The Legacy of John Evelyn’s “Sylva”

Note: Here’s my latest “Leading Thoughts” article from the new edition of TREE Press, the monthly newsletter of TREE Fund, of which I am President and CEO.

Before coming to TREE Fund, I served as Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation, which owns and operates an amazing historic house museum in Des Moines, Iowa. Salisbury House was built in the 1920s within a glorious 12-acre oak forest, and its owners – cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks and his wife Edith – worked diligently to protect the grand old trees around their 42-room manor home, most of which still provide shade to the house and gardens.

Carl Weeks was an extraordinary collector of rare books and documents, and one of the great delights in my work at Salisbury House was being able to study, work with, and teach from his 3,500-book library. One of items in the collection was an early edition of John Evelyn’s Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions (c. 1664-1670), arguably the first great treatise in the English language on the science, care and importance of trees. It was a massive success then, and has remained in print for over 350 years.

While Evelyn appreciated the beauty of trees, his underlying call to action was an economic one: trees provided fuel, building supplies, food, defense, and a litany of other crucial day-to-day needs in pre-industrial England, and the island’s forests were being denuded in the aftermath of the English Civil War. “We had better be without gold than without timber,” Evelyn wrote, encouraging land owners to plant trees as a matter of patriotic obligation. His countrymen heard him, and many old English forests today are home to trees planted by Sylva’s earliest devotees.

On April 27, 2018, millions of people across our own country will honor National Arbor Day by planting trees, providing innumerable benefits, some that John Evelyn understood in the 1660s — but many others of which are known to us now only through the types of modern scientific research empowered by TREE Fund. You can further this ongoing scientific legacy by making a gift to TREE Fund’s Arbor Day Appeal. We’re proud to work on behalf of our trees and the people who care for them, and take pride in being a link in a chain of inquiry that spans centuries – and will benefit those who follow us for centuries to come.

Click on “Sylva” to make your own contribution on behalf of our urban and community forests, and the professionals who study and care for them.

My Top 200 Albums Of All Time (2018 Update)

A couple of years have passed since I last refreshed my all-time favorite albums list, and when a friend recently noted that my alleged Top 200 roster actually contained 202 entries, I figured it was time for an update.

I’ve been keeping a master list of favorite albums since the very early ’70s, when I was a grade school Steppenwolf fan. My tastes have evolved dramatically over the years (though I still like Steppenwolf), so I review and update this list periodically, dropping things that haven’t aged well, and adding new things that excite me and seem to have staying power.

For many years, this was a “Top 100 List,” but as I’ve gotten older, I feel entitled to expand the roster beyond the century mark, since I’ve listened to a whole lot more music now than I had when I was younger. I also used to exclude “Greatest Hits” and other compilation or live albums, but I’ve gotten less uptight about that, too, since for some artists, their best work may have appeared on singles that only saw long-form release in the form of “Best Of” collections.

So here’s the update, in alphabetical order by artist name. As soon as I post this list, I will invariably change my mind about something, but that’s the beauty of updates, right? Watch this space in 2020 to see what I got wrong this time!

