I met one of my mom’s friends, Leslie Orthober, at my show at the Mary Anderson Center last fall. She seemed to really enjoy my work and gave good constructive criticisms. She also told me about a tree in her yard that she thought I would like to climb. She described it as three copper beech trees that grew together to make one massive tree. She said it was 100 feet tall and just as wide, and that twelve children had been climbing on it at one time. I like beech trees and it intrigued me, and since I had one extra day outside of my reclimbing schedule to climb a new tree I called up Leslie to ask if I could climb her tree. She told me 10am on Wednesday so I got up early this morning, ate, got ready, and drove all the way out to J-town.
When I pulled into the Orthober’s driveway I was surprised by their long stretch of property. The driveway itself goes over a tiny creek then winds its way up a slight hill and past a carriage house surrounded by stacks of firewood, by a garage, then finally turns right up in front of their house. As I drove slowly wondering where to stop I saw Leslie standing out in front of the house. I got out and said hello. We got right to it and she led me out front to the large beech tree. I was a little confused as I expected a bigger tree. She had exaggerated or miscalculated the size. It was maybe 60 feet tall and 30-40 feet wide. Still a nice tree and big, but not the monster I had envisioned. It also was dense with branches that thinned quickly as they rose to the sky. She took me a little further out into the yard and a very old maple down by the creek called to me.
It is massive with nice spread out limbs. There are enough to see a path, but a challenging one. I told Leslie I’d rather climb that tree if it was okay with her, and it was. She asked if I needed privacy or if she could watch, and I said she could. She went and got her camera and I walked down to my tree.
The sky was clear and blue today but the sun did little to warm the chilly air.
I knew once I got started climbing I’d warm up so I got right to it and grabbed a hold of the lowest limb. The first ten feet were fast and easy with plenty of branches to move between. But as I moved up into where the trunk splits into its massive leader limbs it became more of a challenge. My momentum slowed and with Leslie watching from below I wanted to take my time.
One move in particular had my left foot crammed sideways in a crevice as I leaned over to another large vertical branch. I knew I had to hug that branch and shimmy up to get higher but I couldn’t figure out how I was going to free my foot. I decided to readjust my foot hold so it wasn’t so bent and crammed, but also much less secure. I leaned back over, hugged tightly and moved my legs over. It felt easy and smooth. I guess you can’t beat good planning and preparation.
From there I kept moving up this main leader shimmying much of the way between forked limbs.
Each one was executed very slowly because I was very high up at this point. I kept looking up to where I think I could get to.
Every step of progress I considered stopping, but then I would study the next move. If I knew I was capable of advancing, I had to.
I have rarely been scared in trees lately but these moves at these heights were quite a thrill.
The entire time, Leslie walked all around the tree snapping countless pictures.
I finally pulled myself up to my stopping point way out one the end of a long branch.
I stood in the crook of a forked limb and held on to each one of its tines. I had made it to my preconceived end and the accomplishment felt so good. I looked down to the ground and I must have been 60-70 feet up.
I looked out all around to see the suburban developments.
I asked Leslie if I could tie a ribbon and she said, of course.
Then I got out my camera and just took picture after picture.
I had an incredible vantage point. The red buds were big and bright out on the ends of the limbs.
I could see now that they were forming into little baby whirligigs. Everything looked so beautiful from up there. I was warm and in my place.
If it were possible to stay, I would have, but my life is not in the trees. That is where my escape from life is.
I put a twig in my mouth and began to climb down. All the difficult shimmying up was quite easy in reverse. But I still had to squeeze for my life and take my time. When I got to that difficult transfer I thought I could skip it and shimmy the whole way down. But I found that wasn’t true. A bump on the limb provided a foot hold to pause as I reached back with my other foot into that crooked crevice. Then I reached back with my hands and the transfer was complete. From there it was easy and really fun going down limb to limb, then hanging and dropping to the ground.
That was a damn good climb and I was incredibly high. I fully expected worry from Leslie and her husband, who came out to watch as well, but they made no such comments. Maybe it’s because they knew what to expect. I’m not sure, but most people who watch me climb make comments about the danger. It was kind of nice they didn’t.
I thanked the Orthobers for offering up their trees, then drove away. That was such an amazing last new climb.
