From spring through fall, it’s not unusual to find Beck Aurell swinging from limb to limb through the crowns of Island oak, maple or poplar trees. Gear similar to a rock climber’s holds her safely in the tree and she carries a pruning saw or chainsaw at her side.
“I might be the only female bodied climbing arborist on PEI,” Beck said, explaining that arborists are tree workers with specialized skills and certifications. They typically focus on managing and taking care of trees in residential areas.
She was most recently employed with Laird Tree Care out of Cardigan.
While Beck identifies as gender non-binary she is perceived by most as female and is comfortable with she/her or they/them pronouns.
This puts her at odds with the majority of people she has worked with in Canada and around the world.
Beck loves outdoor, hands-on work and any day she can help preserve the life of a tree is a good day in her opinion.
She said making her way into a male dominated field of work wasn’t particularly easy but there were a few things that lifted her up into the treetops.
“My dad was very helpful,” she said. Beck’s father owns an arborist business in New Brunswick and encouraged her to challenge herself by climbing in her teens.
“It was something fun we did together and he never questioned if I could do it.”
While the average arborist seems to be a tall bulky or lean guy, Beck has found smart techniques and tools tend to level the playing field. With a 5 foot 2 inch tall female body, she is stronger than some might expect.
Beck said sometimes customers meet her with surprised comments like “Oh, are you doing the work?” or “Where’s the foreman?” when she is the team lead for the day.
“It might be hard to believe, but it doesn’t actually take a 6-foot bulky man to transport logs from point A to B, to work hard all day, or to do the work we do efficiently,” she said.
Luckily most customers meet her with supportive comments.
“Customers that are older women especially seem supportive, I think it might be because they’ve seen so much change over the years.”
Beck said local queer and some feminist communities have been a tremendous source of support and their ideas have helped her the whole way through.
“Queer communities tend to share the idea, if it feels right for you, break gender expectations without fear or embarrassment, with pride,” she said. “They’ve really showed me there are different ways to be a person that don’t fit specific gender roles.”
Beyond that, seeing female arborists in the industry when she worked in Sweden or at events (like women’s arborist skills camps in the US or in iternational arborist climbing competitions) reassured her that she could succeed in this line of work.
Co-workers who have welcomed her into group environments and given her the opportunity to do what she is capable of without underestimating her abilities have also played a helpful part.
“Most of my co-workers have been great,” Beck said.
“Most don’t think twice about having me on the crew and working together, especially once they see I am capable and reliable.”
“This means a lot because sometimes it takes a minute for some of the guys to settle with the idea that I’ll be climbing and working on the same level or even as a leader with them.
“Sometimes when a crew shows up on a job they’re not expecting a blonde woman in her 20s to be the foreman and there seems to be a bit of an ego thing that can go on.
“Sometimes there is some pushback but for the most part, it’s no problem.”
Beck said her crew on PEI has been an excellent and fun team to work with.
She has some advice for anyone considering a field of work that may seem unusual for their gender.
“Don’t be afraid to break expectations and don’t underestimate yourself,” she said. “And if you can’t find anyone supportive, give me a call.”
Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic