Northcoast Tree Care Biographies

John Muir Phillips

John was raised on the home property of Sohner Tree Service in San Anselmo.  This was where the tree crews would assemble five days a week, set out for the job and return almost always like clockwork.   Meanwhile, the shop kept the equipment running and the office kept things in order.

“The men would gather first thing in the morning, sippin’ their coffee awaitin’ their work orders.  The younger guys were telling stories about what they’d done the night before; the veterans would tell them to stop braggin’.  Anyone without a sense of humor didn’t last long.”
After living on the home place for 18 years, the lore of tree work was in John’s blood.  But this didn’t mean he wanted to do it.  In fact, it was never in his plans.

“I kind of got into this line of work by default.  It was the fall of ’73 and I had been working in So. Humboldt attempting to get a sawmill venture going.  When the rain started, I had to leave (in those days, once the rain came it didn’t leave till spring).  I ended up broke, back home.  The next day I was put on a crew and went to work dragging brush”.

John worked his way up into the trees learning hard and fast how to get it all done.  “I was fortunate to work with some old timers that really knew the trade.  Their skill came from practice, rather than a book.”

After three years of fieldwork, John’s supervisor decided to retire, opening up a position in management.  At the time, it seemed like a good thing to do.  It sure sounded better than a chainsaw and safer than hangin’ on the end of a rope. 

Little did he know that the job change would mean a lot more than just showing up for work in the morning.   He would have to find and organize the work for all the others that showed up.  This was going to require skills that John had never heard of.

“I had zero experience in sales or people management and only a little bit of background in trees.  Talk about on the job training.  Actually, it was more trial and error, with a fair share of the latter.  But as an old college mate of mine told me, if you don’t know, just fake it”.
The redeeming part of the whole experience was the opportunity to learn more about trees.  “The company allowed me to attend professional meetings and educational sessions where I got to meet and hang out with some of the most knowledgeable tree people.  The more I did it, the more I wanted to know about trees”.

After a decade of intense challenges, John was beginning to think he understood the subject.  It was about this time that the road was to take another turn.  “Our family business was reaching the end of its life.  It was a sad yet liberating time”.

John was to get to do what he had always wanted to do since high school, move to the country.  So he packed up all of his stuff (it was a lot of stuff) and accompanied by his wife and two very young sons, moved to Mendocino Co.     

“When I moved here, I had no intention of ever doing tree work again.  I wanted to farm.  Then the reality of making a living set in”.
It wasn’t long after that he met Carl and the two of them began Northcoast Tree Care.  Together they have experienced many trees, new people and interesting places, not without a lot of sweat, a little blood and some close calls.

“We often look at each other and wonder why are we still doing this?   And then we agree that it is a lot better than being behind a desk and navigating through a city.”

John currently lives with his best friend, Joanna Britton of Albion, on the small farm he started two decades ago.  “I had to build a barn for her animals and a studio for her craft in order to get her here.  It took 3 years, but it worked”.

Adage:   "Wisdom doesn’t always come with age; sometimes age comes by itself."
"Is it 30 years of experience or one year repeated 30 times?

Ling Sinclair

Carl Marx Carlson