For 23 years, Paul Jirik has been climbing trees for a living. He started on a manual crew for Northern States Power in Minnetonka. After 15 years of working for power companies, he decided it would be more fun to cut trees for people who actually wanted their trees trimmed. He took a job as a security counselor in St. Peter and opened a tree-trimming business on the side. Climbing trees keeps him physically and mentally fit -- and, he says, it offers a welcome respite from his day job.
IT'S THE CLIMB "Yeah, I climbed trees as a kid. Doesn't everybody? ... When I first started, all I did was climb trees every day. When you first start, you use a lot of muscle because you're afraid, so you hold onto the tree a lot tighter. Climbing is technique -- it isn't as physically draining as it was when I first started. But I still sweat through a shirt."
FEAR FACTOR "I wasn't afraid of the height, but it's not easy to let go and trust your rope. After a while, when you get used to it, you trust the rope to hold you. Now, it isn't weird to see a person hanging upside down."
HUG A TREE "Once, I slid down a trunk, but I landed on my feet. When you feel yourself falling, you use your forearms to clamp onto the tree like you're giving it a great big hug, or you grab a limb or slide down. I slid and broke the pubic bone of my pelvis that holds the femur in place. I was out for five weeks, but I was using a walker two weeks afterward. I don't sit very well."
STRESS RELEASE "It takes a pretty big toll on the body. I've been lucky. I don't see myself quitting. I work with mentally ill and dangerous people -- this is my release. If I didn't have this, I wouldn't be able to do my other job. Some people go to bars -- I would rather go climb a tree. It's rewarding, and you burn off excess energy, and you just feel better."
WORKING OVERTIME "From April to October, I usually work 80 to 90 hours a week [including 40 at the hospital]. I average 15 to 40 trees in a week. I could spend all day doing one or do 15 to 18 in a day, depending on the job. In the height of the season, I do nothing besides work. I take one evening off."
CROSS-TRAINING "I've been told I'm in good shape for my age. I go to yoga, and I have a gym membership in winter -- there's not as much tree work in winter, and in spring you're slower if you put on extra weight. I take hikes in state parks or go snowshoeing."
FAMILY AFFAIR "I have two daughters. One likes it; one doesn't. They used to work for me on the ground, cleaning up. I don't let anyone else climb. I would feel too guilty if something happened."
UNIQUE SKILLS "I took down a maple tree that was probably 6 feet thick at the trunk, and the house was built around the tree. It took me a day and a half. The biggest [I've cut] is probably a 120-foot cottonwood. It had to be climbed, because it was twice as tall as the boom trucks could reach. And there were power lines on two sides of the house."
PERKS "It's good for your back. If my back is ever sore, I just dangle in my harness. It's my own personal traction."