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 . . .

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:

LEADING THOUGHTS: BE AN EXPERT

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 . . .