Summer 2010

On Henry Mall

Students dangle amid the branches of a swamp white oak tree as part of a class demonstration of safe climbing techniques.

You’d have to say Lizzi Lathers looked a little anxious, as students often do when taking on a new lesson.

But most lessons don’t come while suspended 15 feet in the air.

That’s where the CALS junior found herself one day in April, clinging to a rope lassoed high among the branches of the swamp white oak tree in front of the Microbial Sciences Building. As she dangled, Sean Gere, the professional arborist who coaxed her up there, offered encouragement.

“Just trust the rope,” he called out. “The loop will hold your weight.”

“Really?” Lathers asked, peering at the harness suspiciously. “Promise?”

Climbing a tree safely and confidently is a matter of experience and preparation. In Horticulture 375, CALS’ course on arboriculture and landscape maintenance, students get a unique opportunity to gain their footing by spending one class session literally learning the ropes. Organized by associate professor Laura Jull, the demonstration is intended to show students the equipment and techniques professional arborists use when pruning or treating trees.

“It can take months or even years to really become a good climber,” says Jull. “So obviously, we just give them a taste of it. But it’s an important skill to master if you’re interested in arboriculture.”

So, too, are tree biology, pest management, and disease treatment and prevention, all subjects Jull explores in depth as part of the class. But none of those topics elicit quite the same response as strapping into a harness and heading up into the branches.

“I’m not a huge risk-taker, but I couldn’t resist the chance to surround myself in that beautiful tree,” says Lathers, a horticulture major. “Horticulture is best learned hands-on, and this class has capitalized on that.”

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