Let me introduce myself.
I’m Jamie, I live in Blyth, Northumberland, UK. I’m in my mid-forties and I’ve never figured out exactly what I want to be when I grow up. The pattern so far seems to be; as long as it has some degree of creative expression I’ll do it. Having said that, I’ve always had a job and have no problems in dealing with the gritty financial reality of life on Earth and getting stuck in and grafting/working hard. However, after 23 years in technology doing design, development, infrastructure, leadership and governance I’ve decided to go back to to the start of the career ladder and retrain in arboriculture & forestry whilst also attempting to generate an income from my creative endeavours produced in my workshop and woodland.
So you can get a flavour for how I arrived at this point in life, here’s the short-ish version of events:
Originally, when I left school in the early 90’s I wanted to be an architect or a landscape architect. Then I discovered the drums.
I spent the rest of the 90’s as drummer wanting to “make it” as a musician.
In 1998, whilst supplementing my income as a musicianI worked with my dad who specialised in the electrical engineering side of building and fixing gantry crane systems. I think I started to tell myself I was scared of heights. This becomes relevant in 24 years.
In 1999 I made a website for the band I was in. Making websites in the late 1990’s wasn’t a thing that most people could do, so I started selling my services as a “webmaster”.
In 2003 after hearing the band’s music play on Radio 1 at a party, I realised whatever it was I’d set out to do in music, the thing I’d called “making it” had been achieved. So made a plan to exit the band.
In 2004 I got my first job as a professional web designer. I was surprised at how many drummers had moved into web design as a career at this time.
In 2006 at d.Construct (a web conference in Brighton) I met a guy who introduced me to a new web framework called Django. I loved it and started using it in all my work. It was a crazy fast way to build web applications. I still build web stuff with Django to this very day and still take on the odd bit of freelance work.
In 2007 a few pints after work led me to proclaim to my workmates I was going to leave my job and start my own company. I didn’t intended to do this at all, it just popped out of my mouth, as stuff does when you’re full of booze.
In 2007, one day after said drunk proclamation, I quit my job and started my own company. Two months later a good friend whom I’d known since I was a kid joined me in my freelance journey and we formed a web design and development company that sold creative and technical services. It paid the bills and was a great learning experience in running a company.
In 2008 I met my wife. Nine months later (no, not for that reason) we were married and had bought a house. At the back of our house, on an old slag heap there was a bunch of trees – nine acres worth to be precise (though sadly it doesn’t belong to us). At that point in time, they were just trees to me. I couldn’t tell the difference between a broadleaf and an evergreen.
In late 2012 after five years of hard grind staying afloat in business with my long time buddy we decided to part ways and close the business. So, I left to setup a teaching business focused on up-skilling people in technology.
In January 2013 I had three months to make an income in that business. That never happened. Going from zero to profitable in three months is hard.
In February 2013 I met the founder of a tech startup. We hit it off. He was looking for someone to build a team and a functioning platform for the company. I became that person. By 2015 I was the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). By 2017 I’d built the first, second and the third version of the company’s tech platform and we’d reached our first year of more than £1 million in revenue. I had learned a TONNE about technology, programming languages, high-availability databases, cloud infrastructure, managing a global fleet of macbooks / IT and most importantly how to build and maintain software over time without killing a product or the human relationships involved in that system. I’ll always cherish this knowledge. It was round about this time that the title of CTO actually required that I do CTO things, so I started taking leadership very seriously and quickly up-skilled myself in international data protection regulations, cyber security, information security and generally dealing with lawyers and third party risk management consultants. This is not as dull as you may think. Creativity can live (though it may not thrive) in the oddest of places.
In 2018 I really got into woodworking – probably as a subconscious response to the shortfall in creative outlet I had in my daily work. I started to convert the garage into a workshop. I never quite finished it.
In March 2020 covid happened. The next two years were very introspective. During the entire pandemic I sat at a desk looking at the bunch of trees at the back of the house. Slowly as the months came and went and the seasons changed, I started to see the trees as a woodland. As cheesy and cringeworthy as it sounds, I knew my future was in someway connected to trees and woodland. When I wasn’t at my desk, I was in the workshop – which still wasn’t finished, though it was a little better insulated.
In December of 2021 the company I worked for gathered all of our people from all over the world into Newcastle for a week long conference / party. As I stood up on stage to deliver a presentation entitled “IT & Information security - why boring is good” I stopped to take a photograph of the 80+ people that made up the company. I’d been giving these types of presentations every year since 2013. I like giving presentations and I’m a bit of a live entertainer, but as soon as I took that photograph I realised that my work at the company was done. I’m not sure anyone noticed but I totally lost the plot and every second of that 30 minute presentation was full of the thought “your work here is done, it is time to leave”. Whatever it was I had set out to do in the tech world, I had done it.
