Lars Limburg is all about trees. An arborist by trade, he says, “Anything involving tree climbing? I do it.”

He thinks we could all learn something from trees, especially the old growth — he certainly has. An East Coast transplant to California in the 1990s, he got involved in conservation work and has occupied his fair share of redwoods. He eventually made his way to the Pacific Northwest, where he continues his work with trees — finding time to explore wild places in the West and pursue the intentional, unconventional lifestyle he’s created for himself.

Lars spent his childhood wandering around the woods behind his mother’s home in the suburbs of New York, and on weekends with his dad, he explored the urban landscape of 1980s New York City. His father grew up in rural Sweden, and though he lived in the city, he found joy and connection in the outdoors, and made a point to expose his son to the natural world. “Sometimes we'd go hiking around the Catskills and just build bonfires out in the woods and look for fossils and hike up creeks and cliffs,” Lars says. “I think I inherited some of that carefree spirit from my dad. Just a little bit of that rebel nature, a lot of questioning the status quo and not necessarily doing what society is expecting you to do … making your own way and trying to break free of the everyday grind.”

After high school in 1996, Lars moved across the country to attend University of California, Berkeley. After about two months, he met some folks doing volunteer work that interested him, and he dropped out of school to help protect groves of ancient redwood trees in Northern California. “One of the aspects of that was climbing old-growth redwoods and trying to occupy these groves,” he explains. “Nobody really knew how to climb old-growth redwoods … we just kind of made things up as we went along. It was a real collaborative effort with lots of people with different climbing techniques, trying to figure things out.”

Being up in an old-growth tree that’s been there for thousands of years; cradled in its arms, it's a real special thing.

Lars Limburg

For the next several years, Lars spent time traveling to old-growth groves in California and Oregon, sitting in platforms and occupying the ancient giants to prevent their destruction. “Being up in an old-growth tree that’s been there for thousands of years; cradled in its arms,” he says. “It's a real special thing.” Eventually his knowledge of trees and climbing transitioned into work: creating snags and habitats for wildlife and restoring second-growth forests. “I totally fell in love with western forests,” he says. “I realized I could turn it into somewhat of a career. It was seasonal work mostly, so it worked well with my lifestyle — I could spend a few months making a bunch of money, then I could spend a few months traveling and exploring and living in wild places where there might not have been very much work otherwise.”

Once “fanatically anti-car” (catching rides, riding bikes and hopping freight trains were his go-tos), Lars eventually bought a truck, plonked in a diesel engine and started making his own biodiesel to get where he wanted to go on his own steam. “I converted my truck to vegetable oil at least 15 years ago,” he says. “It's been running strong ever since. And if something breaks, I fix it. I know that truck inside and out at this point.”

Lars makes a point to practice self-sufficiency in all aspects of his life. “There's a real deep satisfaction in even just simple tasks that you do on your own without having to pay someone or rely on someone else to do something ….” he says. “[Once] you realize everything is just nuts and bolts, then it's a real joyful experience to fix something on your own, build something on your own.”

These days, Lars is based in Portland, Oregon, and continues to preserve the strength and vitality of trees. “An arborist’s role is to do as much as they can to promote the health of trees, and also the safety of people around them,” he explains. “In Europe, arborists are called ‘tree surgeons.’ [We’re] all about being stewards and doctors for trees.”

His choice to live in the Pacific Northwest has as much to do with its access to trees as it does with his passion for exploration. “It's a really unique part of the world,” he says. “My main draw to the Northwest is the diversity of landscapes: you’ve got mountains and coastal rainforests; eastern deserts and dry forests on the eastside of the Cascades; you've got alpine, you've got ocean. Just incredibly gorgeous views everywhere you go.”

As Lars continues to pursue his life’s passions — working as a steward of his environment and venturing to wild places — it all comes back to the trees. “Trees have a lot of lessons to teach us about staying calm through the storm: tranquility and perseverance and resilience,” he says. “Think about all they've been through for thousands of years, and they're still there — they're still pushing through.”

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