O Stinky Tree, O Stinky Tree, How Horrible Thy Branches . . .

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.

I live in downtown Chicago and work in Naperville, Illinois, with about a 70-mile round-trip home-to-office commute each day. I cover most of that distance on trains, but there’s about six miles each day that I do on foot. While the weather is (finally!) halfway decent this month, my walking experience is still not exactly optimal, since I’m trudging through the funky smell (somewhere between cat urine and spoiled tuna) of the flowering Bradford, Cleveland Select, and other ornamental pear trees, typically high on the “worst trees” list for arborists and urban foresters.

They are everywhere in and around Chicago, both in planned locations (I look out from my condo over a sea of them in Grant Park, and there are lines of them at Naperville’s train station) and in unfortunate, unplanned sites; the supposedly-sterile invaders have gone feral over the years, cross-pollinating with other pear trees, their often-thorny, always-brittle spawn popping up aggressively as weeds, to the detriment of other species. I grew up in a part of the country that was devastated by kudzu, and there is an increasing awareness that Bradford and related ornamental pear crosses may be an even more disastrous and expensive-to-mitigate plague than the creeping vines that ate the Carolinas.

And yet: in the past year, new sections of the Chicago River Walk have been completed near the confluence of the North and South Forks. I watched the construction and was pleased to see many of the scientific planting principles we espouse being deployed in the preparation stages – only to be disappointed when they ended up putting in ornamental pears! The developers of these new municipal assets must be aware of the fact that they are planting “bad” trees to get a few weeks’ worth of pretty flowers each year, but somehow their life cycle arithmetic and aesthetic considerations still point to ornamental pears. And that’s just wrong.

TREE Fund can play a role in better educating urban and municipal planners, developers, landscape architects, civil engineers and other related professionals to not make such mistakes. In fact, this is the purpose of the Bob Skiera Memorial Building Bridges Fund, which will award grants for programs to educate decision-makers outside of our core arboricultural disciplines on what to do – and what not to do – with our urban and community forests.

We are within about $20,000 of the $500,000 goal to activate this fund in 2019. If you’d consider making a gift to the Skiera Fund, we’ll be better able in the years ahead to fight the blight of bad, bad trees.

⊕—⊕—⊕—⊕—⊕

A blog-only visual supplement to the article above:

Sure, my train station in Naperville and the parks near my Chicago condo may be postcard pretty at this time of year . . .

Naperville Train Station, pears as far as the eye can see.

Millennium Park, looking toward Pritzker Pavilion, tree love (a.k.a. pollen) is in the air.

. . . but get closer to any of those ornamental pear trees, and odds are you will see a mess like the one below: a textbook bad branching structure that makes these trees fall apart dangerously in inclement weather. Which, incidentally, we have a lot of here in Illinois.

Steep V-crotches + bark inclusions + lack of a central leader + brittle wood = the worst branching structure in nature, and an arborist’s nightmare.

Learn more about invasive ornamental pear trees at this link.

I’ve Got A Bike . . .

White Trash on Wheels! Represent!

The photo at right is among the oldest ones I have of myself. It was taken in the mid-’60s in Ridgeland, South Carolina, at the little bungalow we called “The Green House,” where my Mom and I lived while my Dad was off on various and sundry Marine Corps duties. I am wearing my “Deputy Dawg Hat,” one of my grandfather’s cast off chapeaus, named after my favorite cartoon, which was the only place on television where people spoke the way they did in the real world around me. I’m clutching a football (probably via my Dad, a former offensive linesman who likely expected I’d follow in his footsteps), and whenever I look at this photo, I always smile at the classic piece of redneckery visible in our back yard: a picnic table made out of a door laid over a couple of sawhorses.

I also see, of course, that I am sitting on a tricycle, which I know that I love love loved! This old photo and others from that same general period featuring that same trike remind me that I’ve been rolling around on self-propelled wheels for as long as I can remember (maybe longer), and that bikes have been a key part of my life’s narrative for over half a century. I do not call myself a “cyclist” (not fast enough for that) nor am I a gear nerd nor do I collect bikes nor do I feel like I need the latest and greatest equipment at all times. I just like using my own wheels to get where I need to go or (even better) to just roll around checking out the world around me, with no particular destination in mind. I like bikes and biking. I always have. That’s it.

