All it took to hook Alexander Martin was a STIHL MS271 chainsaw. From there, he has taken his interest in tree care all over the place, including a stint abroad in Germany.
Martin still remembers the exact make and model of the chainsaw his neighbor showed him at age 13. Martin and his father had been cutting firewood, but his neighbor — an arborist — implored Martin’s dad to buy a better chainsaw. The neighbor promised that if Martin would take the lessons seriously, he’d teach Martin the basics of arboriculture.
Martin was young, but once he learned he could climb trees for a living, he fell in love with the idea. It didn’t hurt that using the equipment looked like a lot of fun.
“At 13 years old, I thought, ‘Well, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard,” he says. “I still think chippers and trucks are the coolest things you get to use.”
At 16, Martin started working part-time as a contracted arborist. The gig worked out well because, as he puts it, he weighed just 110 pounds and climbing came easy.
But Martin’s biggest move had yet to come. Prompted by curiosity in his family’s heritage and in learning a new language, Martin left his home in Manitoba, Canada, to spend six months in Germany. Though he wasn’t necessarily there strictly for arboriculture, he was immersed in the differences between their practices and those in Canada.
For example, Martin learned that arboriculture is a much more social experience with clients in Europe. When they’d do tree removals, there would be people with natural discontent with having trees removed. They would come out and ask questions about what was happening, why a tree needed to come down and what they hoped to see there in the future.
Martin says that understanding the sentimental, emotional value behind these trees has led him to approach removals with compassion. Sometimes, trees have been up in a client’s yard for decades. Seeing it go can be difficult, and because of his experience in Germany, Martin has gained an understanding of these complex emotions from clients and brings more compassion to jobsites.
“Germany’s outlook on urban forestry is a lot different,” he says. “I don’t think I was ever disadvantaged by moving around so much, but I do think that it was overly beneficial because I experienced stuff in Germany… that can be slightly mimicked here.”
In 2017, Martin landed a job at Timberland Tree Service, and in 2019, he enrolled in the urban forestry program at the University of British Columbia. He intends to earn both a master’s degree and a doctorate, but for now, he’s enjoying his time at the UBC program. It only started a few years ago, but Martin says they’ve enlisted the help from some of the industry’s best to serve as professors.
“Now that I’m at UBC, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he says. “There are professors who are just outstanding in their field. There were people that I heard of through my professional career and now I get to learn from them and study from them.”
Martin is interested in one day running a consulting-type company. While he’ll always be the 13-year-old kid who fell in love with the cool chainsaws, chippers and trucks, he’s finding a new calling in teaching others about trees. Just recently, he was looking at a client’s tree that had mites in it, but if they had simply Googled what the issue with their tree was, they’d have never successfully identified the problem.
“I really like consulting because it’s one thing to talk to other professionals, but there’s something really nice about talking with folks and educating them about trees,” Martin says. “The whole industry’s exciting to me. It’s hugely dynamic, and it keeps changing. Learning with those changes to the industry is the most unique part of it. There’s constantly new information coming out. Staying on top of it… is a critical, important role for horticulturists.”
Author’s note: Student Spotlight brings you the perspectives of horticulture students and insights into the future of the industry.