Soldiery, adventure riding and arboriculture

Soldiery, adventure riding and arboriculture all intersect for Cassian Humphreys as he shares some thoughts on catalysts for naturaculture (iCULTURE) and land care via vegetation management.

Considering that, like the tree, no human really stands alone, I see the need to embrace all the land-based professions, and to this end I’m inclined to call this the way of naturaculture. As with ‘horti’ for gardens, and ‘arbor’ for tree, ‘natura’ is Latin for nature, and the culture of nature is the key that links sustainability, resilience, and the landcare professions with the same New Earth principles.

I consider land-based professions as being made up of horticulture, agriculture, forestry, plant nurseries, arboriculture, permaculture, organic, biodynamic and syntropic farming. The first four make up the larger portion of land-based enterprise, and the final quartet are perhaps more concerned with environmental and economic resilience.

To have a place in the New Earth, our professions, and the industries they support, have to balance both equations. The purpose this piece is to assist arborists to be ready to deliver climate-change solutions as custodians of the New Earth.

The diversity of heathland species running from SA into WA is astonishing.

Why soldiery, adventure riding and arboriculture?

In the course of my life I’ve had the honour to know many soldiers, and I’ve met as many arborists who became soldiers as I have soldiers who became arborists. We arboriculturists share strong parallels with soldiers: to succeed in our profession we need physical and mental endurance, resilience, adaptability, strength, the ability to move and to deal with extremes, and the list goes on. Another parallel between arboriculture and soldiery is sacrifice. Many true arbs work on trees because of the calling: the money is secondary. We put ourselves at risk in service to the tree, and that involves the wildlife, the custodians, the landowners and managers.

Another important parallel is classically Australian and involves the Avenues of Honour, street trees planted in honour of fallen soldiers. It’s these historical avenues that really unite us in service to people and trees. So, what about adventure riding?

Arboriculturists share strong parallels with soldiers

Parallels unite

The founder of the The Australian Arbor Age, Kurt Quambusch, is a highly experienced adventure rider, as is our new AA editor. I’ve been riding for 14 years (I’m on my second DR650 – a 2020 model) and adventure riding takes us overland through all terrains, all types of country, all weathers, and a host of extremes. We have to be fit and to share those same traits that unite arborists and soldiers.

Talking of a soldier and an adventure rider, I had the honour to get close to an ex – soldier of SWASPES (Southwest African Specialist Unit), John Alexander, now in his 60s, who used to ride into action with Bike Squad, which was active between 1977 and 1985. The story of the 450 mounted troops is covered in the book Bike Squad Rider by Yuri Maree. In truth I’ve known few adventure rider/arborists (I’m one of few I can think of), yet again parallels unite us.

Author, and regular contributor to The Australian Arbor Age, Cassian Humphreys – arboriculturalist and adventure rider.


So, what are the parallels?

In the world of the integrated-lands person, personal development is prime and integrity is all. The role models of top-end integrity as I see it share more than the list above. They are simply linked by one word: nature. Natural intelligence unifies the best of us, whether it’s bushmen, arborists, soldiers, or adventure riders. In the world of the ‘traditional’ human living on the edge of oneself is a very masculine trait – though women clearly take it to a greater level with child labour. We thrive on our connection to the land and nature. The near-death experience constantly melds us into better versions of ourselves. Climbing arborists know this. Leaning out on their lifelines, using balance, core strength, footwork and breathwork, while every fibre of the body screams as that final cut is made. The same can be said of the sportsman, the martial artist, or in combat.

Having grown up as a sensitive fellow and a father to sensitive sons, I needed to develop some ‘wood’ as an arborist, adventurer, and a man of integrity. I’ve had to temper myself with life’s knocks and blows. Yet underpinning that is an infinite sensitivity which enables the reading of nature in all her glorious faces. This sensitivity I now value over all else. It is this, I perceive, that sets us aside as people of integrity.

A journey

The experience of our true nature also comes out when riding motorcycles. The very act of balancing on two wheels engages the mind-body in a fine dance, where the left and right hemispheres of the brain get an exceptional workout. The art of riding, simultaneously juggling clutch, rear brake, gear selection and accelerator, is a higher form of ‘cross crawl’ psychologists and kinesiologists teach to assist with mind/body integration. I just rode my DR from just north of the ACT to Bridgetown WA. I had the opportunity to put my riding experience to the ultimate test. After eight days of travel I felt I’d never done anything so dangerous. All I could embrace was the gratitude of connection, trust, and faith in the infinite…that, and the bursts of sunshine that broke through and the incredible wildflowers I photographed for friends and family along the route.

Wider view

There are mind/body subtleties involving softness and strength (tension and compression in light of tree biomechanics) that are very hard to describe and that we can only experience. These we learn as adventure riders, they do not feature in books or apps. Similar subtleties exist in the art of arboriculture and soldiery, yet they are all linked by the same thing: naturaculture, the culture of nature.

I first learned this by studying the ‘science’ of swordsmanship (I used to be at competition level). Principally via the lore of Musashi Miyamoto 15C Japanese Sword Master and his Book Of 5 Rings. He spoke of the way of the sword (the way of naturaculture) as being best learned by studying the way of many nature-based disciplines (including gardening).

Whether we draw on natural intelligence to be swordsmen, make gardens, to prune trees for stormproofing, or ride a motorcycle, whether we use our natural senses to feather the clutch for fine tuning bike performance, or to feather ourselves (to strike or yield ground) when an ‘enemy’ tries to break us, in essence it’s all one. That which ego (identity) can never truly know, the spirit self, the natural self, the god self, (in light of the tree) I call it ‘the gap’, the intercellular space. To find it, to own it, to live it, all we must do is to surrender into ‘it’ – unto nature.

I appreciate this article is a break from my very tree-centric articles, but the point as I see it is that for us arborists to be potent in our integrity as tree, vegetation, and land managers, we are to embrace all of ourselves.

To quote Shigo, ‘…this involves muscle and brain’, creating mind-body space for the soldier, adventurer, arboriculturist and the academic with naturaculture as the driver’.

See more from Cassini Humphreys at

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