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Voices of Summer: Peter Jenkins

Founder, Atlanta-based Tree Climbers International (www.treeclimbing.com)

(as told to Mara Shalhoup)

In 1983, about three years into my profession as an arborist, people kept commenting about how much fun I was having, because I was always laughing and joking and was just pleased as punch that I could be climbing for a living. So they started asking if I would take them up in the trees. I thought, "Well gosh, how come there isn't a recreational sport of tree climbing?" There's a heck of a lot more trees than there are rocks, and in the summertime you get to climb in the shade.

So I bought a piece of property in Lake Claire that had an ugly house and bulldozed it and turned it into green space. I started taking one person at a time up into the trees. They're 90-foot white oaks, 150 years old. Then I started working with different populations. I moved on to children. They run circles around adults, they're fearless, they're very light body weight, and they have unlimited energy supplies. The lighter you are, the easier it is. That's why women do very well with this.

For adults, it's a plug-in into childhood. With teens, it's adventure. With children, it's an automatic. My feeling is that it's genetic, because in the prehistoric days, trees were our safety zone. It's hardwired in people's consciousness, particularly children. The reason kids drop out of climbing is because, for the longest time, there simply weren't adults climbing big trees. Unlike rock climbing, you climb with the rope. So whenever you want to take a break, all you have to do is let go of the rope and the knot automatically holds you in place. You can snooze, you can hang out.

When you climb in the cities, it's a very social thing, because you can get a number of people in one tree, and you can relate and have fun. It's very noisy up there. You can hear all kinds of stuff. The wind passing through the leaves and the twigs and the branches, that's the vocal chords of the tree.

And they all have different voices.

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