I should note at this point that I’m not just talking about “bikes” generically here in this article, but rather the long line of very specific bikes that I have owned and ridden, oftentimes well beyond their normal life expectancies. I can clearly remember them all, every one: what each one felt like, where I went with it, what I did to it, what I liked about it, what I didn’t, and where each of them went when our times together were done.

My family moved to Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) Earle near Colts Neck, New Jersey a couple of years after that trike photo was snapped, and I got real two-wheel bike once we got settled in there. We lived at the top of a long hill on Green Drive (an extended cul-de-sac), and I learned to work my two-wheeler by essentially being set atop it and pushed down the hill, with wobbly training wheels at first, each of which fell off (at different times) over the course of a few weeks or so, eventually leaving me rolling like a big boy. My Dad was the Commander of the Marine Corps barracks at NAD Earle, and the base was secured at its perimeters, which meant that me and other little kids in the neighborhood could essentially just ride and ride and ride to our hearts’ content without any adult supervision, as far as we wanted to go, until the sun went down, or one of our parents sent the base security folks to round us up and send us home.

As I grew, I went through a series of larger and larger bikes (usually birthday or Christmas gifts, as I needed them) through various family moves to Virginia, Kansas, Long Island, Rhode Island and North Carolina. I rode them on the roads, and I rode them in woods (the distinctions between street bikes and trail bikes are generally lost on kids), and I destroyed a few of them by jumping them over ridiculously unsafe ramps, or field stripping them for parts to add to other, newer bikes, or doing the various other stupid things that stupid teenage boys do to their belongings.

Gotta dig the early ’80s helmet . . .

I didn’t take a bike with me when I went off to the Naval Academy in 1982, but I bought one in Annapolis soon afterwards: a great Bianchi Celeste road bike. I kept and rode that one until 2011, when we moved from New York to Iowa, making it my longest-lasting bike buddy, by far. That’s me and Green Machine at right, probably in spring 1988, in the driveway of the first house that Marcia and I shared together. I think she probably took this photo, though I can’t say that for certain. (Another redneck classic moment here: I couldn’t afford real cycling gloves, so these are just thick wool winter gloves with the fingers cut off. You can take the boy out of South Cackalacky, but you can’t take the South Cackalacky out of the boy).

By the early 2000s, we were living in Upstate New York, and various family and work obligations made it harder to use my limited free time by taking the sorts of long road rides that Green Machine was designed to accommodate. So I decided to get an off-road bike instead, and do shorter, more intense, rides closer to our home, mostly in the woods. That bike was named Trusty Steed, and man oh man, did I ride that thing hard, using it as a companion on the various Hidden in Suburbia photo-essays that I wrote and published on and off until 2011. Trusty Steed wins the “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” prize among all of my bikes for accommodating whatever I threw at him in stride, and still getting me where I wanted to go, even if it was via routes that weren’t really made for bikes. At all.

Trusty Steed and I going where we shouldn’t . . .

I took Trusty Steed with me to Iowa in 2011; Green Machine stayed in New York, given to a charity that refurbished bikes for immigrant families. Unfortunately, most of my riding in Iowa was done on roads or paved trails, not in the woods, and years of abuse meant that Trusty Steed had a variety of clanks and creaks and bonks and rattles that were okay when crunching through rocks and sticks, but became distractions in the relative quiet of blacktop pavement riding. He was put out to pasture (in our garage), and then I went through a couple of replacement bikes in short order after that, before settling on a hybrid bike named City Liner (named after a Good Rats song) that wasn’t exactly a superstar in either off-road or on-road situations, but got the job done.

When we moved to Chicago, we went from having a three-car garage (with plenty of bike space) to having a single rack spot in a communal condo bike room, so I donated all of my bikes except City Liner to the Des Moines Bicycle Collective. He seemed to be the best choice among my bikes, since city riding tends to require a combination of skills, including pot-hole dodging, curb-jumping, and pedestrian slalom on the various lake-front trails. But then a few weeks later, with virtually no training time logged, I was off to Florida to ride my first Tour des Trees (the major annual community engagement event for TREE Fund, of which I am President and CEO), and it quickly became apparent that I’d made the wrong choice of keeper bike if I was going to ride a 500+ mile, seven day adventure cycling tour every year.