4-10-09: This is the first entry to combine images of the climb from within the tree and from the ground. I think it gives you a nice comparison. I should have arranged this set up more often. I also appreciated the video that Leslie took of me tying my ribbon. It is a good glimpse into my routine from that time. Thanks again to the Orthober’s for the awesome experience.
April 2nd 2009. I had two 4×5 color negatives from a previous Yancey shoot that I needed to get processed. I found that no place in Louisville does this anymore. They have all gone digital. The closest place that was recommended was Robin Imaging Services in Cincinnati, Ohio. I had been meaning to go for a trip up there to see the Tara Donovan show at the CAC so I decided to make the drive. I had to have the negatives at the place by 9am so I got up at 6, drove to my parents and switched vehicles since I don’t trust my truck for long distances.
I made it to Robin’s around 8:50 and then had till 1pm before my negatives were going to be ready but the CAC wasn’t open till 10. I knew immediately what I was going to do. One, I was going to reclimb a tree from my Obama canvassing week back on February of ’08. Then I was going to go to Trader Joe’s.
I first drove over to Eden Park and went straight to the overlook area and parked. I walked up the stone steps to the next overlook spot and spotted my tree.
Last time there was snow on the ground and one guy on a bench.
This time it was sunny, warm, and there was a woman parked in a Prius.
I shimmied the trunk, climbed to my previous high point
and there was my pink ribbon.
Since this project has become something way bigger than I ever thought it would be, I couldn’t take down the ribbon. I had sentimentalized the experience and was so happy the ribbon was still there I wanted it to remain. My whole thoughts of not leaving a trace went by the wayside. I now felt that I wanted to leave my mark.
I took out my string measurement tool and attached my cell phone to the end. I slowly dropped it down and I measured 60 feet from the ground. I took shots of the Ohio River,
the distant bridge,
and nearby Mt. Adams neighborhood on a hill.
I was satisfied I knew my height, but looking down at the water I was curious of how much higher I was from it.
It’s another thing I will never know.
I climbed back down and felt I had more climbs in me. I still had plenty of time and I recalled that tree just down the road that I had climbed in the freezing rain at night. The pictures never really captured the neat characteristics of the tree.
So I got back to the car and parked by the next tree. I climbed up pausing every so often to take pictures of the star-branching limbs
and my view out.
Then, again, found and left my pink ribbon at the top.
I climbed back down and scaled the old stone bridge to take one last shot of the whole tree.
From there I went to Trader Joe’s, stocked up on groceries, and then headed to the CAC. The show was amazing. Tara Donovan does these intricate installations using common materials such as plastic and styrofoam cups, straws, buttons, pins, tape, toothpicks, etc. They are all meticulously stacked, piled, looped, or positioned in mass quantities. My favorite was her wall of straws. Hundreds of thousands of clear drinking straws just simply stacked at the end of the wall.
The light and shadow dances as you move past and the subtle undulations of the stacked weight pulling out from the wall was beautiful. I found myself coming back to that a few times. I highly recommend the visit, and hurry cause it closes May 3rd.
After the CAC I drove back over by Robin’s but knew I was too early and drove on past. I just let the road take me where ever it lead and soon I was near the University of Cinci and Burnett Woods. I took a left into the woods and found the playground where I parked and climbed my first tree of the trip the year before.
I didn’t really want to reclimb the ginkgo but I looked up and saw that the pink ribbon remained in this tree as well.
A nice big one around the trunk. I took a few pictures of that then wandered over to another tree.
It was one I had tried to climb but failed to because of the slippery snow. Since it was warm I knew I could run up the trunk and grab the lowest limb with no problem.
I had to and went for it. I ran up and started to move around the trunk from limb to limb.
A guy in the park walked by watching me. He went over to a distant picnic table and rested on the top.
I continued up as far as I could a little disappointed that I ran out of option far from the top.
But I was still satisfied. I reclimbed two of my Cinci trees and conquered another that I failed to before. It was shaping up to be a fantastic day.
I climbed back down and headed back to Robin’s. The negatives were ready and one turned out pretty good. It was only 12:50pm and I had already had a full day. Knowing that the next day was going to be 2 years of climbing in a row, I was definitely trying to tie up my loose ends and go out in style.