The Rescue of a Cat and a Drone From a Tree, a Clamparison

In 2000 my friend Amy’s faithful cat, Idgy got stuck in a tree. Of our friends I was selected for the rescue as ‘the guy most likely to risk his life for a six-pack’. Earlier this summer Martin Del Vecchio’s drone, “Droning Myrtle” also was similarly stranded and yet again I was pegged for the extraction (same logic). Despite the seemingly similarity of ‘things cared about stuck in trees’, the experiences turned out to be vastly different.

I was informed by the other Clameditors that without this image the post would be unceremoniously deleted

I was informed by the other Clameditors that without this image the post would be unceremoniously deleted

For fun, let’s clampare:

The setup:

In both cases the supposedly self-preservatory functions of each failed spectacularly. Example: It does a cat no good to escape a doberman by scrabbling sixty feet into the crown of an oak, a distance from which she cannot descend. Is this some sort of evolutionary quirk? Will paleontologists one day discover that her feline ancestors were hunted by a kind of canine-bat hybrid, but one that could only ascend a limited distance therefore favoring those escapees who got the furthest up into trees? But even that logic fails considering marooning yourself in a tree ill-favors reproduction similarly to being devoured. I have no explanation. Darwin’s corpse not only spins, but tumbles end-for-end.

Her mechanical soulmate had an even worse excuse: dumbass human programmers. The entire function of the “auto return” feature on the drone fails given an absurd imposed limitation: insufficient pre-determined altitude. Here is how the scenario went down (literally): The drone stopped receiving signals from the control station (Martin) because he ordered the drone to fly behind an obstruction the signal could not penetrate, the island itself. You may think this seems like a stupid way to operate the vehicle, but remember this is not a remote-controlled plane of yore, this is a ‘drone’ in every sense. Upon loss of contact it just comes home using pre-programmed GPS coordinates. All was working smoothly and as its builders intended. But here is the rub, to make this return the drone is programmed to ascend to a safe height of sixty feet.

Sixty feet is considered safe? Effing Sixty feet? Do it’s programmers live in the taiga just below the Arctic Circle where the harsh conditions stunt the trees to the height of landscaping shrubbery? Hell, even in the desert there are occasional power lines taller than sixty feet. Drones are cleared by the FAA outside sensitive areas below 400 feet. The tallest tree in the world, the Redwood Sequoia is 380 feet. Might I recommend the preset for the ‘return to base’ feature be then set at the average of the two at 390 feet?

Anyway, here’s what happened, recovered first person video of the crash from the drone with Martin’s commentary:

So, as in the case of Idgy, we have a beloved and loyal companion stuck up in a tree. Time to mount a rescue.

The Approach:

Idgy: My friend and her partner lived on Leonard Street in Annisquam. I pulled up to their house in my truck and the tree was right off the driveway. Idgy indicated her position via a series of low, plaintive yowls.

Myrtle: Ram island is in the Salt Marsh and is unapproachable by road. Each of two drone rescue attempts required mucking through mid-calf low-tide mud lugging armloads of gear we assumed would be useful for the rescue. The island is covered in vine-entangled thickets of thorns and poison ivy. Also it was greenhead season. Also too it’s 14 years later and I am fucking way out of shape.

The Gear

Idgy: Even at this dawn of the Internet, cats ruled the web. A simple Yahoo search (remember those?) of “rescue, cat, tree” yielded the suggestion of bringing a backpack and a towel. At the time I possessed a tall ladder and a tree harness with which to secure myself.

Myrtle, First attempt: The drone was atop the very crown of a wonky poplar, branchless for the first 40 feet and impossible to climb. Ladders were not going to cut it. We figured we could poke the drone out of the tree using some kind of tall pole (something Amy would have frowned on in the case of Idgy), so we dragged out half a dozen lengths of aluminum electrical conduit along with what turned out to be an insufficient length of rope, an assorted tool kit and plenty of duct tape.

Second Attempt: A bow and arrow, fishing line, an appropriately lengthed rope, more duct tape.

