Two hundred pairs of eyes under orange hard hats peered up at Rip Tompkins yesterday as he perched in a dead, 60-foot oak tree, dismembering it branch by branch and lowering the pieces with ropes and pulleys.
The surgical precision won a round of applause from his peers, gathered in Annapolis for the annual meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.
Barely recovered from a long week's cleanup after Hurricane Floyd, the arborists stood in the morning mist and drizzle at Quiet Waters Park watching Tompkins, a former world champion tree climber and co-founder of the Connecticut-based ArborMaster Training Inc., which teaches the right way to climb trees and take them down.
Tompkins said many people did not realize the dangers of tree work in their rush to clean up Hurricane in Floyd's aftermath. "Every Tom, Dick and Harry thought he was an arborist," he said, "and that can get very dangerous."
He and his partner, Kenneth Palmer, also a former climbing champion, were a main attraction of the convention's field day, demonstrating recent and established tree-climbing and rigging methods, chain saw safety and tree-trimming techniques.
"You can send an astronaut to the moon and back, and that would be more safe than what an arborist does on a daily basis," said Cindy M. Zimar, a Washington-area arborist and chapter president.
The society, which includes commercial, municipal and utility arborists from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, fosters professionalism in the industry through seminars, workshops, skill competition and ISA certification.
Over the next two days,the meeting will take up topics such as biodiversity in street tree populations, measuring tree cover changes in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and tree preservation.