The TreeHuggers

Written by: Scott Carlson

The March 1st ,2021 TCI Magazine was the women’s issue. I read about Dawna, a lady who had had faced the challenges of the times. “Stepping away from my full-time massage-therapy career of 19 years due to restrictions related to COVID-19, I volunteered to work with our TreeHugger crew for the summer.” Her husband Denny and son Sean were the TreeHugger crew. I was pleasantly surprised to find out they were an Iowa company from Maxwell operating in the Des Moines area.

Circumstances had funneled her into a career she had not anticipated but eventually embraced. “I also wrestled with my emotions some days as I watched women in their summer dresses, walking their Labradoodles in beautiful neighborhoods where we were working. I did not feel pretty as I was dragging or limbing brush to be run through the chipper. There were days I was trapped on the struggle bus of my little identity crisis; I was grateful that my helmet protected my face every day, and some days my identity.” She learned all aspects of tree work and maintained a firm grip on her femininity. “A few puffs of my favorite perfume on the buff I wore around my neck every day was a quick identity reminder and made my heart happy on hard days.”

Then the derecho came. “We craned trees off houses for weeks so clients could have power restored, tarp the holes in their roofs and once again feel safe in their homes. We ran the everyday grind of job-site operations and handled the masses of incoming calls, texts and emails, the likes of which no tree service could be prepared for. We were doing estimates, maintenance, insurance billing and bookwork, all while living without power ourselves for eight days during August in Iowa, where it was 90-plus degrees. Every. Damn. Day.”

Dawna overcame the challenges and helped the family business and countless customers. “It was worth my time to be present, to watch my husband and son work together, communicate, solve problems, fix everything, argue and apologize as they worked through the hills and valleys of life and business. The long, hot, Iowa summer days, the sweat, the sunburns and the gigantic spider that crawled up my cheek.” She encapsulated the effort in this statement: “Working in the tree industry is not for the weary; partnering with family in business is a whole other beast. It is a daily onslaught of pressure, courage and commitment, and we are living proof that it is all worthy of your effort and far more satisfying than you can imagine, if you can make it work. As we leaned into each new day, we trusted that if we did the work and learned to work as a team, all the wheels on the bus would go around, and they did just that.” Those are words we can all relate to.

The entire article can be found here.

I checked out their website I was impressed with the love of trees suggested by the quality site. This was definitely not a “two guys with a pickup and a chainsaw” outfit. In big letters right on the home page were the words: “WE CUT BECAUSE WE CARE”. I was immediately jealous. Why didn’t I come up with a motto that concise and descriptive?

At that time, I was preparing to teach my Certified Arborist Preparation course in the Des Moines area. It made perfect sense to contact the Tree Huggers about classes. After all, their passion and professionalism suggested that certification was a natural progression for them. I called them up. Dawna answered and with no hesitation said they were interested. A few weeks later Denny and Sean were in the front row at The Youth Center in Doanes Park in Pleasant Hill for class.

As a CTSP, we are instructed about the unique challenges of teaching adult learners. Questions are the answer! We are challenged to engage adult learners with questions in an effort to draw them into a 50 / 50 dialogue. The goal is to have the students talking as much as the instructor. I confess that I usually fall very short of this goal. I would estimate that my average is adult learners speaking 10% of the time. In a municipal class I am thrilled to attain a solid 2%. Despite my sparkly personality, the dialogue sometimes devolves into a droning monologue to the barely awake. Apologies to my municipal brethren. Refreshingly, Denny and Sean had all kinds of questions and comments. We may have approached 30%. They were a joy to have in class. They are both Certified Arborists now.

Fast forward to the present. Friend of big trees and IAA, Mark Rouw (read more about Mark and his contributions to our trees here and here ) was measuring big trees in Des Moines back in August 2021 when he discovered that the 3rd largest black cherry (Prunus serotina) in Iowa had sustained some serious damage from the derecho. Mark observed, “The 2020 derecho caused considerable damage to this magnificent tree. Many branches broke but many of them were still hanging from the tree.”

The current homeowner was difficult to contact. Mark soon discovered he had died.

Broken hangers and stubs remained in this magnificent tree. Storm damage often gets worse if not pruned. There was a certain urgency. With the vagaries of current ownership, at best, repair would be delayed if decisive action was not taken. Mark selflessly went to work looking for solutions.
Enter the TreeHugger Crew. I put them in touch with Mark. After some communication and scheduling, the storm damaged parts were pruned from the tree for zero dollars.
Mark reports, “June 7th the TreeHugger Crew came to the rescue and volunteered their services! Not only did they clean up the hanging branches, they also removed a number of old stubs. For decades, I have been hoping there could be some way to provide care for the most significant trees in Iowa and this time it actually happened!”
This was no small tree. It is currently believed to be the 3rd largest black cherry in the state but the 1st and 2nd largest ones in Montrose and Coralville have not been officially measured by Mark in a while. The Des Moines tree may be the largest. Mark explained, “The Coralville cherry has not been measured since 2013 so it has most likely added several points since then if it is still standing. The one in Coralville may actually be two trunks. If it is determined to have two trunks, then the Montrose cherry and the one from Des Moines will be in a very close race for the number one spot! Even though it officially ranks as the number three black cherry, it is less than five points from the number one tree, so it qualifies as a state co-champion tree!”
The trunk circumference at 4.5 feet high is 11 feet, 1 inch. The average crown spread is 64 feet, 9 inches – wider than many trees are tall! The height is an impressive 83 feet, 9 inches! This tree and many more champions can be found at the Big Trees of Iowa Official Spreadsheet.
This was no small job. The TreeHugger Crew did not employ their massive TREE-MEK due to some access issues, but they wish they could have. Dawna explained, “We didn’t use the TREE-MEK, only the Nifty Lift SD 64 with a working height of 70 ft. And the tree surpassed that height!”
Dawna admires Mark’s dedication and efforts. “Our TreeHugger Crew admires Mark Rouw’s passion for the great trees in our state. Without him, the giant trees in Iowa would likely go unidentified and undervalued. Mark sets the example that true Arboriculture encompasses identification, protection, and management, and these are necessary practices to help maintain and manage our urban forest. We are both proud and happy to help Mark in his quest to help the giant trees in Iowa live to see another day. Working with him on the third largest black cherry tree tucked away in a little backyard in Des Moines was a pleasure for our crew; we hope she stands for many more years.”
“And when her time is over, as that day will surely come, our TreeHugger Crew would be pleased to do the removal and reclaim the wood to be sawn, dried, and revived into usable material. There is a second life for a tree when it is in the hands of a crew who cuts because they care.” she concluded.
Thanks to the passion and selflessness of Mark Rouw and the Tree Huggers a majestic tree received the care it deserved without delay. This tree may now stand many years longer than it would have with delayed care or no care at all. Thank you to these generous stewards of our big trees.

Sean Deakins and Mark Rouw at the base of the massive black cherry. For scale – Sean and Mark are both just under 7 foot tall… just kidding.

The Nifty Lift SD 64 with a working height of 70 ft. The tree surpassed that height! A white pine obscures the lower part of the cherry from this view.