The sparrowhawk nest we found a few weeks ago is about fifteen meters off the ground. It is a tightly woven conical shape structure made of sticks close to the trunk of a typical sitka spruce – the kind a tree surgeon friend calls a “pole”. The tree is so straight, so tall, and so covered in thin dead branches sticking out in all directions from the main trunk, that I just can’t get my head around how on earth I am going to climb it?
This is a rather blurry photo of me pointing my binoculars at the nest in horror.
And this is what I can see through my binoculars – you can see clearly the nest is surrounded by lots and lots of sharp branches!
Tree climbing isn’t on the list of my hobbies as I am terrified of heights to the point of panic, but for some reason we decided earlier on that it will be me climbing the tree to take a spar chick from the nest. I think we both thought it’ll be hilarious and will make good tape. Yes, I can just picture the drama – me hugging the tree paralysed with fear, unable to move up or down, in tears, terrified and begging to be rescued, and yet having to complete the mission.
But also deep inside I want to be the one climbing the tree and taking the chick. This is a good opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and face my phobia.
So yesterday I did a trial climb of a sitka spruce but in a different location to avoid disturbing the nesting spar. Our colleague and friend is a professional tree climber and has all the gear. He tried to talk me through the technical names but somehow it didn’t stick and all I can say is there is a harness, a rope, carabiners, and spikes for shoes.. But it is really amazing how few things one actually needs to climb a tree!
The idea is simple – you have spikes on your shoes and they help you grip to the tree but if you slip you won’t fall because you have a rope that wraps around the trunk and keeps you secure. You move the rope higher with your hands, then make small steps up the trunk with your feet and then move the rope higher again and so on.
Essentially you are slowly walking up a tree.
So as I watched in slight panic and anticipation I had many disaster related thoughts, like what if a squirrel suddenly jumps out and startles me? What if I need to pee as I am half-way up?
But I’ve reached the point of no return, and unless I was prepared to face the shame of being another scared weakling, I just had to get on with it.
So here I was all geared up ready for that tree.
Something amazing happened when I started my ascent – very quickly I fell in love with the process. It’s hard to describe how it feels to be so high off the ground, to be close to the mossy trunk, smelling resin in the moist folds of the tree. To be able to see the land and people below and to get that one long uninterrupted view from the height is just so precious. And I can see how tree climbing can become addictive.
My progress was slow, I didn’t climb very high, maybe only six meters. And I did have a few moments of doubt and fear, but they were quickly gone because I had to focus my thoughts on the immediate task of putting each foot higher and moving the rope.
A very blurry photo of me smiling.
In a few days I will try climbing higher and hopefully will take better photos of how magical Irish woodland looks from above.