The Grandfather Tree.
It was 2007. My wife and I were sitting next to an iron stove in a cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains, admiring the majesty of the old growth redwood trees peering out at the pacific ocean. I remember wondering what was up there at the very top and how the view must be fantastic.
We visited the cabin often and shortly after I found a book about climbing old growth redwood trees. The book is called Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, written by Richard Preston. As an avid outdoorsman and entrepreneur, the title just compelled the hell out of me and I was inspired.
Within days I was making phone calls and I managed to connect with a professional tree climbing guide, Tim Kovar of Tree Climbing Planet, which is a part of Tree Climbers International and boasts over a million climbers. Tim checked out the trees and selected one in particular. We named the tree “Grandfather” after Tim’s tree climbing mentor’s mentor, an old, wise tree man from the late 1800’s. Tim carries the tradition of leading guided climbs and teaching the art and skill of climbing redwoods--a tradition that I’ve adopted as a true part of my life, and something the team at Acton ADU shares together.
Making the climb.
But why do we do it? Isn’t it just like any other team building exercise, like walking over coals or standing behind someone to catch their fall? The answer is no. No, there is nothing like it in the world.
The approach to tree climbing is a meticulous one. Every stage, step, task, and effort is not just about reaching the top. It is about doing it while doing no harm to the tree.
Climbers ascend ropes rather than climbing from limb to limb. The ropes and planning are meticulous and safety is paramount. Every foot is a process and to this day, with over a million climbers there has never been a single serious injury, accident, or fatality. Impressive process right?
So, with the rope system in place, the ascent beings. I remember my first time. I was about half way up, hanging from my rope, and looked around. I was literally in the embrace of a living legend, three times as old as our country. In awe, I hung there, taking it in, not quite having any other experience in my life as something to compare it to. This was entirely unique. Transcendent. Timeless. This grandfather redwood was like nothing I’d ever known. Nothing like my climbs in Yosemite, nothing white water rafting in the Idaho backcountry, nothing like scaling volcanic rocks in Hawaii. This redwood was a world unto its own, a California treasure and it needed to be shared.
Tim later told me that we were in the only place on earth where someone can legally climb an old growth redwood tree. It struck me as unfair that so few people would ever experience that sense of wonder and inspiration, that I had. It also struck me that I had at my fingertips, a profoundly unique experience to share with my team.
A process that inspires.
Teams and culture are paramount to a company’s success. You’ll hear me go on about this at length in lots of my writing. There’s lots that makes the Acton culture, so quintessentially Acton, our values are pillars for our behavior in both our professional and personal lives, but one ever-present element that powers, what I’ll call Our Way, is process and personal growth.
Climbing an old growth redwood is a process, not unlike any business workflow. But so is scuba diving, so is softball right? Sure. But there’s more to climbing a redwood. First of all, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. Our team is a part of a lucky few who have access to one of the only places on earth were its legal to climb one. That’s a big deal. But ultimately, it’s about a two focus process that connects beautifully to how we build homes.
The first focus: Get to the top. Climbing an old growth redwood takes teamwork and a ton of technical skill, safety, processes, and care as you patiently ascend to the top--to enjoy a vista and environment you’ll never forget.
The second focus: Do no harm. Protecting the tree preserves the harmony of not just the tree, but of the ecosystem. An old growth redwood is a home, an old, mighty environment that plants and animals rely upon. Doing no harm ensures that the sanctity of such an ancient thing continues to share its inspiration.
Getting to the top and doing no harm are brilliant metaphors for the work we do as a team at Acton ADU. It’s so easy for people to forget the complexity of designing a home for a family long term. There are hundreds of steps to the process far beyond the generation of a floor plan or picking a paint color. Navigating the knots and branches of local jurisdictions are a challenge, even for the most confident builders. And this is expected to be done while advocating for the homeowners that hire us, who trust us to not only to create the value they need, but to do so while maintaining as much harmony as we can.
So, sure. We need to get to the top and every climb inspires the Acton team that much more. Because experiences inspiring processes is the best way to create one. And for our team and our customers, it’s all about home--whether in our backyard or at the top of a 800-year-old, Grandfather redwood overlooking the ocean.
- Stan Acton, Founder