So, I had my first frustrating day in the field.
I went to one of the trees I picked out last week to start what I thought would be a relatively simple climb and was sorely mistaken. The tree itself was huge – a double trunk, massive branches at the top, plenty of options for camera placements. The only problem was that there were quite a few smaller trees, shrubs, lianas (really big vines, basically) that made it difficult for me to see the top of the tree, which is particularly problematic for the beginning of my climb.
In order to first get into the tree, I use an 8-foot slingshot to shoot a little beanbag attached to a string over whichever branch I can hit. As projectile-flinging weapons and Bart Simpson were strictly prohibited in my household as a child, I now have a great affinity non-violent conflict resolution and Muppet Babies, but no aptitude for slingshotting. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
No, I did not make this shot.
Video by Joe Maher
I essentially had a 4-foot by 4-foot window 20 feet above my head through which I could shoot in order to get my beanbag over the lowest branch 80 feet up in the air. Needless to say, this process took a while (2 hours, in fact) but eventually I got it! I should have just called it a day right then.
Pouring sweat, I hauled myself up the rope for about 15 minutes only to discover that there was a large, freshly broken branch precariously perched in the lower branches of the tree. These broken branches are sometimes called “widowmakers” because if they slide off their perch and fall on you…well, it’s not good. I always look for this sort danger in my pre-climb inspection, but because the vegetation was so dense above me at this tree, I couldn’t tell that the branch had broken off. It was hanging right over where I had been walking around on the ground scouting out my slingshotting location, but from my position in the tree (I was well to the side of it), it wasn’t much of a danger anymore, so I kept going. I should have just called it a day right then.
Once I reached the top of my rope, I started looking around for my next branch. To move around in the tree I have to throw my beanbag to the next branch while dangling and spinning (not fast enough to make you sick, but fast enough to be annoying) from my rope, then catch it as it swings back to me. I am also not good at this part, which I will blame on my own decision to quit baseball in 6th grade in favor of gymnastics and then diving. While both of my chosen sports probably helped me deal with heights, neither helped me with my hand-eye coordination which is still sub-par to this day. Why are there no community Beanbag-on-a-String leagues?!
Anyway, as started my first throw I reached over to the neighboring branch to stabilize myself only to see…
Don’t worry, they are NOT killer bees…they are wasps, which is only slightly better. I pulled my hand back immediately and sat there for a while staring at them (and, clearly, taking photos of them). They didn’t seem to bothered by me and I wasn’t actually touching them. Never mind the fact that I would be wildly throwing a beanbag in all directions, missing my target, then attempting (poorly) to catch it as I yank it back to me. After a solid 45 minutes of toss, miss, retrieve, dodge, toss, miss, curse, retrieve, dodge, curse, toss, etc., I decided to just call it a day right then…
…after one more throw.
Of course this was one of my worst and I got the beanbag stuck around a branch that was a little too far away to reach. I sat there pulling over and over again [I was trying to figure out a way to describe all the strengths, patterns, and speeds with which I was pulling the string here, but ever iteration sounded a little NC-17, so just trust me that I tried everything]. After roughly an hour, panting and raining sweat onto my bag below, I finally dislodged it from the branch. I will admit that I sat there for a short moment considering another throw – after all, I had spent so much time already – but gathering my wits and taking the previous hours as a sign, I decided to just cut my losses and give up.
Leaving the tree for another day - or possibly for good - was a tough decision to make, particularly after investing all that time and energy. My refusal to quit in the face of setbacks in my research has been a big part of what afforded me this opportunity in the first place. Now that I’m here, I’m not going to let poor judgment get in the way of my ability to do it.
…or at least that’s what I told myself as Mission:Impossible’d my way out of the tree.
Oh well, tomorrow is another day.