Dealing with Fear

Fear image

If you’re going to be a tree climber, you’ll have to decide how far you want to progress down that road, and whether or not you have what it takes to do the tough jobs. And if you decide you have the requisite physical as well as mental fiber to take on the tough ones, sooner or later fear will be confronted. It is an aspect of the climbing tree-surgeon’s work that on occasion must be dealt with.
My father spoke of the feeling you get on the drive to a tough one, knowing you’re the one who is going to do it. There’s little idle, lighthearted chit-chat on those days; mostly there is silence. You are staying centered and focused.
Fear catches up with us all, even the battle-hardened veterans. Those who haven’t felt it haven’t done the tough ones. Neophytes may think they have no fear, will never know fear. Experience will teach them otherwise. Experienced sailors don’t earn any less respect for the power of the sea.
The same holds true for us tree climbers. The elation of finishing off a tough one is best taken with a grain of salt. The experienced dogs know there’s always another one out there even more nerve-racking than the last.
There is no dishonor in being scared in a tree. I’ve spent my share of days scared in trees, with wide-eyed, gut-wrenching, head-spinning fear. Apprehension, a healthy respect for what might or could happen, is natural.
Fear is mental in nature. Long, deep breaths can quiet and control a racing mind, relaxing the knot in the stomach. The mind is prone to melodrama and loves to make mountains out of molehills. Keeping this in mind, along with the conscious breathing, is effective when dealing with fear, quieting the mind, leading to the “don’t think, just do” state of consciousness.
You make a few easy cuts to warm up and start to settle down, eventually dropping down into the “zone” spoken of by athletes and sports psychologists. That dropping down is a definite physical sensation. It can’t be forced. Let it happen. Go with the flow. Let the answer for that tough knuckle-cut come as it will.
To act in the face of fear, the inner strength of nerve can be developed through experience. Some tree climbers, even bucket operators, lose their nerve temporarily and regain it. Some break and crack, losing their nerve for good. But without nerve, one will never get the tough ones done.
Nerve goes beyond head-centered consciousness to consciousness rooted in the intestines. Intestinal fortitude. There are as many neurons in the intestines as there are in the brain, so I’ve been told. Nerve is essential for those who dare to accept the challenge of the tough ones.
With the emergence of the grapple-saw truck, fear and nerve have been marginalized. But those rigs can’t get into every tough one. There still is a need for those willing to accept the challenge, confront fear and take on the tough ones.
Michael Hoppe is owner/operator of Michael Hoppe Arborist, a two-person operation based in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

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