The guy began to climb into the tree, using the ladder his partner had leaned against the trunk. He stepped up the rungs of the aluminum extension ladder until he reached the point at which the massive trunk split into giant limbs. Those limbs were no longer vertical like the trunk; they gently bent and tilted upward in the way typical of Arizona ash trees.
Over his left shoulder draped a dirty, turquoise-colored rope, thick as my wrist, stained with mud and grass and bark and sweat. It was at least 100 feet long. As he stepped off the ladder onto the trunk, he wrapped his arms around one of the secondary branches, pushing one foot into the joint between the trunk and the largest branch and the other onto the middle of a main branch, which put him in an almost locked position; he couldn’t fall unless he let go. Then, he threw one end of the rope, which had a metal loop attached to it, up toward a tertiary branch ten or twelve feet above him. The rope slipped over the branch; the metal loop served as a weight, dragging one end of the rope around the branch and back down to him. He quickly make some loops with the rope, attached one end of the looped rope to a metal clip attached to his harness, and scampered up higher, to the lower of the broken branches.
Dangling from the right side of his harness was a small, gas-powered chain saw. Once he had a good foothold in the crook where two big branches went their separate ways, wedging his body between branches, he reached down, unclipped the chain saw, and pulled the cord. It didn’t start. He pulled it again. This time, it whined for a moment, then started with a dull buzz that grew louder as he reached up and placed the fast-moving blade against the underside of a broken branch, just under the spot where the wood had splintered and caused the limb to bend sharply down. In an instant, the broken branch fell. What had looked, from the ground, like a rather small limb crashed to the ground with unexpected violence. It was heavy, very heavy, gouging a deep scar into the ground when it struck.
Quickly, but carefully, he clipped the now silent chain saw back onto the harness, then used the rope to pull himself up a bit higher to another branch. Bracing himself against a large limb in the middle of the tree, he swung to another large branch to the left. Once in position, he again pulled the chain saw from his harness, pulled the cord to start it, then sent the broken branches crashing down.
This scene repeated four or five times until all the obvious damage was cut from the tree. He lowered himself from the highest branch to the ground, removed the end of the turquoise rope from his harness, and pulled the rope down from the tree. Once the rope was laying on the ground, he carefully looped it over his left shoulder again, then moved on to the large oak tree.
The limbs on the north side of the oak tree, which just days earlier had rested on the roof of the house, had recovered quite a bit. But some of the big branches hadn’t just been bent, they had snapped. Using the same technique he had used on the Arizona ash, the guy pulled himself up to within reach of the places where the wood had been unable to sustain the weight of the ice and had cracked. Unlike the Arizona ash, the oak still had most of its leaves, so he was partially hidden among the branches as he thinned the damaged limbs and branches from the tree.
The entire process took about an hour, maybe just a bit more. If I had been thirty years younger and eighty pounds lighter, I might have undertaken the task myself. But I was glad to put the job in the hands of very agile guys who knew the intricacies of using gas-powered chain saws while climbing into and out of tall trees. I paid the guys in cash, $275. It was half what I would have paid some of the other tree trimmers who are working feverishly to clear out countless broken limbs from thousands of trees damaged by the December 2013 ice storm.