Friday, October 1, 2010

A Treetop Perpective

By Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator

Last week, I got to see the world from the top of an old growth Douglas-fir. It was a spectacular view from up there, as you might expect, with vistas of forests, mountains and ocean spreading out toward the horizon. The view up close was more unique, however, because it’s a rare experience to leave the ground and ascend two hundred feet in the air right next to a four-hundred-fifty year old tree. I got a bird’s eye view of the canopy of an old growth forest.

I should explain that I did not actually climb this tree. A collection of ropes, pulleys, and devices to protect both me and the tree made the ascent possible. After strapping on a climbing harness, I was attached to the rope that lifted me airborne with the assistance of several experienced, professional arborists. These professionals are completely dedicated to a “leave no trace” approach and they take great care to protect every branch, the bark, and all living organisms associated with the tree. An arborist ascended the tree on a separate rope a few feet away from me and acted as a guide as we rose up into the canopy. The guided ascent of the tree was offered as part of a conference entitled “Life in the Trees”.

Big, old trees are awe-inspiring, impressive, living things. Beyond their power to impress us, however, they also are home to birds, mammals, amphibians, mosses, lichens, fungi and vascular plants. Researchers have discovered sizeable hemlock trees growing out of the broken tops of ancient redwoods. We are learning that there are airborne ecosystems in tree canopies. We are learning that there is a lot going on in the treetops that we do not know very much about. To me, that speaks clearly toward the need to protect the remaining giants of the forests.

I loved climbing trees when I was a child. Thinking about it now, I remember pulling myself up through the branches and challenging myself to make it higher up in the canopy. I remember the rustling of leaves, the smell of the bark on my palms, shafts of light through the branches and the thrill of seeing the ground from new heights. Most of all, I think that I just loved being up there in a special, secret world near the top of a tree. I’m here to report that it’s still a wonderful place to be.

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