As Dave pulled into the yard, he slowly inspected the damaged trees from last week’s storm. After weeks of wet spring weather, the crops were finally in and now there was time to finish jobs he had put off.

At the end of the lane stood a majestic oak tree. Dave guessed it was at least 200 years old.

Over 30 feet above the ground hung a broken limb. It had not snapped completely off but hung straight down. The rest of the tree leafed out, but since the limb faced the road, Dave thought his neighbors would see it.

He paused before going into the house and decided that after lunch he would take down this limb.

Strategic planning

Now, Dave was not a young man, but he believed he was not too old to take down one tree limb. After lunch and forgoing a nap, he stood on the ground and carefully considered how to get up to the appropriate height. He headed to the shop and put an extension ladder in the back of his truck.

Parking next to the tree, Dave unloaded the ladder and extended it full-length, but it was not tall enough. Pulling his pickup out of the way, he returned with his tractor and loader. Parking the tractor to the side of the tree, he guessed that with the loader up in the air, a ladder in the bucket would be tall enough to reach the limb.

Dave then drove back to the shop and retrieved an additional ladder. The first ladder would get him into the bucket and the second would get him up to the limb. He also grabbed a handsaw designed for cutting tree limbs because he was not foolish enough to go up into the tree with a chainsaw.

Back at the tree, Dave leaned the shorter ladder against the bucket and then placed the extension ladder against the bucket also. With saw in hand, he climbed into the loader bucket. He then carefully hoisted up the extension ladder and with some difficulty placed it against a large tree limb near the broken one.

Before climbing up, he carefully checked to make sure that the bottom of the ladder was squarely seated in the loader bucket.

Grabbing his handsaw, he proceeded up the extension ladder until he could just reach the broken limb. From his lofty perch Dave could see for miles in every direction. It was a beautiful view with crops just beginning to turn entire fields into a carpet of bright green.

Adapt for the unexpected

After gazing for a few moments, it was time to get to work. The broken limb was bigger than expected and cutting it with a handsaw would take some time. Dave was not afraid of heights and was equal to the challenge.

As he cut the limb, it began to turn and bind the blade. Dave would need to adjust his position to cut through the last part.

Fortunately, the oak tree was filled with large, solid limbs which were easy to hang onto. Dave placed one foot on a convenient limb and checked to see that it would hold his weight. When he was confident of his new position he continued cutting with the handsaw.

Everything was going as planned and Dave could hear the limb crack as it began to disconnect from the tree. Moving his body weight off the ladder, he swung his arm around a larger limb and prepared to watch the limb fall to the ground.

Then something unexpected happened.

As the limb dropped, it twisted and bumped another limb. The cut limb then changed direction and swung into the loader bucket, hitting the base of the ladder. Without any warning, the ladder flipped out of the bucket and smashed through the windshield of the tractor.

Before Dave could react, he realized the limb was still moving. After falling into the loader bucket and hitting the ladder, the other end of the limb now began falling in the opposite direction and suddenly Dave began to wonder why he had not parked the truck further away. There was nothing he could do to stop the cut end of the limb from going through the back window of the truck.

Dave watched in frustration as the limb slid down the bench seat of his truck. The extra few feet of distance allowed the original end of the limb to be pulled out of the bucket and fall once more. This time it landed on the bottom ladder, quickly tipping it over and bending it into a V-shape.

Damage assessment

It took Dave a few moments to catch his breathe. He now found himself 30 feet up with his handsaw and a bruised ego. He reached for his cell phone only to find an empty pocket. He had placed the phone on the dash of his truck because he worried he would drop it.

Not feeling hopeless, Dave started to make his way down the tree carefully. He only went a few feet before he realized the distance between limbs was greater than his reach. He made it down one branch and that was as far as he could go.

He sat down on a limb and realized his arms were shaking from all the excitement.

Dave could see his neighbors drive by, but he was sufficiently hidden by the leaves. His wife had left after lunch to help with a new grandchild and would not be home until dark. Dave realized he would be stuck in the tree for hours.

As the afternoon progressed, he wished he had brought a bottle of water and had used the bathroom one more time before he decided to climb the tree. Dave was amazed by how slowly time goes by when you’re stuck in a tree. It was a warm afternoon and Dave had not taken his nap.

Call for assistance

Around 4 p.m. as Dave was inspecting the bark on the tree for the 20th time, he heard the crunch of gravel as a delivery truck pulled up the driveway. An Amazon order arrived and the delivery woman walked up to the house to press the doorbell. When no one answered she placed the package on the steps and headed back to the truck.

Dave started yelling at the top of his voice. Much to his relief, the woman called back to him. Walking around the delivery truck she made her way down to the tree. She kept looking at the tractor and truck before finding Dave in his perch.

In less than 10 minutes, the delivery driver called 911 and Dave was embarrassed to see his friends and neighbors show up with two fire trucks to rescue him. Everyone was eager to help, and Dave was happy to finally come down the tree.

Share life lessons

For many years, Dave’s grandchildren would ask him to tell them the story of getting stuck in the old oak tree. In addition to putting a smile on their face, Dave always shared a little advice for them as well. His experience reminded him of a few important life principles.

Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a tree or a similar frustrating circumstance. When this happens, we need help and we should not be afraid to ask. You may initially feel embarrassed asking for assistance, but good friends and competent professionals, just like first responders, are eager to help.

Don’t let your pride keep you up in the tree for too long.

Sometimes we become the rescue worker to those in trouble. You may not feel what you do is important, but a little help at the right time can make a difference.

When you find someone stuck in a tree, the last thing they need you to do is tell them they are stuck in tree. Instead, put up a new ladder or help them in some way. If your good intentions are not overbearing, then your support will be appreciated.


Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdunaway.com.