In January 2022 I resigned from my tech job. We had a plan to ease me out with as little disruption as possibleand my last working day was to be in October of 2022. My plan (at the time) to make an income outside of tech was to make wooden stuff in my workshop (nowhere near finished) and sell it on Etsy. It wasn’t a great plan.
In May 2022 we bought an 8 acre section of woodland sat within a larger 200~ acre semi-ancient natural woodland about 20 miles from our house. As we got to know the woodland, I became acutely aware that work had to be done to remediate the hazard trees, and that I’d need some chainsaws. At this point in time I’d never turned on a chainsaw. I also didn’t have the skills to climb trees and generally do all the stuff that needed to be done. I bought a chainsaw and “learned” how to use it.
In June 2022, and by total chance, I stumbled onto a local college that offered a two year course in arboriculture and forestry so I enrolled. I had to swallow an advanced learner loan but, meh, whatever.
In September 2022 I started the level 3 advanced technical diploma in arboriculture and forestry that will give me all the fundamental skills I need to manage all aspects of the our woodland and to work in the tree and forestry industry as a working professional. I have much to learn from my teachers but I know the true learning doesn’t start until I’m out in the real world and grafting.
In October 2022 I left the tech company and immediately started working part-time at Capheaton Hall with the woodland team. I have much to learn from this team.
In December of 2022 I got my first ticket - my NPTC certificate in chainsaw maintenance and crosscutting. I now understand where I was going wrong in using the chainsaw.
In January 2023 the workshop is a horror show. It now has chainsaws, brush cutters, gym equipment, freezers, tablesaws and half finished projects all squeezed in together. You’ll be seeing a lot of this never ending project.
Enough of the bullet points. Way back in the late nineties (24 years to be precise) when working with my dad on top of gantry cranes in deepest darkest industrial Dunston (Gateshead, UK) I manage to convince myself that I was scared of heights. As a tree surgeon required to climb trees on a rope with a harness, being scared of heights was going to be a big problem as I’d be forever stuck on the ground.
However, in October of 2022 at college I climbed this tree and set an anchor point at the top. I cannot say I was super relaxed whilst climbing, but I was much more comfortable with it than I thought I’d be. This is no redwood or douglas fir and I’m no Reg Coates, but to be this high was a green light that I would be okay climbing. I am in the below tree, see if you can find me. #whereisjamie
What’s the plan for Life of Treedom?
I intend for Life of Treedom to become my primary source of income and career pathway for the next twenty years. I am not really sure where it will go over that period, but that’s fine with me. Having said that, not having a plan can lead to going in circles so I have formulated a plan of sorts. I have two years of runway saved up and if I don’t succeed in generating a monthly wage by September of 2024 it’s back into tech land for me!
As subscribers, you get to have all the fun of watching and following me along the way without any of the risk of lack of income, death from falling, being maimed by a chainsaw or being crushed by a tree. These are just a few of the risks I’ll be dealing with.
So, my current plan is in three parts. It is a four and a half year plan.
This will run from January 2023 to June 2024. I’m pretty certain that this is the plan I will be following. In no particular order:
Qualifications: get through the course and pass all of the qualifications and tickets I need to work as a professional.
Income: make enough money from working, selling things and this substack to sustain the costs of the business (£100~ pm) and eventually up to (£1.5K~pm) so that I can take a wage from it. At this point the entire venture sustains itself and I’m not draining the runway money anymore than I have to.
Part–time work: one or two days a week working for someone as a tree surgeon so I can learn the ropes (hehe). This funds the war chest. I’ll remain at Capheaton as that’s a great place for me to learn just the kind of forestry I’m interested in. Perhaps I’ll even take on the odd freelance job once in a while, when I feel ready to tackle it and I’m properly insured.
War chest: start saving up the cash I require to get a vehicle suitable for woodland management activities and tree surgery work as well as being a general beast for towing and trailing stuff. I’m going to be towing things like a full loads of rough saw wood, brash, chippings, and smaller plant machinery like diggers and chippers. I’ll be towing on roads and off-roads on muddy, rocky uneven ground.
Woodland management plan: write the plan, establish the goals and meet all of the goals we set for our woodland.
Personal readiness: I’ve let myself chump up a little bit and get a little weak. Since I’m in my mid forties, I will need to be in shape for climbing and tree work. So I’ll be doing a body recomposition with the aim of getting to a lean body weight and capable of certain physical standardsas well as a solid cardio baseline.
One video or more per month: I don’t want to over commit to video content as I have stuff to do. I’ll also be super rough around the edges as I’ve not produced video before. I have to start somewhere though and there’s some brilliant tree people on YouTube to draw inspiration from.