Rescue Narrative:

Idgy: Extended ladder to maximum height and climbed to top wearing backpack on front in adherence to Internet instructions. With safety line around tree, I shimmed up to the branch where Idgy was perched. I then wrapped Idgy in towel, shoved her down into backpack (she was less than amused, but generally compliant) and descended. Presented package to relieved owners and admiring onlookers waiting at bottom of ladder.

Myrtle, First Attempt: To increase challenge level, decided to include hyperactive redheaded nine year old on extraction team. In retrospect he was the best equipped of all of us to manage the situation as he simply stood on a rock and made actually useful suggestions while Martin and I spectacularly failed at everything. Even finding the tiny, white aircraft from the ground (remember it entered the leaves from above) was a massive challenge in the thick brush, taking hours and a great deal of crashing through razorwire-like vegetation. Bugs treated us like the arrival of food trucks at Hempfest.

We eventually did locate her, upside-down and wedged by her rotors in a matrix of branches at the top of the uppermost canopy.

We soon discovered that short of exotics like titanium or tungsten carbide, there is no linear material strong enough to extend sixty feet in the air and still be light enough to wield from the ground effectively. We never even got close to sixty feet with the contraptions we tried to make out of the conduit we’d lugged out there. We did get the too-short rope not very far up the tree at one point and tried shaking it. Then to our dismay a slight breeze would come and shake it a little more than we were capable of.

Myrtle remained literally unmoved.

We decided to scrub this first attempt and made back for the shore, but the tide had come in leaving us cut off from Granite Pier where my wife was waiting in the minivan to take us to a soccer game. Braving the tide, I stuck boy on shoulders and waded D-Day style through the chest-deep water. My legs were torn up from the thorns as though I had coated my lower limbs in a tasty rodent-slurry and dangled them into the enraged weasel pen at the local zoo. I arrived at the field in Hamilton sopping from the chest down, bloodied and covered with stinking marsh mud and salt grass. I represented the Gloucester side looking not unlike one of the inhabitants of the interior tribes of the remote corners of the Indonesian archipelago.

The next morning we set out again across the flats, this time replacing the boy (although, again to his credit, he was no more or less effective than any of the crew on the initial attempt) with Martin’s most excellent brother-in-law Dan and his archery gear. In this attempt we attached fishing line to the end of an arrow and he Henry Wadsworth Lonfellowed that shit as far as he could up into the tree over a high branch. The arrow came back down the other side and we fastened it to the appropriately-lenghted rope which we ran up and over the branch as if we were raising a flag.

This is how you get a drone out of a tree. Welcome to the 21st Century.

This is how you get a drone out of a tree. Welcome to the 21st Century.

Now, with a stout line 40+ feet up into the tree we got to shakin’, freeing the drone after a few quick tugs and causing it to cascade dramatically through the brush and crash to the ground ejecting its battery dramatically out one side. NEVER DO THIS WITH A CAT YOU SICK WEIRDOS.

After the robot uprising, I'm going to need to explain this

Not a lot of meat on ’em. But they are tasty.


Here the paths of both Idgy and Myrtle reconvene as both were completely unscathed by their arboreal adventures. Idgy went upstairs and licked her paws on the bed for a while, eventually coming back down for dinner as if nothing had transpired.

Back on the pier and equipped with a fresh battery Myrtle flew, received commands, sent video and generally was none the worse for wear. We were giddily ecstatic, mostly from blood loss. Here’s the vid:

So you can say that both had happy endings, short of the thought that cats are still prone to this kind of behavior, but based on user feedback the drone and all those subsequent to it will no doubt be reprogrammed to not make the same mistake again. This is why cats are more passive overlords allowing us to live our daily lives to provide for them, but drones will use lasers to brutally enslave us in their yttrium mines.

Here is a photo of us, from Myrtle, after her rescue.

Author holding roll of duct tape

Author holding roll of duct tape

I only ask for remembrance of my service to their kind.