NCAA Hoops Pick ‘Em Time!

I’m traveling for work this week, so am setting up my annual Hoops Pick ‘Em pool now, before the brackets are set, since I may have limited computer access once the dance cards are set. The bracket is hosted on Yahoo, so you will need a Yahoo ID to log in and make picks. You should be able to join our group directly by clicking this link, then following the instructions to get your pick set loaded. If you were in the group last year, you should have received an email inviting you back, sent to whatever email address you used last year to register your team. If you go straight into Yahoo to register, when you get to the Pick ‘Em section, you can search for us under Group ID #54028, Chicalbany Moines DC. Picks have to be done before first tip-off on Thursday the 15th. Don’t forget to pick your champion and any requested tie-breaker. Once play begins, your picks will be locked. We pick for bragging and gloating rights only. Knock yourselves out!

TREE Press, Vol. 1, No. 1

As part of an expanded strategic effort to improve our communications capabilities at TREE Fund, we have re-branded and re-designed our monthly digital newsletter. We’ll be offering a print version via snail mail for those who opt in for it, and also providing a quarterly research insert going into a bit more depth on latest research findings, as well as profiles of the scientists behind them, and how they are changing the working worlds in arboriculture and urban forestry. Here’s a link to the first edition.

If you’re inspired by what you read there, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you can help us get the job done by supporting the 26th anniversary Tour des Trees in Ohio, which will find me and 100 or so of my colleagues riding 530 miles to tell the story of how urban and community forests make a difference in our lives, while also raising crucial research funds. Here’s where you can make a gift, which will make a difference. If you’d really feeling inspired and would like a more tangible, hands-on approach to helping us, you can still sign up to ride with us in Ohio, or you can stage a Virtual Tour, and do what you do best, where and for how long you want to do it, to help out our good cause. Hit me if you’d like more info on any of this!

For my first short article in the new TREE Press, I adapted a piece I’d written many years ago called “Be An Expert.” I think it remains useful and timely in terms of how I do my work here, and how I hope my work helps others. You can read the original, longer article here, and I copy the text of the new summary piece in the quote box below:


A few days into my first post-college job with the Federal government, my boss offered me one of the most profound bits of professional advice I have ever received.

“If you want to succeed here, or in any other job,” he said, “then you have to become an expert.”

I asked the obvious (to me) question: “An expert in what, sir?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just make yourself an expert in something, and when you’ve done that, you’ll be indispensable.”

More than three decades later, I still hear and heed my boss’ words in all my work – though I’ve become a bit more discerning in the “expert in what?” piece of the equation. As President and CEO of TREE Fund, I now purposefully and continually work to improve my knowledge and skills in three areas of desired expertise:

  • Identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding sources of support for professional arboriculture and urban forestry;
  • Widely communicating the results our work for all those who want and need to hear it;
  • Managing a fiscally-sound nonprofit corporation guided by a comprehensive strategic plan.

While I often get asked to identify trees, discuss curricula, or explain in-depth research projects, I know where I am not an expert, so I am never too proud to refer such questions to the real experts – or to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you!” In return, I am equally happy to field inquiries in my areas of expertise when they are posed to others – so please feel free to call on me as a resource on those fronts, whenever you need to.

One of the most personally rewarding parts of my work at TREE Fund is knowing that we empower others through grants and scholarships to identify, pursue and deepen their own expertise, hopefully making them indispensable to their own employers and home communities. And so I repeat that advice from long ago – Be an Expert! – and encourage you all to consider how TREE Fund might help you or yours in that pursuit.


Adventures in Maui and Lana’i

As mentioned in the prior post, Marcia and I were in Hawai’i last week for the Tree Care Industry Association’s Winter Management Conference, and we had a delightful time while we were there. We are already trying to figure out a time and itinerary for a return, as we only got to see two of the islands (Maui and Lana’i) this time around, and they were so very unique and different that we expect each island will bring its own special “wow” moments for us.

