Who rescues a drone when it’s stuck in a 90-foot pine tree? When other attempts fail, you can always enlist the services of professional tree climber Keith Harmon Snow. A desperate drone owner in Maine called Snow after he had tried everything to get his device down. Snow ascended a towering tree in under an hour – straight up, since there were no supportive branches – and rappelled down in half-a-minute, drone in hand. It was a happier ending than his recent cat rescue attempt, when he spent four hours in a tree, trying to grab a skittish feline. The cat eventually jumped 80 feet, hit a truck, and needed $3,000 worth of surgery.
It’s hard predict what will happen when you’re up in a tree, says Snow, but he almost always gains a new perspective from on high. Snow, 57, who runs Wildcat Tree Climbing and Care in Williamsburg, is a certified climber who goes where bucket trucks and cranes cannot. He tops off trees the way lumberjacks used to, scaling them, then using a chainsaw and hand tools to prune and trim.
Snow also is a tree climbing instructor who has taught the ins and outs of ropes, harnesses, and lanyards to canopy researchers, bird watchers, ecotourism operators, arborists and recreational tree climbers. In fact, he says, tree climbing has reached new heights of popularity, with international organizations holding tree climbing competitions, and 365 enthusiasts, who climb a different tree every day of the year. The Globe spoke with Snow about his work.
“Why climb trees? For the view and to feel the wind, sun, and listen to the birds. It’s one way to commune with nature and help find peace and clarity. Trees have souls. It’s a spiritual experience for me – and many other tree adherents.
“But I also climb trees to earn a living, although its one of the most dangerous careers in the US. My rate is $120 an hour for off-ground and $75 an hour for ground work using a chainsaw.
“I started tree servicing when I was about 14, working in the woods with my father. I took a long hiatus, but six years ago, when a friend asked me to lop off a branch, I thought, ‘no problem,’ climbed up with my chainsaw – and almost cut my head off when my ladder slid from beneath me. When I got home, I immediately found a NETC class (New England Tree Climbing) and signed up. That’s how my tree climbing career began. The tallest trees I’ve climbed so far are two 140-footers that I chopped down over Menla Mountain lodge in upstate New York. The moment my chainsaw made the final cut and the top flew off, I felt such exuberance. I swayed back and forth — suddenly, I could see all around me and I realized it was all downhill, so to speak, from there.
“Personally, I like heights, but as a tree worker who has had close calls, I’m not so carefree as I used to be, especially if I have to do any cutting. Two months ago, I fell 27 feet straight down because my rope was poorly secured on a high limb. It was my error – it was late and I was in a hurry. So safety is one of the top priorities, of course, when I teach my tree climbing class. After an hour of classroom lecture, and practicing three feet off the ground, my students are up higher, practicing limb walking, ascending and descending, double rope technique, and then single rope technique. I can tell when students have a good climb, because they’re pressing their limits. Afterwards, they’re tired out, smiling, and ready to climb on their own.
“As a tree climber, I’ve explored the world’s most fantastic forest ecosystems in the Congo, Madagascar, Sumatra, Thailand, and Vancouver Island. Sitting back in the high canopy is a blessed experience. We should all try to branch out sometime and climb a tree again.”