timeless concepts, skills and techniques. With this foundation in place, the student then has a framework from which to evaluate the cutting edge and add to their knowledge base, piece by piece.
The information and techniques presented herein represent the author’s own education, experience, observations and insights gleaned from climbing and rigging in countless trees over 10 years. I consider the greatest asset in this trade and in this life to be an insatiable hunger for learning. Saying this, the attitudes that have helped me most over the years are:
1. Always assuming there is a better way to do something than the way I currently do it.
I have always made it my goal to apply this type of thinking to everything – whether I have been doing the thing in question for just a short while, or my entire life. It is a mindset that has opened many doors to learning and fulfillment. It goes beyond merely keeping an open mind, and involves actively seeking out better ways of getting things done by treating everything as a process of continual improvement.
2. Gathering facts and establishing truth through constant experimentation and experience as opposed to accepting truth from authority.
As Francis Bacon once said, “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority”. One must never blindly accept as truth the stated opinions or “true facts” of those in positions of power or authority, whether you consider that authority to be somehow legitimate and authentically earned – or not. Exercise your own brain; find your own truth.
The reader is encouraged to view all content from this author and indeed from any author, as opinion rather than dogma. There will be material presented here that you do not agree with. I am fine with that. We must always be mindful in our critical analysis to carefully consider all the information given, in order to ensure that we do not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. It is your duty as a lifelong learner to question everything, regardless of the source. If I can request anything of the reader it is this: please do not consider my word on anything as gospel, and please do not consider me an authority figure on anything. I am simply a student, and this site is simply my thoughts and opinions on complex issues.
My name is Patrick Masterson, aka TreeMuggs. I am a husband, father, arborist, serial entrepreneur, and teacher, as well as a podcast addict, homesteader, university dropout, and semi-professional used book collector. Have you ever had your 7-year old make fun of you for having too many books? Yeah, I’m that guy.
Before the internet, books were everything. If I had a project, I went to the library and was lucky to find a book on the subject that was only 20 years old. Nowadays if your sources are more than just a few years old, your information is probably hopelessly outdated. We live in a time of unprecedented change, and information is the new currency.
Early on, I discovered that I could learn anything, anything at all if my interest was high enough. Given the resources and sufficient time, the only barrier to mastery was my own will to learn. Now for me, the will to learn is either there or it isn’t. It is not something that I can talk myself into. The will to learn must be authentic for the learning to be authentic.
I am 35 years old at the time of this writing (June 2016). I began climbing recreationally in 2007 and I have worked as a staff-climber, self-employed climber, and contract climber since 2008, in and around London, Ontario, Canada. I have shared knowledge with countless professionals and semi-professionals and I have always wished I had a dedicated space to capture and share this material. EducatedClimber is that space. The information presented here is opinionated and raw. I do not burden myself with political correctness. I am not affiliated with governing bodies of the trade. I am an actual, working, production arborist and tree climber.
I have always been of the opinion that a climbing arborist is really 2 jobs in one:
- knowing how to climb and work-position, access an entire tree, ie. the practical, physical aspect
- cutting & rigging, getting required work done, ie. the technique, theory aspect
A recreational tree climber has a huge learning curve just to be able to access trees, but they don’t need to know anything about cutting and rigging. Conversely, an arborist who uses a bucket truck exclusively has to know an immense amount about getting work done in the air, but they don’t need to know anything about climbing. A climbing arborist, on the other hand, needs to know everything about both aspects and be able to combine them seamlessly into a complete package of aerial production. This is one reason that beginning climbers can be so quickly overwhelmed.
EducatedClimber is designed to catalogue the core information, skills and techniques required for long-term success as a professional in this trade. It is my goal to present a comprehensive package for arborists of all stripes: practical, physical knowledge as well as technical, theoretical knowledge. It is designed to be consumed in a non-linear fashion: take what you like, ignore what you don’t.
There is so much conflicting and contradictory information available on the internet. My hope is that you will find this site highly valuable, informative, and useful as a primary resource. Never stop learning, never stop sharing, never stop growing – in work as in life.
Patrick Masterson (TreeMuggs)
Co-owner, ConservaTree Inc.
ISA Certified Arborist #ON-1467A
ON Certified Arborist #444A-
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