On the professional front, I view my annual remarks at Winter Management as my “accountability report” to the owners and senior executives of the many businesses who make TREE Fund‘s work possible with their contributions, and whose employees and customers should ultimately benefit from what we do. We had a lot of exciting TREE Fund news over the past year, so I was glad to share that — and equally excited to share our (ambitious) plans for the year ahead. This is a good gig, and I get to do good work with and for good people for a good cause. Goodie!

On a personal front, it was lovely to have evenings and a couple of extra days with Mine Bestest. We both travel so much in our work that it’s always a joy when our schedules align, especially when they allow us to explore new parts of the world together. One of our principles when we travel is that we like to have adventures — which I essentially define as: “Look at where most of the tourists are going, and then go in the opposite direction.” I tend to consider it a proper adventure only if there’s some accidental trespassing involved, or someone comes home bleeding, or we have to get over/around/through some combination of creeks, walls, fences, tar pits, mud flats, or other exciting obstacles and terrain. Marcia, knowing this is my proclivity, is often a good check on things, and is not adverse to offering a firm “Nope!” when I point down a crumbling ravine and say “That way?”

Click on the photo of Marcia having an adventure below for a link to our trip gallery; I’ll let you decide whether it was my path or hers we were walking here . . .

The Fall: A Top Ten List

A continuation of thoughts from And This Day: Mark Edward Smith (1957-2018) . . .

Marcia and I spent the past week in Hawai’i. On the (long) flights between Maui Kahului and Chicago O’Hare, I spent much of the time with headphones on, deeply appreciating a setlist of about 50 Fall Songs that I’d culled after the unfortunate early passing of Mark E. Smith in January. The (long) travel time provided a good period of focused listening and reflection on the amazing body of work that MES (as he’s regularly referenced among Fall fans — and why I use “JES” in my own short-hand notes) left behind for us all. I was equally moved by “classic” songs composed by a young man full of piss and vinegar, and by latter day works, when mortality had clearly intruded in the songwriter’s consciousness.

MES’s funeral took place while we were in Hawai’i, and his sisters released a statement today on The Official Fall Website that read:

We would like to thank family, friends and fans for all their kind words, condolences and memories about our brother Mark. Also, the N.H.S and staff who treated Mark throughout and Mark’s partner Pam who loved, cared and cherished our brother. Mark fought a long and hard battle after his diagnosis of terminal lung and kidney cancer.  He took every treatment going, which could be brutal at times and left Mark with some horrible side effects. Mark was such a strong man and hated letting his fans down and tried to carry on regardless against all advice. Mark had a great life and loved and lived it to the full and always by his own rules and we, as his sisters were privileged to be part of it too. Mark is at peace now and pain free, but we, his three sisters have been left heartbroken and will miss our big brother very much.

Barbara, Suzanne and Caroline.

I was very sad to learn what took Mark away from us, as it made clear the struggle he’d endured in recent months/years — and removed any “he died peacefully in his sleep, and he never knew what was coming” wishful thinking from the mix. His end was hard, and that makes his final album(s) and concert(s) all the more meaningful and amazing, as he was obviously creating and performing with full knowledge that he did not have much time remaining to do so, and was suffering in the process. MES was truly inspiring until the very end. I doff my cap to him, again and again, and I thank him for all the joy he provided me and so many other Fall Fans over the years.

I should note that Fall Fans are a diverse, global lot with myriad interests (musical and otherwise), though if anything binds us (beyond our obvious love for the Fall’s music and the musicians who made/played it), I would offer that it’s a love of list-making, data gathering, analysis and/or debate — as perhaps best evidenced by the ways in which the most seemingly mundane topics regarding The Fall routinely receive deep and thoughtful dives over at the Fall Online Forum (FOF), where I was long a regular contributor. Since MES’s death, I’ve read and digested boodles and boodles of tributes and lists and stories at the FOF and elsewhere, many of which I agree with, and many of which . . . well, not so much.