  1. AC/DC: Back in Black
  2. Allison, Mose: Swingin’ Machine
  3. Bauhaus: The Sky’s Gone Out
  4. Beef: Stink, Stank, Stunk
  5. Beefheart, Captain and the Magic Band: Clear Spot
  6. Beefheart, Captain and the Magic Band: The Spotlight Kid
  7. Beefheart, Captain and the Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica
  8. Birthday Party: Junkyard
  9. Black Flag: Damaged
  10. Bogmen: Life Begins at 40 Million
  11. Bonzo Dog Band: Keynsham
  12. Bonzo Dog Band: The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse
  13. Bowie, David: “Heroes”
  14. Bowie, David: Low
  15. Bowie, David: Lodger
  16. Bowie, David: Blackstar
  17. Burning Spear: Marcus Garvey
  18. Bush, Kate: Hounds of Love
  19. Butthole Surfers: Hairway to Steven
  20. Butthole Surfers: Locust Abortion Technician
  21. Camberwell Now: All’s Well
  22. Camper Van Beethoven: Camper Van Beethoven
  23. Cave, Nick and the Bad Seeds: Henry’s Dream
  24. Cave, Nick and the Bad Seeds: Tender Prey
  25. Chance The Rapper: Coloring Book
  26. Chap: Mega Breakfast
  27. Che Guevara T-Shirt: Everyone That’s Dead Was Obviously Wrong
  28. Check Engine: Check Engine
  29. Christian Death: Catastrophe Ballet
  30. Clash: Combat Rock
  31. Clutch: Elephant Riders
  32. Clutch: Robot Hive/Exodus
  33. Clutch: Psychic Warfare
  34. Coil: Love’s Secret Domain
  35. Coil: Backwards
  36. Coil: Horse Rotorvator
  37. Coil: The Ape of Naples
  38. Collider: WCYF
  39. Cramps: Bad Music for Bad People
  40. Cypress Hill: Cypress Hill
  41. Dälek: Absence
  42. Dälek: Gutter Tactics
  43. Davis, Jed: Small Sacrifices Must Be Made
  44. Death Grips: Ex-Military
  45. Death Grips: Government Plates
  46. Department of Eagles: The Cold Nose
  47. Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo
  48. Dogbowl: Flan
  49. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment: Surf
  50. Dunnery, Francis: Tall Blonde Helicopter
  51. Eagles: Desperado
  52. Earth, Wind and Fire: All n’ All
  53. Einsturzende Neubauten: Halber Mensch
  54. Einsturzende Neubauten: Haus der Luge
  55. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Tarkus
  56. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Trilogy
  57. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery
  58. Eno, Brian: Here Come the Warm Jets
  59. Eno, Brian: Another Green World
  60. Eno, Brian: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
  61. Eno, Brian: Before And After Science
  62. Fall: Hex Enduction Hour
  63. Fall: Imperial Wax Solvent
  64. Family: Bandstand
  65. Family: Fearless
  66. Fear: The Record
  67. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold
  68. Fleetwood Mac: Future Games
  69. Fleetwood Mac: Bare Trees
  70. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
  71. Focus: Live At The Rainbow
  72. Fripp, Robert: Exposure
  73. Funkadelic: Maggotbrain
  74. Funkadelic: American Eats Its Young
  75. Gabriel, Peter: Peter Gabriel (III/Melt)
  76. Gang of Four: Entertainment!
  77. Gay Tastee: Songs for the Sodomites
  78. Genesis: Duke
  79. Genesis: Abacab
  80. Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
  81. Goat: World Music
  82. Good Rats: Birth Comes to Us All
  83. Good Rats: Tasty
  84. Grand Mal: Binge/Purge
  85. Grateful Dead: American Beauty
  86. Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead
  87. Hall, Daryl: Sacred Songs
  88. Hall, Terry and Mushtaq: The Hour Of Two Lights
  89. Hanslick Rebellion: The Rebellion is Here
  90. Hawkwind: Doremi Fasol Latido
  91. Hawkwind: Space Ritual
  92. Head, Jowe and the Demi-Monde: Diabolical Liberties
  93. Hitchcock, Robyn and the Egyptians: Element of Light
  94. Human Sexual Response: 14
  95. Human Sexual Response: In a Roman Mood
  96. Husker Du: Zen Arcade
  97. Jarre, Jean-Michel: Equinoxe
  98. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon: Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
  99. Jethro Tull: Songs From the Wood
  100. Jethro Tull: The Broadsword and the Beast
  101. JethroTull: Heavy Horses