Zoom zoom zoom through Southern Pines, Black Felt in effect . . .

So I went back full circle to a good road bike again, selling City Liner to a neighbor in our condo building who needed a city bike for his son, when he was home from college. My newest (and current) bike is Black Felt. I rode him in the 2016 Tour and have done all of my Chicago and training riding on him since then. (Though I do feel mildly guilty to note that I rented a sexy Aluboo roadster from our Tour Director for the 2017 Tour, so I didn’t have to ship Black Felt to and from Washington, DC, in the midst of a bunch of other work-driven chaos).

After an atrocious winter and hideously rank and dank spring that ran through the end of April, I’m pleased to finally be back out on the road again with Black Felt. We did a 52-miler this past Saturday, and it felt good. This ride was notable for me in a somewhat subtle way: after 50+ years of being a no-tech or low-tech rider, I took to the road for the first time with a cycling computer onboard, which was an early birthday gift from Marcia. I was somewhat awed and overwhelmed by what it captured when I got home and plugged it into my PC, so I look forward to figuring out how to add these bits and bobs of information into the way I ride going forward. (I know it will be helpful on the Tour des Trees: after three years of being the guy with a bunch of folded up paper cue sheets in my jersey pockets, I will at least look like the cool kids now).

Sorry about that elevation number. There ain’t no hills in the Second City!!

One thing that was particularly interesting to me among all the data was the impact on average speed that Chicago-style riding produces: when I was on the bike and moving, I generally kept to a 16 to 18 mile per hour pace, but since inner city riding means I can rarely go more than five or ten minutes without having to slow dramatically and/or unclip and stop for a light, car, pedestrian, crossing, whatever, it made my effective speed only 12.5 miles per hour. I guess if I could get to where my Chicago average speed was 15 miles per hour or so, then I’ll really be able to move up in the pack when we get out on the open road in Ohio for this year’s Tour des Trees. (Which you should support, by the way, with my thanks).

So that’s a lifetime in bikes there, for what it’s worth, and for better or worse. It’s hard for me to imagine a time that I won’t be rolling around on self-propelled wheels as I’ve done for over 50 years already. Hopefully they continue to be of the two-wheeled upright version, like Black Felt, for many more years, but if a time comes when I need to go recumbent, or back to a trike, or even a wheel chair, well, hey, no worries, no shame, so long as I’m still rolling down the road under my own power, since that’s what counts to me.

 

Post?

I should probably do a blog post. It’s been a while. Not that there’s any pressing need for one, of course, but, you know . . . I should probably do one. Give the traffic a little bump. Put a couple tweets up on Twitter. Maybe a link on LinkedIn. Draw some eyeballs. April was a good month, even though I didn’t write much. That’s nice to see, I guess. Maybe May would be good, too, even if I didn’t do a blog post. But I should probably do a blog post. It’s been a while.

Let’s see. What should I write about? Well, not should, exactly, since no one is making me write about anything in particular, so it’s not like there’s an external driver, or a need, per se, that has to be satisfied and written about, to satisfy some obligation or another. It’s more, like, what could I write about? Which should be an easy question to answer, in a world of infinite creative possibilities. But really when you ask that question, or when I ask that question, it’s more like sitting in the easy chair by yourself (myself) and turning on Cable TV and scrolling through all 3,000 channels and not being able to find a single goddamned thing that you want to watch. How can that be???

Sometimes, though, there’s a show or a game or something that you know about in advance, and you’re excited about, so it’s easy to sit down and watch that. On the TV, I mean. Going to the computer to write a blog post can be like that, too, if there’s an idea that just begs to be written about, or some event that needs to be recorded. Well, not needs, really, since no one’s out there waiting for my hot take on whatever hot take item inspires me to write, especially since what I think is a hot take item is usually 180 degrees out of alignment with what normal people think is a hot take item, so whatever need there is, there, is really my own need, to get something off my mind or out of my head.