There are about 520 songs that have been recorded or played live by The Fall over the past 40 years, and as my own final tribute here to Mark E. Smith and The Fall, I offer my personal “Top Ten List of Greatest Fall Songs Ever” below. I’m defaulting to studio album versions for the links embedded in my list, though many Fall Fans will often cite Peel Session or other live versions as definitive. There’s no right answer, ever, when it comes to The Fall.

If you value my tastes and recommendations and want to learn more about The Fall, then these may be good places to start investigating. But if these don’t do it for you, then I most heartily recommend you explore any of the other 510 songs, as I’ll wager there’s a gem in the canon somewhere that will appeal to you, and once you establish that initial connection, it will itch and itch at you, and you will want to hear more (or all) of it, I promise.

#10. “Dr Bucks’ Letter” (2000, from The Unutterable)

#9. “Mountain Energei” (2003, from The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click))

#8. “Who Makes the Nazis?” (1982, from Hex Enduction Hour)

#7. “Weather Report 2” (2010, from Your Future Our Clutter)

#6. “Alton Towers” (2008, from Imperial Wax Solvent)

#5. “The Container Drivers” (1980, from Grotesque (After The Gramme))

#4. “Fall Sound” (2007, from Reformation Post TLC)

#3. “Fantastic Life” (1981, from Lie Dream of A Casino Soul (single))

#2. “Blindness” (2005, from Fall Heads Roll)

#1. “Noel’s Chemical Effluence” (1995, from The Twenty-Seven Points)

And This Day: Mark Edward Smith (1957-2018)

Legendary English singer, songwriter and group leader Mark E. Smith of The Fall died this morning, some four decades after embarking on one of the most remarkable careers in modern music history. The Fall’s studio canon is sprawling and epic in its depth, breadth, variety and quality, while the group’s live performances have given generations of rock scribblers fodder and thrilled countless punters with the chaotic, organic greatness the group concocted on their best nights. (Though even their worst nights were delicious chaotic marvels on some plane).

I have long been a big fan of The Fall (very professional), citing them as my favorite band for many years, and I wrote in glowing terms about their last studio album, New Facts Emerge, just this past August. It was their 31st or 32nd album, depending on how one feels about their 1981 release, Slates. (Whether that’s an EP or an LP is a deeply divisive topic among certain sectors of The Fall’s fandom). (Though it is an EP, for the record). The group had announced a (very rare) set of American dates last fall to support their new disc, and played a few English gigs after the album’s release, but cancellations (including all of the U.S. shows) were rife. Smith’s onstage appearance during his final concerts (wheelchair bound, arm in a sling, face terribly swollen) was cause for alarm for some — while others saluted the great man for honoring his commitments, doing his job, and being with the audiences who loved him, doubters be damned. I tend to side with the latter camp.

The Fall have been routinely and tediously cited by the music press for their high rates of personnel turnover over the years, but Smith had worked with a stable bass-guitar-drum lineup for over a decade before his death, and my admiration and respect for those three (Keiron Melling, Dave Spurr, and Peter Greenway) is most high, especially for helping their boss rock hard as his own body was failing him. They had their own unique Fall Sound, and some of their records rate as favorites among the long lines of vinyl, plastic, and digital bits that have entertained and awed me for decades. Bravo, gentlemen. You made a glorious racket and were a very fine Fall group.

Regarding their chief, I have long considered Mark E. Smith to be the same sort of musical genius as George Clinton, or Captain Beefheart, or Brian Eno, or David Thomas. They are all organizers and shepherds with very clear visions of what they want from their songs, along with the persuasive skills to extract stellar performances from musicians who might never before nor ever after ascend to such heights. None of those aforementioned visionaries are ace guitarists, or skilled keyboardists, or deeply technical arrangers, or even particularly good singers, but the players they surround themselves with — their teams — are managed in such deft ways as to spark and deliver brilliance, time and time again, in original and often highly unusual styles.

