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Interview with MIGrove Founder Joe Drinkhorn

Interview with MIGrove Founder Joe Drinkhorn

Bartlett:

Joey Tree. Beasthorn. The Flat Lander. Thanks for sitting down with us and entertaining our readers for a bit! Let's start out by letting people know your real name, where you're from, and what you do.

Joe:

Hi, my name is Joe Drinkhorn and I'm a semi-subcontract tree climber in Michigan. It's great being here with you. Thanks for having me.


Bartlett:

How long have you been in the tree industry? And what got you interested in working with trees?

Joe:

I've been climbing recreationally for six, nearly seven years and have been a part of arboriculture for a little over five years. In my youth we used to host a two day, local, heavy metal festival named Dalefest. We had run out of firewood one year and the drummer of one of the bands just happened to be an arborist. He had his gear and I watched him dismantle a large dead ash tree. It blew my mind. Up until then, I had no idea that tree climbing was a thing people did after childhood. I ended up doing a ton a research and bought some basic gear. I joined a bunch of groups on Facebook and learned mostly from YouTube, Facebook, and a few seminars hosted by Bartlett Arborist Supply. I still remember that first seminar. I met a ton of really nice folks who knew what was up and were willing to help a new guy out.


Bartlett:

How many years did you work for other companies before making the jump to working for yourself as a contract climber? And what made you make the jump?

Joe:

I spent the first two months with one company that was just far enough for me to make the trip. When a much closer company offered me more money for a way closer trek to work, I had to do it. I spent the next four years at that company learning and on the weekends I would go sub for friends honing my skills.

I eventually either out grew, or became tired of the regular work week. The same old grind everyday got old. I needed a switch and eventually found some great friends who had also struck out on their own. They offered me a way out. I took it. From then until now nearly two years later I've been regular with them and sub in some others from time to time.


Bartlett:

We really want people to get a visual of your set up, because it's unique, and totally fits you! Tell them about your work truck, sleeping situation, and furry bumper friends.

Joe:

My truck kinda says who I am. Rude, crude, and lewd! More seriously though, you know a character is gonna get out when it stops. You might not like it, but I do.

The furry bumper friend is Edward, a stuffed panda who has traveled fifty thousand miles and onto nearly every job over the last little more than a year. He's a trooper. He's become a great way to get people to lighten up on those long haul drives around the state.

As for sleeping, I built a bed in the bed of the ol' s10. I put a topper on it with full glass windows too. That way I can wake up to awesome vistas of where ever I stay while out on contract. Let me tell you, waking up on Good Harbor to the sounds of the beach and view of South Manitou Island is pretty stunning at sunrise on a blue sky morning.

Every piece of my life is geared toward tree climbing. Other than my family and those I care deeply for, nothing else really matters.



Bartlett:

You're also the founder of MiGrove. Tell us more about that- how people can get involved and where can they find you?

Joe:

I'm glad you brought that up. I'm super proud of my involvement with MiGrove and the collaboration it took to get it moving. Near the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, I was already heavily into recreational tree climbing and working in the tree world. Although I wasn't climbing much at work, I knew there was a need to share some knowledge that I had gained and gain some knowledge that others had. I knew some amazing climbers in Michigan who also rec climb. I thought, what if we could all get together and experience our love for trees and climbing them together free from production? Then I thought, what if we made it a regular monthly event in variable locations each time. Maybe we take on oaks this month and next month we do locust. Or maybe we do it where ever it comes up at a member's house or something like that. That was when I contacted the Bartlett Arborist Supply climbers. We had been in contact for awhile and were all interested. After some time we came up with some names and a way to make the club a slightly organized platform that would have only five rules and tons of fun. In the first year we made 9 meets work of twelve months and even collaborated with ClimbON of the Ontario recreational tree climbing club.

Currently MiGrove only exists on Facebook. It's a group that anyone can be approved to join. There you can get the conversation going and get someone to rec climb with. No experience necessary to get involved and once you get the ball rolling, the best Michigan has to offer are there willing to lend a helpful hand.


Bartlett:

We are a part of that group and really enjoy the topics and questions you bring up. What would your advice be to someone looking to enter the industry?

Joe:

My start isn't typical of most but if you find yourself really wanting to join in on the arboricultural activities, I suggest you do some research on the companies in your area. I'm not going to recommend that you only choose to approach a company that is following all the pruning and preservation standards. If you're just getting into this stuff, it's fool's errand trying to figure that stuff out on your own. I'm just going to tell you that any company you approach should at least meet basic safety equipment standards and protocols. Those are easy to find and visible once you've done even minimal research.


Bartlett:

We know you also do volunteer work with Archangel Ancient Tree Archive up in Copemish, Michigan. Team Bartlett did an expedition with them a few years back climbing the Giant Sequoias and collecting new growth for propagation. What do you do with them?

Joe:

Basically exactly what you did while there. It's been very busy for me lately and I haven't had the time to really get back into it with them. I do need to get back at it though.


Bartlett:

You went on a similar trip with them the following year- what was that like!?

Joe:

It was so awesome getting to knock a tree off the bucket list all while helping a super sweet non profit at the same time. We went with some stellar climbers and I think I got way more than they did out of it. The stuff an eager greeny can learn on a trip like that, doing things like that, with people of that caliber, is absolutely outstanding.

I got to experience a tree that was as old or older than Rome. The waterfall tree is 225' tall and leans over a ravine that is it's equal in depth. Great views and sick vibes coming from the three thousand year old Sequoia.




Bartlett:

You took a pretty rad personal trip too where you saw some record holding trees in other countries. We want to hear more about where you went and the trees you experienced!

Joe:

My dad and I went to Australia in February 2019. The last half of our trip was a week in Tasmania. I got to finally meet Tree Wizard and climb some sweet trees with him on Bruny Island and then two days later The Tree Projects Steve Pearce took us to Gandalf's Staff, an 84 meter Eucalyptus regnans. An old growth monolith. we wanted to see Centurion but the recent fires prevented access. The tree was safe but the forest around it was still smoldering.


Bartlett:

We've been following you through out the years and you've really grown in your skill level and professionalism. What has become your favorite part of tree work?

Joe:

Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment. Sometimes it's hard to notice your own progression as you are the one living it.

The trees take the number one slot but as far as work goes, the camaraderie and energy. Most people have awesome senses of humor. Its really cool to see how the dirty jokes play out and the tempers sometimes flair only to be done by the end of the day or the moment an incident occurs.

This job has a stupid high energy output. For some its sixty straight hours of cardio. No breaks, just bust. Its wild and makes you feel like you're the baddest guy around.


Bartlett:

What keeps you motivated? What keeps you learning and progressing?

Joe:

I love climbing and working with trees. I have an image of myself in my head that I'll likely never get to realize but every day it gets a little more clear. Problem is though, it gets more detailed as it becomes more clear. So I have to learn more to create the real world realization of myself as I would like to be.

Bartlett:

We've seriously enjoyed you sharing your stories with us! Any lasting words to leave with the people?

Joe:

Thanks again for having me. It's been a pleasure. Trees are like people, they aren't born monsters. They are turned into monsters based on the circumstances surrounding them.


Thanks to Joe for taking the time to have us interview him between his long drives across that state of Michigan! We would also like to thank Steve Pearce and The Tree Projects for letting us use the photos of Joe for this interview. Be sure to check out and donate to The Tree Project's newest project, Documenting the Fallen!
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