Sunday, February 7, 2016

We Don't Need No Education (Yeah, We Do): Tree School

I'll readily admit that I tend to be self-taught about most things related to my work and the rest of life since back in the day.  I never quite fit into school the way I wanted since formality, regimen, being part of a group, standardization, taking tests, sitting at desks, having weird classmates and things like that were never all that fun for me.  I seemed to do best to have seeds planted in whatever way they would be, and go off on my own with discovering how to do things in various ways, outside a classroom.  Since the days of the internet, education has been a double-edged sword.  Tons more information available than ever before, and immediate access. There's plenty of places for debate and Q&A, too.  Problem is, so much of what's out there is just plain wrong, or very bad opinion.  So you really need to be able to sort it all out.

However, it's very hard to be certified, accredited, licensed, and so forth without going through courses about this or that.  Much of my main profession (construction) doesn't really require such formality.  But in the world of tree management, there are certain instances where you either can't get work, or get the work you want without the esteem of going through the schoolin'.

There happens to be an aesthetic pruning course at Merritt College in Oakland, not far from my house.  This is one of very few around the country, and maybe the only one, dedicated to this.  Since there are billions of trees, it's needed.  Just like how there's not nearly enough access to education about construction, my other full-time passion.

I enrolled in these classes.  I believe there are 14 classes required within the realm of certification.  Rather than the normal system of needing to take all the classes in a course in order to be legit, each class is more or less stand-alone, but all would be needed to actually become certified.   There are another 5 or 6 classes that are more specific to this or that, and not part of the required classes. I know some hobbyists and homeowners may want to take a specific class or two without the goal of certification.

OK.  So the first class was an introduction.   This covered the history of pruning, which was very interesting.  I'll probably delve into this more and write another post about this.  We then went through the biology and science, and then the specifics of pruning, lightly touching on the basics.  The instructor was engaging and very passionate about trees.  His interest goes way beyond pruning, into such things as how the interaction with trees led to human civilization, how trees affect our lives in health and mind, how we view trees, how trees have a mechanism for communicating chemically between themselves and how they respond to their surroundings as if they have a brain, and some other areas of interest.  We covered how good pruning is every bit as much about art as about health and safety and survival.

I gained a lot of knowledge that isn't easy to happen across from books and web-browsing.  Things you can only get when you talk to people that have been around a while.  It's easy to ask a question that might be hard to phrase or categorize, and rather than trying to figure out how to arrive at the answer, the instructor is immediately available.  From there, you can go off and explore more about the subject at hand.

The second class delved more into pruning how, why an when, specifically about deciduous trees, with some crossover into all plants.  There was a bit more science and biology, and a lot of anecdotal experience, which was shared between the instructor and the students.  One instance of this is how we learned that cherry trees don't hide their wounds well at all and nasty scars are hard to avoid, so good and frequent pruning these is even more critical than for most trees.  I know from experience that cherry trees can look really bad after getting years of mistreatment, but this explanation put it all in perspective.  Learning about the peculiarities about a number of specific species is invaluable, and not always very easy to find on your own.

If I were to summarize the classes so far, I would say that everything covered so far is on target with what I've been doing all along, and more of a reinforcement than a revelation.  As the teacher and I were discussing during some off time, the more you learn, the more you realize what you don't know and want to learn more about, as is true with any level of expertise in any profession or area of knowledge.  The word "expert" is something that people need to be careful to use, since it's not set in stone.  I supose the very best of the best in any field would be considered experts, but that absolutely doen't mean that their knowledge won't advance or even change direction as things evolve.  The medical industry evolves in such a way.  Experts from 50 years ago would be wy outside their league today.  Most other industries are similar that way.  And just cuz the world of horticulture includes trees and plants that haven't changed much in thousands or millions of years, the understanding does, as does the list of diseases and such, requiring constand updating.  So I would call this instructor an expert based on what I experienced, and probably one of the best maybe dozen or so pruners in the state.  He may actually dispute this, since actual experts are usually hesitant to call themselves such.  He might mention that there are Japanese pruning experts that have been doing this for 70 years, and are truly the best.  That may be the case, but I maintain that much of the Japanese method of learning is too involved in tradition, often losing sight of the evolution of the subject.  And not to get off topic too much, but Japanese pruning is considered the premier method of pruning, though that certainly doesn't mean they do eveything right and everything else is a step down.

I can't think of anything we learned that is a contradiction of what I've been practicing, but rather a deeper understanding and refinement, along with some stories that increase the interest of this or that.  I haven't yet felt any tedium in the class, or that it's just not for me.

So if you're in the SF Bay Area, and want to learn more about pruning or appreciating trees and shrubs, this is possibly the best way to do it.  Classes are eaily accessible without red tape and reams of paperwork.  The cost is affordable. They're interesting and fun, and the first instructor is a pleasure.  I would guess that the other instructors teaching the remaining classes will also be enjoyable.  I'll find out in a couple weeks.

Be a Tree Dawg Knight!

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