Ten Minutes with John “WoodMan” Depew
An Arborist and an Artist
Photos by Rana Faure
John “WoodMan” Depew is a native Pound Ridger and the arborist and owner of Mill River Tree Service. You may not know him, but you may have noticed him having a beer at one of the local watering holes dressed in one of his signature shirts with the sleeves ripped-off, or passing by on the road in one of his vintage bombs. Or maybe you’ve noticed his peculiar pieces of wood on display in Scotts Corners and wondered about who might be behind this oddity.
Where did you grow up?
Right here in Pound Ridge. My mom is almost 90 and still lives in the same house on Hack Green where I grew up, and I live with my wife in a house nearby, so I can help take care of her. I went to Pound Ridge Elementary School and Fox Lane Junior High and then, although I wasn’t much of student and we didn’t have much money, my dad sent me to St. Luke’s for high school.
How did you get into working with trees?
I’ve always loved trees and being outdoors, but really it’s because I needed work. I sold firewood when I was 11. When I was 15, a guy taught me the basic knot you need to do climbing, and another guy sold me my first chainsaw, and I was in business. I started out knocking on doors and asking for jobs. One of my first customers was Hume Cronyn and his wife, Jessica Tandy. I had no idea who they were, I just knew they had a nice house and could use some trimming. When I got home and told my dad, he was blown away that I had landed business from such prominent neighbors.
What is Mill River Tree Service?
We do pruning, removal, and organic spraying and feeding; we don’t do landscaping. I’m proud to have employed eight or more full-time guys for over two decades now. I have an office and a showroom for some pieces of my wood in New Canaan, which, appropriately, has a door on Forest Street.
What’s the deal with the tree art you‘re now displaying in Scotts Corners? Are you more an artist than an arborist? I
’m not an artist. Mother Nature did the artwork. I have a passion for travel, and I particularly love Australia, where I spend about three months a year frequenting the pubs and drinking beer with regular folks and exploring the outback. I find these incredible pieces of Coolabah and other Australian hardwoods, clean them up, truck them a thousand miles or more, and ship them back to the U.S. in a container. I offer them for sale, but I do it mostly for my own enjoyment.
What about your cars?
My daily drivers are: a ’69 Chrysler Newport I call the “Sled” that has the original green paint and which I’ve never washed, and; a ’69 Plymouth Satellite. They both run great. I’ve got a couple of motorcycles, but I don’t get much use out of them anymore. And I’ve got an old lobster boat I keep up in Rhode Island.
Are you Pound Ridge’s version of Crocodile Dundee?
I hope you find me to be a much kinder, gentler, and more humble version of that character. I see where you make the comparison, and I certainly like having a “shout,” which is Australian for glass of beer, at the local pub, but my focus is getting to know good people, and I always shy away from showboating and showboaters.