quarta-feira, 17 de fevereiro de 2010
LEARNING TO CLIMB NEW YORK CITY’S TREES
By SAM DOLNICK
Published: February 14, 2010
In New York, a city where tree climbing in public parks is officially considered disorderly conduct, the art of hauling yourself skyward, branch by branch, may be endangered for children and adults alike. Add the modern diversions of mobile gadgets and video games and, as Idiongo Okoro said, “you never really notice the trees.”
But now he does. For the past four months, Mr. Okoro and 10 other New Yorkers from some of the toughest neighborhoods have spent time in patches of urban forest to learn how to care for, prune and — yes, — climb trees as part of an intensive seven-month job training program.
There are jobs for professional tree-climbers (a k a arborists), and although New Yorkers raised amid concrete and brick might not make the likeliest candidates, Mr. Okoro, 25, and his group are learning how to walk on branches and shin up trunks.
The program is part of an unusual outreach effort by the city and a collection of private tree-care companies and nonprofit groups to train urban young people for “green-collar” jobs.
The program, now in its second year, has already had success, parks officials say. Graduates from last year’s class now work as apprentice arborists with the parks department and the New York City Housing Authority, horticulturists with the Prospect Park Alliance, and grounds custodians at Wave Hill and the Central Park Conservancy.
One morning this month, the students traipsed through a patch of Bronx woods to hear tips from Mark Chisholm, a tree climbing luminary. It was as if Derek Jeter had dropped by Little League practice.
Mr. Chisholm, a wiry, third-generation arborist, has won two world championships in tree climbing, along with 17 consecutive regional titles. (The International Society of Arboriculture will hold the next world championship in Lisle, Ill., this summer; Mr. Chisholm will be there.)
He reviewed the tenets of tree climbing while the trainees huddled for warmth inside layers of woolen clothing and matching brown Carhartt jackets.
Rule No. 1: Check your equipment for flaws, and check the tree — from the roots to the branches — for problems.
Rule No. 2: Map out your climb.
Rule No. 3: Head for the sky.
He then flung his rope high in the branches of an 80-foot sycamore tree, and pulled himself up so smoothly it looked like magic.
As the students below shouted “Spider-Man!” and “Beast!” Mr. Chisholm danced from branch to branch, gliding and swooping like someone on a ballroom floor.
Mr. Okoro, who used to be so afraid of heights he did not like to look out of his mother’s 10th-floor window, watched the performance dumbfounded.
“We’re not going to look like that,” he said. “Trust me, I do not get up that quick.”
The 11 trainees come from areas known more for high asthma rates than thick tree cover: the South Bronx, East New York, Harlem and Washington Heights. Most of them have struggled to find good jobs.
Marcus Mayers, who never finished high school, had been out of work for nine months after he was laid off from his job driving a delivery van.
Mr. Okoro was unsatisfied stocking shelves at a Bronx hardware store.
Manny Linares, 23, had been looking for work for eight months.
They were among 33 young adults selected from more than 400 applicants to the MillionTreesNYC Training Program, a part of the city’s environmental initiative that is co-managed by the nonprofit New York Restoration Project.
They earn $11 an hour during the program, better wages than many of their previous jobs paid.
The trainees have been just as surprised as anyone to find fulfilling work seven stories in the air.
“When I wake up, it’s like I just want to get in the trees,” said Amicha Tsogbe, 19, of Harlem. “When I’m up there, I don’t ever want to come down. It’s peace and quiet.”
It is hard work though. Ms. Tsogbe has learned to climb the common London plane trees, but on a recent morning she failed to scale the more difficult oak.
Regardless of whether the program creates a new cadre of arborists, organizers say the environmental lessons learned, and carried back to their community, will prove invaluable.
“Too many kids growing up in the city are disconnected not just from employment and education, but also nature, and this combines all three,” said Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner.
On the day of Mr. Chisholm’s lesson, the trainees stepped into harnesses and looped up their ropes to try to incorporate the new moves. Arborists from Asplundh Tree Expert and Bartlett Tree Experts, two of the companies sponsoring the program, coached the climbers up the tree.
Mr. Linares, wearing Coco Chanel sunglasses, hoisted his sturdy frame off the ground as if he were raising an overfilled bucket from a well. He stopped at the first branch and made it to his feet as his classmates on the ground shouted “Let’s go, Manny!” and “Trust your ropes!” Mr. Linares hugged the tree trunk and looked toward the sky.
The tree climbers drew puzzled looks from people walking through Bronx Park. Every few minutes, a Metro-North railroad train traveling north on the New Haven line screamed past, a reminder of the sprawling city that lay just beyond the park.
But until lunchtime, the only thing that mattered was climbing the oak tree. Maurice Samuels, 22, who grew up in Harlem’s St. Nicholas housing projects, sailed up it faster than many others had. He made his way along a narrow branch, nimble as a tightrope walker. A plane passed above, causing a few heads to turn, but Mr. Samuels, 50 feet in the air, never noticed.
A version of this article appeared in print on February 15, 2010, on page A17 of the New York edition.
Photo: Maurice Samuels, left, and Dennis Badillo, in a class in Bronx Park. They are participants in a job-training program for arborists.