  102. Jethro Tull: Thick as a Brick
  103. Jethro Tull: A Passion Play
  104. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures
  105. Joy Division: Closer
  106. Juluka: Scatterlings
  107. Kamikaze Hearts: Oneida Road
  108. Keineg, Katell: Jet
  109. Killdozer: Twelve Point Buck
  110. King Crimson: Starless and Bible Black
  111. King Crimson: Red
  112. King Crimson: Live in Chicago
  113. King Crimson: Lizard
  114. Korn: The Paradigm Shift
  115. Kraftwerk: Trans-Europe Express
  116. Kraftwerk: Minimum-Maximum
  117. Kurki-Suonio, Sanna: Musta
  118. Laurels: L
  119. Melvins: (A) Senile Animal
  120. Michael Nyman: A Zed and Two Noughts (Original Soundtrack)
  121. Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime
  122. Mitchel, Joni: For the Roses
  123. Mitchell, John Cameron and Stephen Trask: Hedwig And The Angry Inch
  124. Mos Def: The Ecstatic
  125. Mould, Bob: District Line
  126. Napalm Death: Time Waits For No Slave
  127. Napalm Death: Utilitarian
  128. Napalm Death: Apex Predator — Easy Meat
  129. New Order: Movement
  130. New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies
  131. Octopus: Restless Night
  132. Parliament: Chocolate City
  133. Pas/Cal: I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke and Laura
  134. Pere Ubu: The Modern Dance
  135. Pere Ubu: Terminal Tower
  136. Phair, Liz: Exile in Guyville
  137. Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon
  138. Pink Floyd: The Wall
  139. Prieboy, Andy: The Questionable Profits of Pure Novelty
  140. Prieboy, Andy: Upon My Wicked Son
  141. Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet
  142. R.E.M.: Life’s Rich Pageant
  143. Renaldo and the Loaf: Songs for Swinging Larvae
  144. Replacements: Let It Be
  145. Replacements: Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
  146. Robbins, Marty: Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs
  147. Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St.
  148. Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure
  149. Rundgren, Todd: Healing
  150. Rush: Signals
  151. Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel: Nail
  152. Sepultura: Roots
  153. Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
  154. Shriekback: Oil and Gold
  155. Simon and Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence
  156. Six Feet Under: Warpath
  157. Small Axe: A Shot to the Body
  158. Smiths: Hatful of Hollow
  159. Smiths: Louder Than Bombs
  160. Snog: Last of the Great Romantics
  161. Sonin, K.: The Definition of Stupidity is Doing the Same Thing 34 Times and Expecting Different Results
  162. Special A.K.A.: In the Studio
  163. Steely Dan: Aja
  164. Steely Dan: The Royal Scam
  165. Steely Dan: Can’t Buy A Thrill
  166. Steppenwolf: Gold
  167. Swans: Filth
  168. Swans: Holy Money
  169. Talking Heads: Fear of Music
  170. Television Personalities: Closer to God
  171. Thighpaulsandra: The Golden Communion
  172. This Heat: Deceit
  173. Tosh, Peter: Mama Africa
  174. Tragic Mulatto: Italians Fall Down and Look Up Your Dress
  175. Tsukerman, Slava et. al.: Liquid Sky (Original Soundtrack)
  176. Utopia: Utopia
  177. Utopia: Swing to the Right
  178. Van Halen: Van Halen
  179. Various Artists: If You Can’t Please Yourself, You Can’t Please Your Soul
  180. Vek, Tom: Luck
  181. Wailer, Bunny: Blackheart Man
  182. Wall of Voodoo: Happy Planet
  183. Wall of Voodoo: Seven Days in Sammystown
  184. Wasted: We Are Already in Hell
  185. Weasels: Uranus or Bust
  186. Weasels: AARP Go the Weasels
  187. Ween: Quebec
  188. Ween: The Mollusk
  189. Who: Who’s Next
  190. Wings: Band on the Run
  191. Wings: Venus and Mars
  192. Wire: The Ideal Copy
  193. Wire: Silver/Lead
  194. XTC: Black Sea
  195. XTC: English Settlement
  196. Yes: The Yes Album
  197. Yes: Fragile
  198. Young, Neil and Crazy Horse: re-ac-tor
  199. Zappa, Frank and the Mothers of Invention: One Size Fits All
  200. Zappa, Frank: Joe’s Garage, Parts I, II and III

