Confessions of a tree-sport athlete

Helping trees find balance takes some thinking.

The weather here in Illinois was stupendous yesterday. Clear and warm by spring standards in this part of the world. In the cool early morning, I rode 20+ miles on a favorite loop through Aurora, out along the Virgil Gilman Trail to Waubonsee Community College and home again with a tailwind.

It wasn’t a hard ride. 17 mph average. That pace was even lifted by the fact that the strong tailwind carried me to 23 mph and faster for long stretches on the return trip. I was simply “enjoying the ride” as they say.

Later that afternoon I rented a 12-foot ladder from Home Depot. My goal was to trim and thin out the trees on the east and west side of our backyard property. There are pines and spruce and birches aligned in the original plantings. Some of the trees were growing lopsided due to impingement by their close neighbors. A tree expert would have remedied this problem long ago. We moved into this house well after the process got started. It’s never too late to help out.

It took some energy to lug that ladder around. I resorted to turning it on its side to drag it across the ground. The folks at Home Depot strongly recommended the twelve-footer over the much larger fourteen foot ladder. The base of that 14-foot monstrosity was nearly four feet across. It probably outweighed the twelve-footer by sixty or seventy pounds. I know, because I lifted it in the store.

I’ve learned a few things about trimming trees over the years, but still feel ignorant about much of it. The timing and the like. My father used to have me do that work at his home. The apple trees out back always shot up what we called “suckers” from the otherwise lateral branches. These needed to be trimmed off or the tree would be pumping too much energy into the extra growth and not grow apples like they should. At least that’s what I was told. It must be true. The apple trees at the country orchard we visit come September are all trimmed and small. The apples look like Christmas ornaments on those elfin trees.

That’s just peachy

The same could be said of the peach tree my father planted in his back yard. One year a branch snapped and he eased his way out there in his wheelchair and pasted black sealant in the scarred limb. It had already blossomed and the peaches grew on the half-dead limb anyway. Sadly, a group of neighbor kids stole a bunch of the peaches that year. But I’d already learned an interesting lesson from my father about peach trees. You don’t give up on them easily. Come fall he instructed me to go out and saw off the torn limb.

Perhaps I’m overthinking the whole tree-trimming experience in some ways, but my father always instructed me to create air and space in the heart of the small apple grove he’d created out back. That meant trimming branches that crossed over others. The trees indeed seemed healthier for the improved circulation and lack of confusion in those branches.

You can see how the birch impinged on the spruce, changing its shape as it grew.

That’s some of what I did with the pines and birches. It was quite an organic process. As I trimmed the birches the sap and water came dripping out of the branches, soaking my head through the mess of my trucker’s cap that reads Just Add Bourbon. The volume of that moisture was incredible to consider. Nothing makes you realize that a tree is a living thing more than the fact that these plants are so well hydrated. There’s a lesson in that for all of us, for sure.

Dead and dry

Some of the compromised branches that I trimmed were indeed dead and dry. These trees were so small when planted years ago it likely never seemed they’d grow big enough to affect the other. In the photo above you can see the skeletal remnants of a smaller birch that completely died. I keep it there for ornamental value and because small birds like to perch on it. The rest of the dead branches I tossed on our fire pit and burned together with the sizzling, crackling pine bows all green and shiny, then smoking.

Balance and growth

It all took a few hours to accomplish, but the end result was satisfying. It made me think about other aspects of life, such as how one area of activity can easily impinge on the other. Parts of ourselves can die off if we’re not careful to keep an eye on balance. That’s particularly true with triathletes as the three sports bump into each other in terms of training time. The sport as a whole can impinge on life itself if we’re not careful, edging out work, relationships and even simple peace of mind. Balance is as important as commitment to growth. The trees can tell you that.

Look, I’m a tree sport athlete!

When it was over I was a bit tired from all that work. So I went upstairs laid down on the floor of our bedroom, raising my legs up on the wall in a yoga pose that I like because it helps circulation in the legs. Turns the sap upside down, you might say. Perhaps it would have been fitting instead to do the “tree pose” by standing on one leg and then the other, but I go with the flow when it comes to yoga.

Sue entered the room and found me upside down on the floor. We’d agreed to go on a three mile run together. It was tough going, I’ll admit. My entire body felt sluggish and sore. Even my feet went numb during the latter (ladder?) parts of the run. I’d downed tons of water before heading out, but sometimes we’re not as well-hydrated as we’d like to think.

I was grateful just to be done with that run. It had been an eventful enough day with all that riding, yardwork and tons of writing and errands in between. Now I can look at our trees and feel peace that I’ve helped them (I hope) live a healthier and less cramped lifestyle.

Sounds like a worthy goal for all of us, don’t you think?

About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at, and Online portfolio:
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