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Aerial footage of the farm
1 April 2017


This isn't an April Fools joke, this is a story about two fools in April. There have been plenty of "Hold my beer!" moments on the farm, this one just happens to have video evidence.

My friend, who will remain nameless, works for a company that owns a fancy remote control drone. This isn't a toy drone, this is a professional drone that costs several thousand dollars. It has two remotes, one for the drone and a second one for the gyro-stabilized camera. My friend would operate the main remote. He had promised his boss that he would take very good care of the company's expensive drone so we decided it was best if he was the pilot. I was the cameraman so I am completely innocent. Honest.

There is a relatively unknown park in California called Cheatham Grove. It's a beautiful park with giant, old growth redwood trees. If you're ever in the area, it is definitely worth visiting because pictures don't do it justice. The huge redwood trees make you feel like you're on an exotic, alien planet, like maybe the forest moon of Endor. In fact, this grove is where they filmed some of the speeder bike chase scenes for Star Wars.


That scene from Return of the Jedi is exactly what I was imagining when my friend brought his drone over to the farm. I thought it would be neat to fly the drone down low between the coffee trees, zipping back and forth really fast like in Star Wars.

My friend was still learning to fly the drone but we had practiced some at a nearby park so we should be good to go. After all, I've seen kids flying their drones all over the place, how hard can it be? We decided to start out high, up above the trees where there aren't any obstacles to worry about. As we got better, we'd get lower and lower until we were zipping up and down the rows of coffee tree.

It started well enough. We made several passes over the farm then tried some orbits around the house and barn. I've always loved aerial footage, I like seeing things from a different perspective. It's extra fun when watching the live footage from the drone. From that height, the house looked tiny compared to the rest of the farm. Each of those tiny white dots in the back field is a beehive. Did you know that bees have a range of three miles? As the drone flew past, I imagined being the size of a bee and trying to find my way home to one of those little boxes from three miles away. How do they do it? It's not like each hive has a street address or GPS coordinates. Sometimes I get lost wandering around the jungle behind our farm.


Anyways, after a few slow passes across the farm while way up high, we started getting lower and faster. That's when I noticed how much taller those Norfolk pine trees are compared to the coffee trees. The story I've heard is that the original European sailors, like Captain Cook, brought Norfolk pine seedlings to Hawaii so they could be used later for replacement ship masts. Looking at how straight and tall those pine trees are, it's easy to see how they'd make a great ship's mast. What's not so obvious is how massive these trees really are. They're not as massive as coastal redwoods but they're still really, really big. And tall. So very tall. Like so tall that the drone can still be way above the house and barn yet low enough to hit a Norfolk pine. But the pine trees are all in a line along the side of the property so they should be easy to avoid. It's not like we're a storm trooper racing through a dense forest at crazy speeds.

I've edited the video we captured into a little music video. The original video is much higher resolution but even the YouTube version is fun to watch. I recommend full-screen mode with plenty of volume.


I'd like to mention again how tall these Norfolk pines are. They are very, very tall. They don't look so tall, even in person, until you stand next to one and crane your neck back trying to see the drone way up in the top of the tree. That's way up there. Like way, way higher than I can throw a rock. What I'm saying is that, despite how it looks, that collision was not intentional.

I immediately thought about cutting down the tree. I own a chainsaw and I've cut down large trees before. Just not quite this large. It doesn't look like it but the base of that tree is way too thick for my little chainsaw. Even if I bought a bigger chainsaw, I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try cutting down a huge tree like that, especially when it's within range of the power lines. Nope, that probably wouldn't be a good idea.

My next idea was to get out the extension ladder. I've stood on the top of that ladder before, it's not a small ladder. Well, it doesn't feel small until you put it up next to that tree. Compared to the giant tree, the ladder feels insignificant. Getting the ladder sounded like a good idea, until I stepped back and saw how it didn't really help anything at all.


I proposed getting the gun to shoot the drone out of the tree. My friend didn't like that idea, something about his boss or something, I didn't quite understand his objection. I wasn't going to shoot the drone, I was going to shoot the branches that the drone was stuck in. It might take a couple shots but we had plenty of time, it wouldn't be dark for at least another hour.

After my friend rejected the gun idea, I politely asked him if he had any suggestions. He wanted to climb the tree.

Ok, it looked easy enough. There are lots of limbs to hold on to so it shouldn't be so bad. The problem was, that drone was way the heck up there. Falling out of the tree from that height wouldn't be good. Falling off the ladder might hurt but falling out of the tree was a whole different thing. Since I didn't like the idea of cleaning my friend off my driveway, I suggested that maybe if we waited, the wind would blow the drone out of the tree. The problem was, there was no wind. A few minutes ago we were happy that there was no wind because it made flying the drone easier. Now I was wishing for an unexpected tornado or maybe just a bolt of lightning directed right at that tree. One of these Norfolk pines had been struck be lightning before, it could happen again. Though probably not in the time we had left before the sun set.

After much discussion I agreed to help my friend climb the tree. By "help" I mean I handed him a rope and offered to steady the ladder but only after he agreed to wait a minute for me to go grab my camera first. That drone was way the heck up there. If he was going to climb that high, I wanted a picture or two.

Let me stress again that this particular tree is much larger than it looks. And tall, did I mention that it's really tall? My friend is usually a smart guy but climbing that tree still didn't sound very smart to me. He climbed up a little ways just to test it, then climbed back down. We discussed all the various options again but couldn't think of any new ideas. Putting our brains together, climbing the tree was the best thing we could think of. Did I mention how tall that tree is?

As you can see, my friend made it all the way up and all the way back down without injuring or killing himself. In fact, he made it look easy. That doesn't mean it was safe, just not as difficult as I had feared. The best part is, the drone only suffered minor damage. The only way my friend's boss will ever know is if he sees these pictures. If that happens then I'll claim that this was all some sort of elaborate April Fools joke.

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