But when I should (understanding, per above, this is a self-imposed prerogative) do a blog post because it’s been a while, it’s cool when there’s one of those “gotta get it out” ideas that I want to write about, and it bubbles up at the same time, so the need (my need) (perceived) to write something aligns with a specific something (whether it’s a hot take item or not) that excites me to sit down and write, because then the work (self-imposed) part of the project (if you can call a blog a project; don’t projects have beginnings, middles, and ends, and specific outcomes objectives?) lines up with the enjoyment (self-delivered) part of the project, and there’s satisfaction in sitting down to write, and satisfaction in writing, and satisfaction in having written.

Have I ever said “hot take” before? I don’t think I have. Where did that come from?

I have a tree-related idea that might make for a good blog post, but I should probably save that for the TREE Fund newsletter, then I can post it here afterwards. Support the professional team better that way. Plus I have word-count limits for the TREE Fund newsletter, so if I write it here first, then I have to cut it back later. Better to write the short version first for work, then I can add to it here. Or not, if it seems good enought in short form. (Could write about the whole “is shorter better” or “is it harder to write a short thing than a long thing” concept as a blog post, I guess, but it’s a tired trope, I think). (Is there some new spin on that?)(Hot take?)(No). (Probably not). (No).

Do any of the recurring thingies I do on my blog need (understood, self-imposed) to recur? I did my Top 200 Albums List update in April, so that’s good for awhile. Although I’ve already updated it a couple of times since then. And will do so again, but I don’t make that a new blog post, just an edit of an old one. I wonder if anybody notices when I do that? Like “Oh, hey, check this site out, this dude thinks our album is one of the 200 best records ever, way cool . . . oh, wait . . . sorry, I guess he didn’t, my bad.” I could do another “Ten cool Chicago pictures are worth 10,000 words” post, but I don’t think I have ten cool Chicago pictures since the last one of those posts, and it doesn’t really make sense to do one that’s not part of that series (does it?) or that’s just a random collection of pictures without some theme because then it’s not like a blog post, really, it’s just like a photo album.

I should probably get on Instagram, speaking of photos, and albums. That’s where things are happening these days, right? I think? I dunno. Maybe? Not quite sure. Nor am I sure how it all works over there. But I do know that when I send people to look at pictures in my Flickr albums, it kinda sorta feels like having a hotmail email address in 2018, or a MySpace page. Do others see it that way? Do I care? I dunno. Still,  I should probably get on Instagram. I think. And by should I mean all things I’ve mentioned about should elsewhere. Could? Could. Will? Probably not. But . . . . should.

If I take a picture of the airplane wing when I am flying to Chicago, does it go in the airplane album, the Chicago album, or the travel album? Or should I make a wing album?

Speaking of photos, still, I really liked that Volta Photo exhibition at the Art Institute. I could write about that, maybe. The pictures were great, the story was cool, and there was music that I liked. I could write about hearing Volta Jazz there, and going home and grabbing some of that music, and liking it at home too, in a different context. But then I’d sort of just be repeating the Art Institute’s exhibition summary page, since I’m not really in the mood to do a full on critical exhibition review. Sometimes it’s just nice to see something and like it and not feel obligated (well, not obligated, since no one’s making me do it) to write about it, but just have it for myself, or take someone else to go see it. I kind of feel that way about a lot of stuff, actually. I wonder if when you are a critic (movie, music, art, life) for a long time if you reach a point where you just run out of words or energy to criticize anything anymore. And by you, I mean I. I really liked that Volta Photo exhibition at the Art Institute. Isn’t that enough?

How about books? I could bring back the Five by Five Books series. I only did eight of those, and that seems like a weird number. Should have been ten. I liked Bae Suah’s Recitation, and it’s the kind of weird or unusual book that seems (to me) like it would fit in that series, but then once I’ve stopped a series for three years, does it make sense to bring it back? Should I just write a regular book review about the new book and not try to make it part of something bigger, reminding people in the process that the bigger thing got dropped for three years, and now has nine entries, which is just as weird a number as eight entries, requiring me to think of another book to get it up the proper ten, which is where I should (could) stop it and feel a sense of completion? I could do that (wait, what “that” am I talking about about here; hmmm . . . oh, there it is, that), but then if it’s just a standalone critical review, then (see above) that triggers the whole “tired of criticizing, just enjoy it, don’t need (self-imposed) to share” loop again.

