By Jerry Zezima
Because I have acrophobia, which means I am afraid of being any higher off the ground than the top of my head, I could never imagine being a tree trimmer.
It’s a condition I share with Ralph Serrano, who owns a tree company but is, unlike his brave and acrobatic employees, afraid of heights.
Even though I was standing on terra firma, which is Latin for “the ground you will land on, and then be buried under, if you fall out of a tree,” I was dizzy just watching one of the crew members from Aspen Tree Service of Long Island, New York, who came over recently to trim some dead branches from a couple of big oaks in my backyard.
The man on the flying trapeze was Lucio, a sinewy and fearless 19-year-old who attached a pair of spikes to his boots and breezed up the larger of the trees until he reached a height that would give a squirrel vertigo.
As I jerked my head to look up, which made me not only a jerk but a pain in my own neck, Lucio waved for me to get out of the way. And no wonder: I was standing directly beneath a branch so massive that if it crashed onto my dense skull, I would have had a year’s worth of firewood, the result being that the house would have burned to the ground because, unfortunately, I don’t have a fireplace.
After I had backed safely away, Lucio revved up his chainsaw and started cutting the branch. Sawdust rained from the sky, covering my noggin and giving me a bad case of woody dandruff.
A minute later, the branch fell, its descent slowed to a gentle thud by a rope that was attached and handled by one of the other four crew members.
Lucio, a rope around him, too, swung to another branch and then to the adjacent oak, felling more lifeless limbs before gliding back down, a smile on his face and nary a drop of sweat on his brow.
“He’s good,” said Miguel, the foreman of the crew, which cut up the downed limbs.
“Aren’t you afraid to be up so high?” I asked Lucio.
He shook his head and said, “I like it.”
When I met Ralph, I told him that his workers were fantastic.
“They’re braver than I am,” he said. “The first time I saw them go up, I said, ‘You guys are nuts.’ You couldn’t pay me to do that.”
Ralph, who worked for another tree company before founding Aspen 20 years ago, recalled the first time he did a pruning job.
“I started to climb,” he said. “It took me about an hour. The homeowner was staring at me. ‘What are you trying to do?’ he asked. I couldn’t even get up the tree. I had to come back with a regular climber. I was petrified. Now I leave it to my guys to do the job.”
“If tree climbing were an Olympic sport, Lucio would win a gold medal,” I said.
“It’s definitely a circus act,” said Ralph, who’s 57.
“And the height of your profession,” I noted.
Ralph nodded and said, “We have plenty of puns. When people ask how business is, I’ll say, ‘We’re branching out.’ And we always go out on a limb for our customers.”
“You don’t,” I reminded him.
“Not literally,” Ralph said. “But I make sure to give them good service.”
“So you’re not a bump on a log,” I said.
“No,” he replied. “But we do haul logs away. And we offer free wood chips.”
“Is that your stump speech?” I asked.
“Now it is,” Ralph said.
I thanked him for a great job and told him to give Lucio and the other guys a raise.
“When it comes to tree trimming,” I said, “they’re a cut above.”
Copyright 2018 by Jerry Zezima