My Tour des Trees Appeal Letter

As President and CEO of TREE Fund, I could justifiably just show up to cheer on the volunteer riders on our annual Tour des Trees and thank them for their efforts each year, but instead I choose to experience it with them, on the road, putting in the same time and effort they do. I also choose to fully fundraise for myself, rather than having TREE Fund pay my way as a staff member, to make sure that I’m not an administrative burden on this incredible event.

I’ve set a personal goal of $5,000 this year, and I recently sent out my Tour appeal letter to my generous list of regular supporters. Click here to read the letter, so you can see my pitch, and (hopefully) sign on to help us get the job done. Marcia has also graciously stepped up this year to help us out, by participating in a Virtual Tour on our behalf. Here’s her own fundraising page, and she’s well on the way to meeting her mileage and fundraising goals.

If you can’t commit to coming to Ohio to ride 530 miles with us this year, you can set up your own Virtual Tour, too, alone, with friends, anywhere, doing anything you enjoy doing. Here’s how.

We’re expecting a great team and a great Tour this year, and I’m ready for spring to come to Chicago so I can get out the road and get to training. Thanks in advance for whatever support you care to provide. I appreciate it, and it will make a difference.

Zoom zoom!

Click my pic (Southern Pines, NC, on the 2016 Tour) for my contributions page.

Che Guevara T-Shirt, “Seven Out, Pay The Don’ts”

If you trawl back through my website, you’ll find a fair number of fond mentions of Che Guevara T-Shirt, a venerable, unusual, and ever more exceptional noise rock band from Albany, New York. That list of enthusiastic cites gets one entry longer this month with the release of the group’s seventh record, Seven Out, Pay The Don’ts, a five cut slab of dense, deep delirium that slams and knots its way to transcendence over a tangled 34-minute run.

CGT was formed around 2005 by Albany-scene veterans K Sonin and Matt Heuston, and the group’s earliest lineups and releases hewed to a fairly traditional guitar-bass-drum-vox paradigm, though their music was more elliptical, mathematical, and challenging than what the sneaker-gazing brigade was mostly offering at the time. Sometime before their stellar 2013 breakthrough album, Everyone That’s Dead Was Obviously Wrong, Heuston and Sonin dramatically reinvented the group’s sonic palette and approach by setting aside their customary instruments (bass and lead guitar) and taking up a pair of baritone guitars in their stead.

That instrumental change was substantial and transformative, allowing the pair to create a dynamic front line of equally-equipped sonic adventurers, taking their winding explorations of mutated riffs and atonal licks in directions that I’ve frankly never heard probed before, on stage or on record. 2016’s Tsarskoye Selo found Sonin and Heuston working out a trio format with drummer John Olander with exceptional results, as the early frantic rhythms slowed a bit, the songs stretched out more, the interplay of the baritones became more baroque and bizarre, and the grinding riffs just got positively huge.

How do you build on that trend line of success? In CGT’s case, they decided to add even more power and heft to the mix by recruiting bassist Chris Reach into the band, and then commissioning Justin Pizzoferrato (whose C.V. includes work with such noisy icons as Dinosaur, Jr., Lou Barlow, The Pixies, Kim Gordon, and many others) to engineer their sessions. I know I’ve already used a lot of superlative adjectives in framing this review, so to get a sense of the results of these systemic adjustments without me repeating myself, take all of those descriptors used thus far and add some more “-ers” and “-ests” to them, and you’ll get the general gist of the outcome. It’s a really, really good record, at bottom line, and its power and punch is palpable.

Opening track “Scar Tissue Abscond” leaps out to blocks so quickly that you feel like you’re in the middle of a mighty song ten seconds into the track, as Sonin exhorts that “No one will hear me scream / No one can hear me sing” over a Titanic descending riff that eventually resolves into an intricate, up-and-down, voice-and-bari figure built around the most dense lyric on the disc. “Triplet” adds a bit more swing to the mix in its early going, loosening the claustrophic hold a bit, then devolves into a fabulous skronky-meets-carny duel at the upper ends of the baritones’ range in its mid-section, before stomping itself to death in its own juices with an ending just as abrupt as the album’s start.

“Rose Hips” is the first of two nine-minute plus numbers at the back end of the record, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “pretty,” it does contain some melodic elements that sweeten the thunderous syncopations framing its construction. Sonin’s voice floats ghostly atop this one, murmuring that “it’s no use being awake when you’re not here, rose hips tease my eyes, hide . . . ” While I can’t quite say that this song (or anything that CGT do) is rich in traditional guitar solos, I will note that the extra sonic space provided by the new bass guitar does allow for more clarity and exploration in the high end of the register, and that’s used to most fine effect here.