Mark E. Smith was also that greatest of literary devices: a character. Quotable, irascible, intelligent, badly behaved except when he wasn’t, wearing his opinions on his sleeve, sharing his tastes with anyone who’d talk to him, largely unfiltered, mostly impolitic, deeply irreverent, consistently cantankerous, and entertaining to the Nth degree, always. I just liked watching and listening to him talk, even if I couldn’t understand what was coming out of his mouth much of the time. There’s none like him that I know, and none likely to ever fill such a unique creative niche, for so long, so well, again. Well done, Mark. Well done, indeed.

On a personal front, I’ve spent well over a decade as an active member of the Fall Online Forum, one of the most bizarrely delightful digital communities I’ve ever had the pleasure to haunt, and the depth of commitment and passion that cabal devotes to the group that binds them is extraordinary. (I most recently wrote about the “FOF” in my 2017 Year in Review, here). As it turns out, I had put myself on a sabbatical from the Forum just a short time ago — which is interesting (to me), because I did the same thing in the prior online community where I spent most of my (online) time prior to the FOF, just before its own inspiring light died. I don’t know if my radar is sensitive to that sort of impending change or what, but it’s a bit deja vu and disconcerting feeling for me right now, in any event. I do wish my friends at the FOF well. This is a world-jolter there, and here.

At bottom line, it’s the end of an era for The Fall: who are always different, and now never the same again . . .

Mark E. Smith with the last of the lads in the Fall. They were a good crew, and served him well to the end. RIP.


On The Road Again (For The Trees)

At 5:30am yesterday, under what could charitably be described as “wintry mix,” I hopped in our car, cranked up some tunes, and headed down to Indianapolis for the first of my many 2018 speaking engagements on behalf of TREE Fund. In the weeks ahead, I will be in New York, Hawai’i, Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee and New Mexico . . . and that just gets me to early April. Zoom zoom!

As President and CEO of TREE Fund, my position description says (among other things) that I am to “represent the Fund to its donors, volunteers, partners, researchers, the public and all other stakeholders.” I take that task seriously, and recognize that my ability to do it from my office in Naperville, Illinois is limited, at best; we do good online and virtual communications work, sure, but the face-to-face pitch is core to convincing people to support what we do. Equally important: reporting back to those who have supported us on how their generosity made a difference, and what we were able to do with it.

I don’t know exactly how many people I will stand in front of (in person, or on camera) over the year ahead — but it’s a pretty big number. I’m a reasonably deft public speaker and can expand or contract my core talk to run anywhere from three minutes to an hour, as requested by my hosts, or as a “read of the room” indicates will work best for the people in attendance. (There’s a huge difference in audience response over the course of a typical conference day; I’d say the 10:30 AM slot right after a mid-morning break is the best gig, most of the time, when people are caffeinated, stretched and alert, but not quite restless for lunch yet).

That said, I do have a baseline presentation, and we actually share a generic version of it with our 21 Chapter Liaisons and other key supporters around the country  in case they need to do their own presentations, or want to have some highlights to insert into their own publications, websites, conferences and/or seminars. The Indiana Arborist Association were the first to hear our new 2018 report . . . and I provide a link below to the generic slide deck I used, if you’re curious about what it is we actually do over the course of the year at TREE Fund, beside ride our bikes 500+ miles for research, and solicit proposals for grants:

TREE Fund Report of Activities, 2017-2018

As always, it’s good work for a good cause — and one of the final slides in the deck tells you what you can do to help us out. Feel free to follow our activities by signing up for our monthly newsletter (hit the subscribe button here), share our information, or even invite me to come speak to your own green industry friends and colleagues.

My Road Warrior’s Motto: Have iPod (filled with horrible grindcore, death metal and industrial music that I can’t play at home), Will Travel. And I do it for the trees.