“I'll tell you what it's not – it's not an adrenaline activity. It's not a zipline. It's more… more contemplative.”
David Anderson wants you to climb a tree. And not just for the hell of it (though that is a totally valid reason).
He wants you to climb a tree and undergo a shift in perspective, both of the world around you and the world within you.
David is the founder and executive director of CanopyWatch, a nonprofit organization that “guides people into trees to empower personal and scientific discovery.” And this weekend, on Saturday, May 13, CanopyWatch is hosting a public tree climb at the Boise Tree Climbing Competition in Julia Davis Park. It’s a one-day event for the public of all abilities to get a new view of the city and its trees.
Learning to climb
Tree climbing was not something that David planned to get into. In 1995, he was a graduate student at Boise State studying birds. He had dreamed up a plan to study birds of prey in Central America, where he would live and study in a small village in a remote corner of Honduras, accessible only by taking a two-day journey in dug-out canoes. David’s goal was to study birds from canopy emergent trees, or trees that are so big and tall they stick out above the surrounding forest. He figured that from this vantage point, he’d be able to watch birds of prey fly through and over the forest, track their movements, and do his research.
But there was one catch: David didn’t really know how to climb a tree.
Sure, he had climbed trees as a kid and he had practiced climbing a few cottonwood trees along the Boise River prior to his trip. But canopy emergent trees are massive. These are not your typical backyard trees; these are 200-1400 year old trees stretching up to 200 feet into the sky. Their lowest limbs can be 80 feet off the ground. Upon his arrival in the rainforest, David realized that he was underprepared. But he was determined, and up he went.
He climbed one tree, then another, and another. And with each tree, he began to notice something happening to him. Each day as he climbed, he felt himself enter a state of total concentration, hyper aware of his surroundings. His full attention was on his immediate environment: the massive tree trunk in front of him, the rope and harness that connected him to the tree, branches and leaves above and around him, thousands of birds calling and cawing.
“You see so many things at the top of a tropical rainforest. Birds and plants and insects. Amazing sunsets. I went through some really hard thunder showers,” said David. “The thunderstorms can happen so fast – faster than you can even get out of the tree. You're sitting up there and next thing you know, you’re in a total downpour.”
Being up in these trees, David shifted into a completely conscious state – mind, body, and spirit. He was entirely aware of his vulnerability, and of his total dependence on the tree and climbing gear. He was in awe of the life around him. He was completely immersed in the natural world. Time would slow to a crawl and every movement, gesture, thought was performed with absolute clarity. It changed David on a fundamental level.
David would go on to earn his Masters degree, then he went to Louisiana to earn his PhD. He enjoyed studying birds in the south, but he missed Boise. So he returned to the City of Trees and started CanopyWatch as a way to share what he learned and witnessed about the transformative power of climbing trees.
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City of Trees
Boise is where the desert meets the mountains. This time of year, a sea of green treetops flow through the valley, lapping at the base of the foothills to the north and petering out toward the Owyhee desert to the south.
“Without the trees in this city, Boise would be a bleak place to live. Imagine having no shade, no foliage and no birds – it would be awful,” said David. “But people don't appreciate that on a day to day basis.”
Trees are an integral part of Boise – perhaps its most important feature. Long before white settlement of the valley, trees along the river provided shade for native tribes traveling across the desert of southern Idaho. In the early 1800s, French fur trappers supposedly looked out over the valley from Bonneville Point and shouted, “see the trees” or, “see the wooded place” or, “voir la place boisée.”
Even before Boise became a city, its citizens were planting trees. Thomas Jefferson Davis arrived in the area in the spring of 1863 and became one of the first homesteaders in Idaho Territory. The following year he planted 7,000 fruit trees on 320 acres, which would become known as The Davis Orchard. In 1899, Tom and his wife, Julia, offered a section of their land to become a public park. It wouldn't come to fruition until 1907, after Julia's death, when Tom Davis sold 40 acres of land to the city for $1 and named the park in his late wife's honor.
In 1871, William Morris began digging a canal to use the Bench area for agriculture. His project transformed the desert landscape and enabled settlement from the rim out to Five Mile Road, where homesteaders planted acres of fruit orchards and farmlands.
As Boise grew up, it adopted the nickname “City of Trees,” one that it shares with more than a dozen other cities around the US. Our city is a designated “Tree City USA” community. We are one of 59 communities in Idaho, and the largest of Idaho's Tree City communities. (The smallest is Samaria, a tiny unincorporated community in eastern Idaho near the Utah border with a population of 138.) Boise is also a designated Tree City of the World. It's one of 169 cities worldwide, 39 US cities, and the only city in Idaho with this designation.
According to an Idaho Capitol Sun article, a Treasure Valley Forest Carbon Assessment estimated that there are currently 2.4 million trees in the Treasure Valley, and we still have room for twice as many.
That same report also found that our urban forests provide nearly $10 million annually in economic benefits from improved air quality, decreased storm water runoff and carbon storage.
According to Treasure Valley Canopy Network, the Treasure Valley's Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) removes 581 tons of air pollutants annually, which translates to an annual value of $7 million in reduced adverse human health impacts. Our UTC also mitigates 125 million gallons of stormwater by intercepting precipitation which can be absorbed by the vegetation and infiltrated into the soil, saving an estimate of $1.1 million in infrastructure costs annually.
In addition, urban forests provide shade, which reduces demand for energy to cool homes and businesses in the summer months. Trees also have many known social benefits as well, including happier communities, safer streets, increased property value, and increased income to businesses.
Trees are, and always have been, a really important part of life in Boise. David Anderson knows this, and he invites you to deepen your awareness and connection to Boise by climbing one of its trees.
The Boise Tree Climbing Competition
Don’t let the name scare you. Only one part of the climb on Saturday is an actual competition.
Professional arborists will compete on Saturday, May 13 from 8am-6pm. Climbers from Boise and beyond participate in five events: aerial rescue, belayed speed climb, ascent event/secured footlock, throw line, and work climb. The top four qualifiers are guaranteed a spot to compete in the PNW Chapter Tree Climbing Championship this fall in Tacoma, Washington. This event is free and open for the public to watch.
Nearby, the Public Tree Climb hosted by CanopyWatch will be taking place from 10am-3pm. The climb is open to anyone – all ages and all abilities, including adaptive climbers. It’s $30 to participate (free for adaptive climbers) and includes all gear and instruction.
“People come with all kinds of fears to these tree climbs. They are afraid of heights or don't think they can physically do it or it looks scary and risky,” said David.
But there's always a before and an after.
“We start on the ground and people have that tense posture, you know, their arms are crossed and their faces look really serious,” said David. “But then they go up and climb for a while, and when they come back down, they have these huge smiles.”
There’s still spots left to climb a tree this weekend. Learn more and reserve your spot to climb by visiting canopywatch.com
Thanks for reading!
With love from Boise,
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PS - David gave a TED talk about this. You can watch it here.
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