They start with nervous faces.
They don't know what to expect. They see the equipment and look up at 40-foot, 50-foot and even 80-foot trees, and their eyes become wide.
Then they get off of the ground. And within 24 hours they are in the canopies of trees with confident, awestruck faces. The transformation is amazing.
Who are they? They are women. They are 20- to 50-year-old gardeners, grad students, bird-lovers, soccer moms and nature devotees. And with the help of a two-day Women's Tree Climbing Workshop, they become tree climbers.
The women arrive at the Milton, Mass.-based Mary M. B. Wakefield Estate, driving up the dirt road and approaching the old farmhouse. Nerves hang thick in the air.
The instructors - four experienced certified arborists: Melissa LeVangie, a USDA climber; Bear Scovil, a USDA climber: Jen Kettell, an Arnold Arboretum horticulturist; and myself - teach the attendees about safety and using the equipment. We talk about ropes, saddles, helmets, eye protection, knots, hitches, hip thrusting and footlocking. For four hours, we give them an extensive rundown on climbing techniques, proper equipment use and safety.
We have lunch catered by Puddingstone Kitchen. We camp together. We do yoga together in a formal garden. We talk about our highs and lows from each day. We bond.
By the second half of day one, we are in the trees. The experience is hands-on. Instructors are up in the trees with students, and we talk through the different climbing situations and challenges and celebrate the successes.
On day two, attendees spend the whole day climbing. They climb a Norway spruce that is just over 80 feet tall. It's one of the tallest trees on the property. We install a hammock ¾ of the way up, and one of our instructors takes a photo of the women up there as they enjoy the view. It's a beautiful vista, overlooking the Blue Hills of Massachusetts. We also climb 40- to 50-foot Norway maples. We put markers and bags full of snacks in the trees so people have goals to work toward.
In the end, the experience is empowering. It's a huge part of why I stay committed to the workshop. It's amazing what each woman takes away from the event. It's life changing - for us as instructors to teach these women how to climb, and for the people who through the process become more comfortable with trees and more confident with themselves.
Are you a gardener who wants to learn how to climb and get a little closer to nature? Check out the Women's Tree Climbing Workshop on Facebook. Share your climbing experiences with us as well here or on Davey's Facebook page!