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So You Want to be an Arborist?

February 14, 2011

"Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical." - Yogi Berra

Math challenges aside, there are days like today when the mental heavy lifting involved makes me think the same could be said about arboriculture.

I'm currently studying for an exam at one of the oldest, though relatively obscure, training institutions in North America. It's The Davey Institute of Tree Sciences, better known as DITS. The brochure might describe a century-plus, industry-leading training program focused on practical arboriculture research and scientific advancements in tree physiology, entomology, and pathology, but I think of it more as training on steroids - a two-year degree packed into four intense weeks. It's challenging, but there's great energy here, and the hallways are buzzing with talented instructor/scientists and eager arborists.

So how did I get here?

A few years back, you could find me rock climbing or snowboarding. So, armed with a love of outdoor adventure and a desire to work with nature, my career choice was a natural: I wanted to be a park ranger. But, that career derailed quickly after enrolling at the Stockbridge School, part of UMASS Amherst.

It was there I took a climbing course in the context of arboriculture, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So what's a day in the life of an arborist like? It's not all cool climbing adventures. It starts early, at 7:00, followed by coffee and a bagel breakfast.

Every day our crews start with a pre-job meeting to discuss the day's challenges: team roles, the equipment we'll need, any tree or site hazards - safety is something we emphasize at every moment of the day. We also discuss the job as seen through the client's eyes, what are their goals and concerns, etc. Clear communication can't be stressed enough.

No matter where I end up that day, training and education are always with me. The job can be physically demanding, so staying in shape is important. Running, yoga and Pilates serve as my support system there. Field training is equally vital, from securely tying into a tree to making a proper pruning cut.

Finally: classroom training. Programs like DITS are indispensible because they allow you to understand and communicate the science behind arboriculture. Ironically, my experience as a student is a bit easier because I've had the opportunity to teach, but that's a story for another day. (At the Women's Tree Climbing workshop I had the chance to serve as a basic climbing instructor. In two days the new climbers, from gardeners to soccer moms, were confidently climbing and ready to overcome any future challenges.)

I've been asked who my mentor or hero is … it's probably a good thing this blog is posted on Valentine's Day since my answer is, without question, my husband Ed.

His passion inspires me, and for the past 15 years he's dedicated himself to training and equipping arborists and other "industrial athletes" with the goal of preventing injuries and prolonging their careers.

Ok, enough of the sappy stuff.

So where do you start if you want to join our arborist community, where you get to combine art and science every day? First, do your research. Find a good company, one that cares about its employees, safety, and clients. The theme of this post rings true here - training and education are essential, particularly if you are interested in a career, not just a job. Ask questions. Talk to employees that work for the company. Talk to your instructors and professors, if applicable.

Good luck on your journey!

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