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The Once Over…

Many years ago, as a young budding arborist, I used to enjoy playing the “once over” game with my dear friend and mentor, Joseph Schneider. The game went like this:

  1. Walk around the tree once, take your time but keep your circumnavigation under three minutes.
  2. Observe as much as you can digest, both the big picture, as well as the tiniest detail.
  3. You cannot use any tools, just your five senses.
  4. Now the fun part – tell the story, and take as LONG as you need to describe what you saw, felt, smelled, heard, and tasted!

After our “once overs,” it was always my turn to talk first. I usually wrapped up my speech in a couple of minutes, thinking (foolishly) that I had nailed it.

“Very good,” Joe would always say. Followed by, “is that it?”

“Yep, that’s all I got,” I would reply. He would go on for some time about his observations. Sometimes, he would STILL be talking about a “once over” tree DAYS later!

“Did you notice the inconsistencies in the bark plates about 30 feet up on the south side of the stem?” Joe would ask.

“I didn’t,” I had to reply.

“Did you notice the premature fruit drop from two years ago in the ivy under the canopy?”

Again, I had to admit, I hadn’t.

“Did you see the flat area on the stem where it entered the soil grade on the street side?”

Again, I missed that also… And so it went, on and on.

“How do you do it?” I would ask.

“It’s my job,” Joe would reply, and then go on more about the same tree we looked at days before!

Well, fast-forward a few decades, and I get to play the “once over” game all day every day.

One time, I went to a site to estimate the removal cost of a very large and very dead California Black Oak looming over a very expensive custom glazed tile roof. I got the job. When I was setting out the rigging gear and gassing saws, my groundsman said from the backside of the tree, “How long ago did this happen?”

When I walked around the backside (the side I DID NOT look at when I bid the job) I almost had a meltdown! The whole stem was gone; it had rotted to the point of being a shell that was invisible from the front. The illusion

from my vantage point when I bid the removal had fooled me into thinking, “piece of cake, I got this.” I obtained more than a few gray hairs from climbing, rigging and wrecking that tree all the while praying, “please don’t break, please don’t break, please don’t break.” And the lesson was, well, priceless to say the least.

Had I played the “once over” game on that tree, I would have shifted the decimal point on the price quote to the east a space or two, If you catch my drift.

The “once over” game happens on every tree I look at now, and the observations I make have greatly improved over the years, thanks to Joey.

The big picture, the small details, the smells, sounds, and the whole game is really fun for me. I think I learn something new pretty much every time I play it.

If only my time machine and crystal ball weren’t on the fritz…

What do you think?

Written by Casey Roland

Casey P. Roland Tree Care