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October 9, 2017

Who said the Easter bunny can’t climb trees?


It may be most unusual to be talking about an Easter Egg hunt in the middle of fall, but this was no usual Easter Egg hunt! It would be fallacious to say that the lead climbers at Downey Trees don’t make an effort to teach the skills that they know to those who would seek to learn. The proof could be seen in colorful eggs dangling precariously from the trees at our Norcross facility last April.

Second climbers are a critical link in the Tree Care crew. While there to help the groundsman as the lead climber lowers cut sections of the tree to the ground, he is also the lifeline to the aerial member of the crew in the event of an emergency; he becomes the first responder – the person that mounts an aerial rescue if the lead climber gets into trouble. Teaching and daily training are a critical ingredient in upward mobility at Downey (pun intended!), as is always instilling a “Safety First” mentality. It is the second climber that trains the groundsman, and as exemplified by this Easter Egg hunt, it is the lead climber that trains the second climber. While the desire for self-preservation may be one motive for this ongoing training program, one can easily see after reading this that this school raises the bar in terms of creativity and thoughtful preparation. The headmaster of this unusual classroom was Matt Warzecha, who devised the course and sponsored the prizes. While Matt might make an Easter Egg hunt easy for little kids- not so for the second climbers at Downey Trees!

Matt originally got the idea for this “aerial egg hunt” from one of his trainers who once asked: “If there was a 100-Dollar Bill out there, could you get it?” Matt adapted this thought into a real-life training in a real-life setting. He had four main objectives in mind when planning his hunt:

  1. To develop pride within the learning climbers: not only in the skills they were learning and mastering, but also in their overarching skills as a professional Tree Care Provider.
  2. To stretch their skills to the next level: to force the climber to think through the challenge, develop a plan and execute it in the process of achieving the goal (retrieving the egg!).
  3. To have fun: what better way to learn well than to have a good time while doing it?
  4. To always have safety at the forefront: if the climber happened to be away from the trunk of the tree, how would he get to the outside of the tree to do a rescue?

Matt hung eggs in places that would challenge the nimblest Easter Bunny, and the accompanying photos clearly show that the hurdles to attain the prizes contained in the eggs were significant in most cases. Each egg was carefully placed to test the skill of the climber, to force him to develop a strategy to retrieve the egg – not just a simple climb and fetch. Needless to say, the better the prize inside the egg, the more difficult the retrieval process was. Each climber had the opportunity to try to meet the challenge of the egg hunt, but was only allowed one successful climb.

Some of the climbers showed great skill in moving up and around in the trees, others clearly needed the practice that was offered through the exercise, though all exhibited skills far superior to those of this writer! Alejandro slipped up the tree and grabbed the egg he had his eye on before anyone with a camera could capture him in action. His eye was on the pink egg, and while he was stealthy going up the tree, he proudly flaunted his prize back on the ground!

The photos not only illustrate some of the challenges faced in developing a strategy toward achieving their goal, they reveal the fun that the climbers had participating in the Easter Egg hunt. Anthony was arguably one of the more challenged climbers – to say that he “stretched himself” in his quest for an egg is a bit of an understatement! Matt’s thinking was to have him set his climbing line in an adjacent tree to reach the egg, precariously hung from a fairly small limb, the limb attached to a relatively small tree. Anthony developed quite a different plan: he climbed the smaller tree directly. While he did eventually retrieve the egg, he also won the consolation prize of the limb from which the egg was hung- broken from Anthony’s excessive weight for the size of the limb! The photo shows his final reach as things began to go awry. What may have been lacking in grace was certainly made up for in pride and safe accomplishment: the climber retrieved the egg safely and the tree survives as well, albeit with one broken limb!

The rewards for a safe retrieval were significant: less difficult climbs yielded $25 Home Depot Gift Cards and were won by Pablo, Andrew, and Alejandro. Intermediate challenges received $50 Visa Gift Cards and were taken by Anthony and Carlos. The grand prize was a bowl carved from a burl, or hardened tumor-like growth that forms on the trunk or limbs of a tree. Such carvings are an art form and can be very expensive: this one was valued at $150!

What’s the takeaway from all of this adult Easter Egg hunting? For the second climbers, a positive learning experience and a real skill-builder: accomplishing all of the objectives that our aerial Easter Bunny had in mind! For the lead climbers, enhanced skills within their crews that can make them more efficient and could even save their life. For Downey Trees, a safer work force better prepared to face a challenging tree removal or situation – a work force better able to solve problems strategically. Additionally, Downey recognizes in Matt Warzecha a lead climber with a gift for teaching. For our customers, a job done better, more safely, and more likely without collateral damage. And finally, for Matt, the satisfaction of a successful training exercise through problem-solving and reward for effort.