In the morning, these Tree Guys stuck to a pretty obvious routine. The lead guy was in the top position, literally and figuratively. He was hoisted up in the hydraulic bucket, making cuts and directing people on the ground. An obvious master of the craft, he was tipping huge, leafy limbs out of the canopy so that they fell completely flat on the ground. The guy who seemed to be in the second position ran a saw on the ground and was in charge of running the ropes that lowered the cut limbs to the lawn. A clutch of ground guys drug brush, carried logs, did general cleanup, and tried to avoid getting clobbered by any falling objects.
But at lunchtime, things started to change shape. While the ground crew found a spot in the shade, the boss lowered the bucket and walked around, chatting with his apprentice. It was obvious that they were talking strategy, and the boss was open to being second-guessed by the apprentice as they talked about how and why the morning’s work had proceeded as it did. They talked about the sequence of the work, and the techniques used, and the next steps in the project (it was easy to hear them, since constant exposure to chain saws leave most Tree Guys tending toward deafness). The apprentice was deferential but determined, and the teacher was gracious and forthright.
After everyone got back from lunch, the whole scene shifted. The teacher tinkered with saws and gear, and his apprentice climbed up in the bucket with a saw and rose into the air to do the dangerous and tricky– but less technically demanding– work of dropping the main sections of the huge tree. He would occasionally get into a bind and glance down to get some silent direction from his teacher, but he basically ran the show, directing the ground crew to handle the ropes. Interestingly, a formerly unobserved #3 guy took over the job of running the saw on the ground while everyone else kind of found their place in the pecking order.
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Now if cutting trees were a science, or a theory, or an article of faith, then maybe these guys could just drink coffee together, or read blogs, or get together once a week to talk about cutting trees and sing songs of praise to the Giver of the trees. But it seems to me that cutting down a tree is more of a practice than a belief. Likewise, the shortcomings in my life– those weaknesses that keep me from being the husband, father, and friend that I need to be– won’t be helped with orthodoxy or theory. I need to be an apprentice of one who has mastered life, and who can show me how to live my own.