Skiers dream about fresh powder, kayakers dream about white water, tree climbers dream about redwoods. Kirkwood tree climber David Slane's dreams came true this past March.
"I was invited to help with a climb by researchers into the upper reaches of a redwoods canopy in California," said Slane. "I got the invite from a master tree climber friend, Tim Kovar with Tree Climbing Planet. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.
"Redwoods are protected and there are few opportunities to climb them," said Slane. "They also are protected from traditional climbing methods – and spikes or spiked boots on the trees are strictly prohibited. We can only use ropes and our ingenuity."
Slane and Kovar met in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park near Santa Cruz, Calif. They were there to help biologists and students with the tree canopy research project. National Geographic magazine was also on hand to record the ups and downs of the redwoods project.
"Redwoods are just amazing," said Slane. "It was awe-inspiring to be on trees 15 feet in diameter, to be on trees that are 2,500 years old, 500 years before Jesus Christ was on this Earth. I am still mind-boggled by the whole experience.
"Redwood trees can take a lot of punishment, which is why they are survivors," added Slane. "They can take multiple lightning strikes every year, while a lot of trees die from one hit. At the same time, they are very sensitive to altitude and have specific moisture requirements."
Slane ran into some insects and bugs that he has never seen before, but was especially intrigued by some fluorescent caterpillars. Even more amazing to him were the plants that take a ride on the redwoods and grow high in the canopy.
"It's astounding to find all this plant life that grows in nooks and crannies of the redwoods, high above the forest floor," said Slane. "You normally think of plants as growing out of the ground."
Slane has wanted to hitch his climbing gear on a redwood for more than a decade, ever since he started reading author Richard Preston. In his book, "The Wild Trees," Preston notes the heartbreak of 96 percent of the redwood forests being lost to logging, but he celebrates what still remains of the largest and tallest organisms on the planet.
Tree Hugger Champion
It should come as no surprise that lots of local tree huggers know all about Slane's arborist acrobatics. He is chair of Kirkwood's Urban Forestry Commission. In addition, he operates ArborDave Tree Care in Kirkwood as an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.
"We have a lot of projects going with our local forestry commission," explained Slane. "We are taking an inventory of all the trees in Kirkwood. We have created a tree code program and are searching for a city forester for Kirkwood. And, we run a junior tree keepers program."
Slane likes to wean youngsters off their indoor video games and out them into the outdoor world of trees. He actually has tree-climbing demonstrations scheduled for coming weeks at local schools such as Keysor, St. Peter, St. Gerard Magella and more.
"I have 36 years of tree climbing experience and I like to share it," said Slane. "I think kids who live in Tree City USA should know a little bit about trees and how to experience them. Most of the classes I talk to are fourth graders.
"I always show them a climb of about 50 or 60 feet, and I will ask them if they want me to come back down upside-down or right-side up," said Skywalker Slane. "They almost always ask me to come down upside-down and to land on my head."
Slane doesn't simply wow the wee ones with arborist antics. He talks about tree safety, tree code policy and the importance of trees for our environment. Trees prevent heat build-up, erosion and flash-flooding. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, they are downright cost-effective.
Forest Re-Leaf of Missouri has estimated that the tree canopy in St. Louis saves almost $40 million in storm sewer costs and in construction of storm water detention facilities.
"I like spreading the positive words about trees to youngsters of all ages," said Slane. "I will be at Missouri Valley College in Marshall later this month to do some tree climbing classes. I am involved in teaching future arborists, recreational climbers and forestry students.
Tree Care & Teeth Care
On a recent sunny Friday, Slane was on a tree care job in the yard of Kirkwood Mayor Art McDonnell. His mission was to take down a 75-foot sweet gum that was deemed too close to the mayor's home.
When Slane isn't doing tree work, he's doing dental work at his dentist's office at 222 W. Argonne Ave. Slane is checking out trees on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; but he is checking out mouths on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
"I started doing my tree work in high school," said Slane. "Principal Franklin McCallie let me out of school High School in 1981.
"I went to dental school from 1991 to 1995 at SIU-E, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville," said Slane. "I see real similarities between tree work and dental work. In both cases, you want to do a thorough diagnosis before going to work. And, of course, you are concerned about root health in both situations."
Slane's family takes a more active interest in his tree work than in his family dentistry practice. All three of his girls, Sarah, Samantha and Chicky tree climb for fun. His wife, Kim, has discouraged him from using a business card that has the tree biz on one side and the teeth biz on the reverse side.
Slane actually has some loyal customers for both of his enterprises. However, one suspects it might be like pulling teeth to get Slane to stop telling tree adventure stories to all the customers captive in his dental chair.
Skywalker Slane said he hopes to travel south of the border for his next big tree exploration. He said his final destination may be in the leafy tree canopies of Costa Rica.
"The next big tree adventure may be a climb with my friend Tim Kovar in the rainforests," said Slane. "That kind of climb will present a whole different challenge than redwoods – dealing with constant wet and some animals that may not be too friendly. I'm looking forward to it."