(God, I’ve only got six months until I have to do my annual Best Albums Report! Ugh! That one’s hard. But I can’t stop doing it. Because it’s a series, 57th annual, whatever! I really should keep it up). (Should?) (Should). (Need)? (????)?

This review aversion thing is weird, right? (Who are you talking to?) (And by you I mean I?) (Or do I?) I used to bang out reviews all the time on all sorts of things, bang bang bang, check’s in the mail (six to twelve months later). Now I find reviews hard, and there’s usually some angle or outside influence that actually motivates me to do them, e.g. supporting an artist I know, etc. Is that nepotism? I don’t write about family members, so I think it’s cool if I write about my friends’ work in fond terms. I mean, if I don’t like something that a friend does, I just don’t write about it. It actually has to be good for me to do a blog post about, or include it in a list, or whatever. No foul there. (Is there a blog post there?)(Maybe, but it’s boring one). (For me).

But anyway, hypothetically speaking, if I was going to do a blog post about something musical, what would I write about, right now, right here, go! First synapse closed says: I really like HOGG (a band) and they have a new album coming out, but I have only heard one song so far, and it’s great, but if I wrote about them now, it would be like a preview piece, and I’d really end up writing about their last album (also great), and then what’s the point, really, unless I have something unique to say about it. Which, I guess on some plane I do, because a big part of what I like about HOGG is their use of techniques that I also used in my own music, e.g. processing things the “wrong” way, using oddly linked pedals, skeletal electronic beats, background hums and buzzes, re-purposing rudimentary technology to get unexpected results, etc. etc. etc. And how many people can say that? It’s probably a fresh take, if not a hot one.

That’s a great album cover there. I wish I’d had an album cover like that.

That would kind of be kind of an obnoxious review if I wrote it that way, though, wouldn’t it? “I like HOGG because they sound like me. Signed, Me.” But I wouldn’t mean it that way. It wouldn’t be back-patting, because it’s not like they heard my stuff and emulated it in any way. It’s more a convergent evolution thing, with unrelated organisms coming up with similar solutions in different places and times. Plus, I think HOGG  do what they do better than I did what I did, and they’ve certainly gotten more press exposure with it than I ever did, so seeing similaritie wouldn’t be a self-congratulatory comparison thing, it would just be, like “Ooo! I see and hear something in there that I recognize! That’s so cool!”

But, still, that would probably scan like a self-indulgent “me me me” review, no matter how I intended it. Especially since HOGG are women and are much younger than me, so people might fairly read any words I wrote about them in comparison to my own Old White Guy musical experiences as though I were (was? were? am?) saying “Oh, look, these young women discovered a cool sound and I like it. But actually, I discovered it before they did. Here, let me mansplain it to you and them, and praise their originality. But actually, let’s praise my originality. Bro. Dude. Brah. (Manspread). (Brunch). (Cubbies).”

No. I guess I really shouldn’t do that. Not the kind of thing one should even say aloud, really. And by one I mean me. And by should I mean should. And by really I mean, well not right now, anyway. Maybe I’ll think about how to do this in a non-jerky way and come back to it after HOGG’s new album is out and I have had a chance to listen to the whole thing. Of course, by then, I will probably forget that I was thinking about doing this the next time I feel like I really should (normal caveats) write a blog post. I guess I could write this idea down on a white board to remember it. I used to have a white board by my desk. It was good for capturing passing ideas until they ripened. I should probably get a white board again. I should probably try to remember that I want to get a white board again. If I had a white board, I would down on the white board that I want to get a white board. It’s white boards all the way down.

Jeezum Krow, is it 9:00 already??? I really should get to work on other stuff now, shouldn’t I? (That’s a different kind of should there, isn’t it? External, not internal). Ugh. I sure hope the next time I should (back to earlier meaning) write a blog post that I have one of those “exciting hot take” ideas (Hot take? Why? I don’t have hot takes. Who has hot takes? Stop that!) that emerges at the same time, because otherwise, God, I would probably end up doing one of those self-indulgent “blogging about blogging” posts, and nothing is lamer than than those.

And by nothing, I mean nothing.