Tales of Adventure 3rd-Place Winner: Who’s Crazy? by Harry Bloom

By Guest Contributor December 15, 2014 12:25

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This story was the third-place winner in our Winter 2014-’15 Tales of Adventure Contest, which asked FAN readers to write about a real-life adventure.  A 61-year-old tree climber from Valley Springs, Harry Bloom describes an adventure that took place 60 feet off the ground along the California coast during a powerful winter storm. “This is high drama amid 40 mph winds and from atop wildly swaying trees,” says judge Chris Bateman. “Told by a writer who knows the tree-trimming trade, the story is gripping, tense and seasoned with wry humor.”

By Harry Bloom

A lot of people think that anyone who earns a living as a professional tree climber is a little bit crazy – I climbed trees to earn a living for many years, and I’m willing to accept that as a given.

Tree climbing is hazardous work, ranking at or near the top of the “most dangerous jobs” list.  But that doesn’t mean that every climber is really crazy. Training and education enable everyone to assess risk, evaluate a situation and make informed, reasoned decisions as to what steps to take.

Yeah, right.

The fact is, somebody has to go up there and get the job done, and if you are going to call yourself a tree service, that means you.

Powerful winter storms along the California coast take a toll in life and property every year.  During one such storm, I was called by the owner of a cliffside lot to make a large Monterey cypress tree safe for a neighboring house whose resident, a plucky 79-year-old, would not leave her home despite an evacuation advisory.

When I checked in with her before I began the job, she told me driftwood had blown off the beach and hit her second-floor windows, but that she was going to stay in her house “come hell or high water.”

The high water was already there, with tidal surges swirling around the unprotected side of her house at the end of a line of beach houses backed by a steep cliff. She said the cypress had gotten her attention because its limbs were waving crazily, like the tree was possessed by some supernatural force fighting the onslaught of the storm. She windmilled both arms, cast her eyes toward the heavens, and shook her head back and forth so she looked like the Swamp Thing running through a hurricane. No offense intended, but it did make an impression.

The wind was blowing about 40 miles per hour through the fog and misting rain as I climbed the huge cypress and removed the potentially hazardous limbs.

It was only when I got back on the ground and looked up at the cliff again that I saw the two pine trees on a slide area on the face of the cliff.  Towering more than 100 feet, they were poised to fall right on the house! Excavation for a storm drain at the base of the cliff below the pines had resulted in severe erosion during the storm, making these trees an even greater threat than the cypress. I called the property owner and got the go-ahead to take the pines down.

Applying all my skill, summoning an extra reserve of nerve and counting heavily on luck to keep the wind direction favorable, I climbed the first pine and took out the top. It took my breath away with it as I watched it sail down from the tree and hit the sand, while I held on for the ride atop the 60-foot stick left wagging back and forth across the stormy sky.

About a dozen people had gathered on the beach, at first to watch the storm and then to watch the timber show. They cheered and applauded when that top, the remaining stick and the other threatening pine fell to the saw. When I came down off the cliff to buck up the wood, a couple of people came up to me and just shook my hand. Several asked for a business card. A few days later there was an article in the local paper, and they even spelled my name right!

That evening on the phone, the property owner thanked me for my prompt and effective action, citing both his potential liability if the trees had fallen, and that of the county for the storm drain excavation that contributed to the hazard.

But when it was all done, what really mattered to me most was the grateful smile on that plucky old gal’s face when she handed me a hot cup of coffee and said, “You’re crazy.”

She would know.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
By Guest Contributor December 15, 2014 12:25
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