Running from June 2024 until January 2026. This part of the plan will probably change and parts will likely be removed:
Vehicle & trailer: the war chest is drained and I have a vehicle capable of the work I throw at it.
Full–ish time work for someone else: I would have finished my course had a good year of solid work experience behind me. I will be looking for full-ish time work - three / four days a week kind of thing. I don’t want to get trapped in the job wage trap though, so I will have to watch out for that. Not sure I’ll have the chops to be a contract climber by this time, but you never know. We’ll see.
Part–time work for myself: Working for other people is fine, but I need to build up my own base of customers and work.
War chest: re-fill the war chest with the cash I require to rent a dedicated workshop space for one year and purchase the tools that I currently don’t have the space for or cannot yet afford. The garage and tools are fine for now, but as you’ll see when I make a video on it, the workshop is small (and very unfinished)
One video or more per week: I should have picked up some steam for video production and the various chops and camera presence to handle one or more video per week.
Running from January 2026 until June 2027 to June. I’m confident most of this part of the plan will change, but I have to point myself at something:
Workshop: is setup and operational and the goods produced in it pay for the space and overheads and eventually, turn a profit. Maybe enough to give someone with the right attitude a part-time job.
I work for myself full-ish time: all of the work I do is billed from me and payable to me. I’m either dealing with customers or being hired in as a contractor or consultant.
War chest: re-fill the war chest to purchase some serious kit. I’m talking sawmills, kilns and all the things needed to get logs from urban or rural settings and into my workshop so that I can slab what I can and dry it and make firewood out of the rest of it.
That’s the plan as it stands at the time of writing this. I’ve no doubt it’ll change as I move through time but that’s all part of the deal. You get to watch me roll with the punches and twists and turns in my life of treedom.
What will this substack be?
This substack will be where I chronicle everything as I chip away at the plan. I’ll be producing video content to go along with the plan and will also be producing some subscriber only content. I quite like the idea of being totally transparent with earnings and revenue so I may do all of that behind the paywall. Let me know in the comments if you’re into that.
I’ll try and keep the over-wordy posts to a minimum. They take me ages to write, take Mrs Curle ages to edit, and I doubt anyone will really read them. That being said, the first post is important and has to set the scene. Also, if I write it down, it is easier to reference things precisely.
You get to watch, read and listen as I live a life of treedom. If you have anything you specifically want to see, let me know in the comments.
One thing I want to be clear about is the subscriptions. I’m not looking for the income from subscriptions to do anything other than supplement the bare essentials of running the venture (£1.5K~ a month), so all the profits I make over this will go back into the generation of content. I cannot imagine I’ll make anywhere near this amount at any time soon, but I wanted to be clear about it from the get go.
What kind of things will you be making?
Stuff that I think people may want to buy. I’m currently working on a range of jewellery. I’ve had the walnut, brass and copper sitting around for over a year, so this will be the first batch of things out of the door. I’ll announce when they’re ready but when they are, they’ll be available on the life of treedom etsy store.
I’ll be making a video of the process of making these items. Stay tuned for that one!
What kind of content will you be producing?
Some video, some words and more than a few photos.
I’ll leave this with a preview of one of the messes I have to clean up in the woodland. There’ll be a video about this, as this is one of the things I am (justifiably) most scared of tackling. To be upfront, this thing could kill me so I’m doing nothing that puts me in danger. So, if you want to see me unpick this little puzzle, hang around. I cannot wait to get it down and get that massive trunk slabbed up.
edit: April 2023 - It is down - read the post here:
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Yes, drummers are musicians (as long as the drool comes out of both sides of our mouths).
I mean actually earning a wage working because drumming paid next to nothing. Also, as a wise man once said “the smart rabbit has two warrens”.
I’d been at the company since the start in 2013 and whilst I’d done a really good job of “giving up my toys” over the years, the idea of just leaving was a little risky.
There’ll be a video about that purchase and the woodland is a central part of what I’ll be doing here on Life of Treedom.
Risk mitigation and generally not being an arse in risky situations will be most of the controls and bring the risk down to a level I’m happy with.
I’m not doing a five year plan because I don’t want to copy anything that Joseph Stalin did. I’m not into communism.
Who knows, I may get back into olympic lifting again and start competing again. Looking at footage of me in a unitard may an excellent subscriber perk.
A 1.4 litre 2007 MK5 Golf isn’t really suitable for the things I need it for. That doesn’t stop me from using it for stuff though. I’ve had this golf inside plantations, down tracks, into woodlands and driven it full of fire wood I’ve harvested. It’s a trooper and is why I call it Wolfy.