“Hot Little Number” is almost exactly what it says it is, a crunchy stomper of a song that builds and builds to something just shy of a visceral crescendo, then stops without the expected moment of release and resolution at its tail. The unsettled taste at that point is a perfect launching point into the clamorous swirl of album-closer “Song,” which alternates silences, concussions, unresolved chords, atonal figures, and unexpected changes into a wild excursion of perfectly planned chaos. “In the sickness inside, I wrote my song,” sings Sonin in the album’s final lyrical stanza, before a three-minute feedback workout carries the record into an exhausted void of its own making. Wow.

It ain’t easy listening, that’s for sure, but it is highly rewarding, and marks another move up the quality Y-axis as Heuston, Sonin and their evolving cast of cohorts push their sonic envelope ever closer to its tearing point with each subsequent release. I am glad to note that this new record and their complete back catalog are now readily available on iTunes and other standard outlets, as they’ve been a bit hard to come by in the past on a variety of less stable platforms. I highly recommend Seven Out, Pay The Don’ts, and then encourage an exploration through the CGT archives for those of you who like to be stirred and challenged in your musical choices. And I certainly look forward to hearing what they come up with next time they hit the studio, as I expect them to swing big and connect again, making my record collection one disc better in the process.

Click the album cover to score your own copy of the disc from Noreaster Failed Industries.

Tree and Soil Research Fund: Designing for Healthy Trees

As President and CEO of TREE Fund, one of the more interesting and exciting aspects of my job is strategically evaluating challenges and opportunities in our mission areas, knitting together disparate ideas to bring resources to bear on under-funded needs, and then executing those plans on behalf of our urban forests and their home communities. We’ve launched a new initiative this year that I consider to be a perfect example of how our problem-solving efforts can make a difference when  we are able to shepherd communal resources toward addressing a widespread problem. Here’s the deal . . .

Thriving urban forests empower community health and prosperity, providing overwhelmingly positive impacts on the aggregate health of cities and suburbs. Research routinely demonstrates a host of benefits from healthy urban canopies, some of them perhaps intuitive, but others sublime and surprising, e.g. increased birth weights, increased retail sales, accelerated patient healing, enhanced student learning, reduction of the urban heat island temperature, reduced runoff and increased water quality, decreased violent crime, and increased sense of common ownership for public spaces. These ecological, economic, and social benefits increase the well-being of families and the vibrancy of communities around the world.

Because trees are long-lived organisms, tree planning, planting, and life cycle care decisions made today will shape their health and impacts for many generations to come. Unfortunately, the potential benefits of our city trees are often reduced when designers, developers, or engineers take a “lollypop on a stick” planning approach to placing trees in the built environment. Our standards often only consider the parts of the trees above ground, while ignoring the crucial subsurface roots, soil and ecology that are essential to our cities’ trees. Nursery stock may contain serious defects, and tree design may be based more on aesthetic preconceptions or code compliance rather than providing for long term growth. Add to this mix new tree diseases and insects, encouraged by globalization and climate change, and the prospects for successful urban trees are not assured.

Many of the important questions related to establishing city trees are not well researched, with design decisions influenced by the evolution of best practices or outdated specifications and details. In order to educate landscape architects and municipal planners alike, TREE Fund’s Board of Trustees established the Tree and Soil Research Fund for Landscape Architecture (TSRF) in 2017 with the following charter:

TSRF will be a permanently restricted endowment fund supporting areas of research of interest to the landscape architecture community with special focus in the area of trees and soils. Supported research will include the following: the design and specification of trees and soils in urban landscapes; propagation and nursery practices that impact the establishment and long term growth of trees; improving species diversity; tree root and canopy structure improvement; soil and drainage design and modification; tree planting practices; tree planting space design; tree establishment and maintenance practices; and planting soil management and maintenance.

TREE Fund has an endowment target goal for TSRF of $500,000, after which it will generate earnings to fund $25,000 per year in research grants, in perpetuity, directly targeted to urban tree and soil research. The effort is being spearheaded by internationally renowned landscape architect James Urban, FASLA, who serves on TREE Fund’s Board of Trustees, for which I am deeply grateful. Our team is currently in the lead gift phase of the campaign, seeking both corporate or individual contributions to empower this initiative.

Here’s a handy little flyer that you might find useful if you’re interested in helping us, or if you know someone else who might be. Feel free to print or forward to your heart’s content — or to contact me if you’d like to learn more. It’s a worthy cause, and I’m excited to see it through to fruition.

Imagine this scene without trees . . .