One-Day Apprentice: Louise Levy ’89

By Drew Shonka

Every morning Louise (Yount) Levy ’89 grabs a bite of toast and heads to her mobile office: a Ford pickup truck she has named Miriam (the dump trailer is Bertuccio). She’s off to the first of many meetings with neighbors and clients in Duluth, Minnesota. 

Running a business has its challenges, but the advantages outweigh them. After her daughter, Astrid, was born in 2007, Levy wanted to call her own shots. In 2011 she launched Levy Tree Care, which now employs one or two part-time seasonal workers.

Levy earned a degree in German at Carleton but decided that she didn’t want to teach German and didn’t have the patience for literary analysis. What she wanted was a profession that kept her physically active, offered her the opportunity to work closely with people, and engaged her love
of science. She headed off to Oregon State University to pursue a master’s degree in silviculture, finishing in 1998. “Studying science kept me honest,” says Levy. “It engaged me in things outside my areas of immediate interest.”

On her first day of graduate school, a professor noted that she was a Carleton graduate and said, “You must be a good writer.”  “I thought,
‘Oh. Maybe I am,’ ” says Levy, “and I realized that Carleton had prepared me well for any endeavor.” 

After graduating from Oregon State, Levy groomed trails at the Snowflake Nordic Center in Duluth, but it was her volunteer work with the Duluth tree commission that ignited her passion for arboriculture and prompted her to start a tree-trimming business.

She still uses her knowledge of German and French to research primary sources in botany from European tradition, and to connect with some customers and colleagues. She also completed a tree care advocate program through the University of Minnesota. “It’s a tree care equivalent to the Master Gardener program,” says Levy.

We went on the road recently with Levy and Miriam but kept our feet planted firmly on the ground.

 

7:17 a.m.

Louise Levy ’89Louise Levy ’89 Photo: Drew Shonka

Levy’s daughter, Astrid, says good-bye to Tupelo, a Plymouth Rock layer, one of three hens the family keeps for eggs.

 

7:25 a.m.

Louise Levy ’89Louise Levy ’89 Photo: Drew Shonka

Levy and her family live on a hill overlooking Lake Superior. The land has an 80-year-old silver maple, which Levy uses to practice trimming techniques, to demonstrate safe climbing for her employees, and to hang rope swings for Astrid. 

 

9:45 a.m.

Louise Levy ’89Louise Levy ’89 Photo: Drew Shonka

The white pines in this homeowner’s grove have been damaged by the white pine weevil. Levy enjoys talking with her clients and recommending best practices. She willingly admits when she’s unsure of a diagnosis or treatment, saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.”

 

11:00 a.m.

Louise Levy ’89Louise Levy ’89 Photo: Drew Shonka

Levy meets with Elisa Maldonado, the principal at Astrid’s school, Myers-Wilkins Elementary, regarding her proposal that a tract of school property be designated an official School Forest (a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources–sponsored program). Community service and volunteering are among Levy’s core values. She is an advocate for people’s need to be close to healthy trees. 

 

1:43 p.m.

Louise Levy ’89Louise Levy ’89 Photo: Drew Shonka

“This job has taught me humility and self-respect,” says Levy. “Working in arboriculture is dangerous. But if you respect yourself, you will be safe. I know when not to climb a tree. You have to be sure of yourself to work in this field.” 

 

2:12 p.m.

Louise Levy ’89Louise Levy ’89 Photo: Drew Shonka

“You learn to make a connection with your clients and to listen to them,” says Levy. “I often ask clients if they have children or grandchildren. Creating a climbable tree for a child is a big thing.” 

 

3:25 p.m.

Louise Levy ’89Louise Levy ’89 Photo: Drew Shonka

This picturesque Scotch pine was blocking a homeowner’s view of Lake Superior. The homeowner wanted to keep the tree and hired Levy to prune delicately—on a very large scale. She studied the “architecture of the tree” and placed “windows in the branches,” she says. While she worked, she stayed in radio contact with another arborist who was stationed on the house’s balcony and to help guide her cuts. 

 

5:29 p.m.

Louise Levy ’89Louise Levy ’89 Photo: Drew Shonka

Levy keeps a French-made pressurized mobile espresso maker in Miriam. She offers a shot to coworkers, clients, a friend, or anyone who appreciates good coffee.

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