“I am a tree man,” said Ron Barker, proudly. He used to have a tree care business in Billings for 35 years. He has been happily retired with his wife, Linda, in Fromberg the last three years. “We are equal distance between the kids and friends in Billings and God’s country to the south." He has grandchildren and great grandchildren. Despite living all over the country, he is smitten with the region. “It’s just beautiful stuff. We are so lucky to be in the mountains of Montana and northern Wyoming.” Barker has four children, Ron, Mike, Vickie and Rhonda. The first three live in Billings. “I married at 17. They came, boom, one right after another.” Nevertheless, he went to school at night and got his degree.
“I was also a fireman for six years. That’s how I got into tree work-all that time off.” “I’ve hunted all of my life. I don’t take my rifle for a walk anymore,” he said. “I take a camera.” Barker found the transition easy, since he still gets out in the mountains and enjoys quietly approaching animals in their habitat. “I don’t walk through a small herd bedded down,” he said, “I go around.
It takes a lot of energy in winter for an animal to warm his bed.” See his amateur photograph in this issue of CCN. “I was just going up the mountain when I saw them coming down,” he says of the cowboys moving their cattle to greener pastures. “A lot of people think it’s a watercolor or pastel.” Barker captured the muted, delicate colors created by the herd kicking up a cloud of dust. Barker comes from a Navy family. His father and brother were Navy but he was pulled to land. “I wanted the woods.” The mountains are his idea of adventure.
“I was born in Long Beach, CA. Everywhere there is a port is where I’ve been.” Barker said when you spend so much time at the ocean, you can’t wait to get to the mountains. Barker has walked all over the mountains of the United States, places like Mount Rainier, WA, the Bitterroots, the Adirondacks of upstate New York and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Working in trees has been a labor of love. His favorite bumper sticker: Thank God for trees. “Every time you plant a tree, it produces oxygen for the planet.” He was drawn to tree work to make a living. “Tree work protects life and property. When I saw in Montana that property hit a certain value I knew trees would become valuable to landowners.” He worked to trim trees for the health of the trees and the aesthetics of the property. Sometimes, he said, “There is a big bad tree that was improperly placed. There are some killer trees.” In such cases, he would trim the dangerous parts or remove the tree. He ardently believes, “There is the right tree for the right place.”
He also believes in diversity. “If you plant a variety of trees, then when a disease or beetle hits it doesn’t wipe out all your trees.” He scoffs at people who love a mountain so much they build their house on top of it. “The best way to prove it is to leave it like you found it. Picture that hill without that house. Everyone can enjoy that view.” He said his philosophy about the mountains is simple country wisdom: “Don’t piss in the creek.” Having said that, he is quick to temper his comment. “It’s really an entrustment. To have this magnificent land, to have that water…it comes from a greater power, whether it’s God or nature, whatever you believe.
We should be stewards.” He believes people get it. “I think from recreationalists to people in business, people are learning how to do things better.” With more efficient equipment and better technology each generation improves the technology. “It is something passed down, how to do it. I think we’re doing a good job.” He thinks each person should police their own area’s land and water to take care of it-it’s a gift. It’s a matter of education, he says.
If people know how crucial trees and good abundant water are to human survival, they will naturally take care of their area. Barker says Montana is not big enough for wolves. “If you go to Canada’s Northwest Territories-that’s immense space. Wolves need herds of caribou-that’s their supermarket. He calls wolves and bears, “land sharks.” “Once, I was hiking high in the Beartooths. I was coming up a drainage to a ridge while a big bear was coming up the other side. We got to the top at the same time and luckily, he turned away. Another day, he might not have.” He said a good bear is a bear that you see the backside of. “Every time I’m in the environment, it’s like a church. It gets you feeling so happy. It’s a great pleasure, that’s for sure.” Barker enjoyed the years he spent working with trees. One might say it’s in his blood. “The name Barker goes back to England,” he explained. “My ancestor was someone who took the bark off trees at the mills.”