Q&A With Swift Corwin III

Swift Corwin III climbs, prunes and cuts big trees. As in, really big.

Photo by Steve Sherman

Swift Corwin III grew up in the Monadnock Region and works his 6-foot 5-inch, 27-year-old, cool-calm frame cutting trees. He climbs them, prunes them, shapes and removes them. Huge oaks, maples and pines, as in BIG. Any species, any size. He recently worked a sugar maple measuring 70 feet high, 3.5 feet in diameter. Also in Amherst, he worked a 100-foot white pine measuring 52-inches in diameter.

“In California, I climbed redwoods,” he says. “I climbed three redwoods to get across to one. Amazing. Pretty cool. They weren’t that high, about 150 feet.” His father, Swift Corwin II, is a forester consultant for managing tree lots and woodlands. “Call me Swifty.”

How much does a tree weigh?
A middle-size tree can weigh 50,000 pounds, so between 40,000 and 60,000 pounds.

Would you describe a recent job or two of yours? 
Two weeks ago I had a 40-ton crane for a week. I was riding the crane ball to the top of pine trees. Then I tied the top of a tree to the crane ball, rappelled down, tied it to the tree again, cut above my head and took off the top of the tree. Quick and sweet. We were working a 50-unit condo complex in Amherst. Then a week ago I was working in Amherst again and had a 60-ton excavator pushing pines equaling 30,000 board feet of white pine in the guy’s back yard. The trees were 40-plus inches in diameter. Trucked it to a sawmill — prime, number-one saw logs.

You work single trees too.
I work about 50 percent pruning, 50 percent removal. Pruning is like having doctor patients — you go back to them for more work. Removals, they’re gone. Managing trees really helps a property owner who’s trying to look into the future. Here in Monadnock we have beautiful trees. So it’s good to release them, expose them to light. I call it micro-engineering.

What about some of the equipment you use?
I got some new equipment — an 18-inch chipper with a 55-horsepower tractor, a log truck with a grappler, a spiderjack — that’s an updated safety tool. It replaces the friction hitch or a knot that allows you to make an ascent and descent on my rope. It makes for effortless climbing and declimbing, allowing for a very precise amount of friction on the rope. You can go from a free fall to a stop in an instant, and you can feather it and walk around on belay in a tree canopy and have it automatically tend to your slack.

Any serious injuries? 
No. You have to be extremely careful. I think that I would be putting myself in greater risk sitting in an office chair than I would be sitting in my harness in the top of a tree. I’m using my body in a really nice ergonomic way. You’re in the wind, out of the bugs. I think your body might kind of rot in an office chair. If you sit around and go to mush and then you fall in your driveway, you’re going to crunch. It’s called a work-out because I work outside — and I get paid to exercise.

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