Tour des Trees 2019: $150,000 Down, $150,000 To Go

The Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund will be rolling out of Nashville, Tennessee on September 15, and our 80+ riders have until September 5 to complete their fundraising campaigns. The team broke the 50% mark this morning as we rolled over the $150,000 threshold on the way to our $300,000 aggregate goal, huttah!!

While my role with TREE Fund will be changing after October 31, I purposefully selected my retirement date to ensure that I could see this year’s Tour through to completion, and I am passionate about having an epic fundraising and riding experience for everybody involved this year. And in the years ahead, too, hopefully: we’re planning to stage the Tour in the Denver region in 2020, and we’re evaluating Eastern Texas and Central Iowa as our two finalist destinations for 2021. While I have truly loved riding with the team as President/CEO of the organization, I do intend to continue riding as a regular ol’ member of peloton for as long as my creaky body will allow me to do so, and as long as TREE Fund and my successor(s) want me along for the ride.

A lot of people talk about the Tour des Trees as as “life altering” event, and while I’m not one for hyperbole (usually), in this case, those folks are right: the community, the riding experience, the cause, the support . . . all of those things are amazing. It is hard, no denying that, but the sense of achievement when it’s over each year is glorious. As is the response year after year from so many individual donors and companies who give so generously to make it all possible, thereby allowing us to maximize the amount of funding we apply to urban forest research every year. We’ve pushed out $4.3 million in grants since our inception, and the Tour des Trees is a cornerstone to that success.

It’s a win for everyone when we have a successful Tour, and I hope you will consider joining so many others (744 gifts so far) in supporting us this year, perhaps building on your earlier giving, or perhaps making a first time contribution. I always try to stay high on the fundraising leader board, but I’ve got some serious competition this year, so if you could click the banner image below and help the organization, the team, and me as I work to hit my personal fundraising goal, I’d be a happy rider and a grateful CEO!

Also a bit of a tired one, too, truth be told . . . I logged 302 training miles on the road this week. Tomorrow’s Sunday. I’m gonna rest!

TREE Fund Trustees Announce Search for Next President/CEO

Note: This announcement was released this morning, so I am cross-posting here. I will provide some more personalized reflections on the news in my August “Leading Thoughts” column for TREE Press — but wanted to get this out now on my personal website, just in case you know someone who might be interested in and qualified for the position, and to let my non-tree peeps know that a new chapter will be opening for me in the months ahead.

TREE Fund President and Chief Executive Officer J. Eric Smith has announced his retirement, effective October 31, 2019. The Board of Trustees are beginning the search for his replacement immediately.

“TREE Fund’s Trustees are happy for Eric and his family as they move on to the next phase of their lives, though obviously very sorry to see him leaving the organization,” notes TREE Fund Board Chair Steve Geist, BCMA, RCA. “Eric has positioned TREE Fund exceptionally well over the past four years. We consider our President/CEO position to be a highly attractive opportunity for a skilled nonprofit professional. We expect our next leader to build on his successes as we continue our work on behalf of urban and community forests and the hard-working professionals who care for them. We are glad that Eric intends to stay involved in our work as a Tour des Trees rider and donor, and we are grateful to have his assistance in the search process through the months ahead.”

The full position description for TREE Fund’s President/CEO is available here. TREE Fund is a 501(c)3 organization based in the greater Chicago region. Established in 2002 via a merger of the International Society of Arboriculture Research Trust and the National Arborist Foundation, TREE Fund has awarded over $4.3 million in grants toward its mission of identifying and funding programs that support the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in arboriculture and urban forestry.

The President/CEO search is open now and will continue until the desired candidate is hired. Qualified applicants who are interested in the position must submit a complete resume with a cover letter clearly expressing why the role interests them, how their professional experiences suit them for this leadership role, their salary expectations, and their starting availability timeline. Required documents must be emailed to jesmith@treefund.org with the subject line “President/CEO Search.” Resume and cover letter titles must include the applicant’s full name.

Please do not call TREE Fund’s offices with inquiries regarding the status of the search or of your application. 

It’s a great gig . . . I hope you will share the word that it is available!

Detweeted

Just a short note to let folks who care about such things know that I deactivated my Twitter account last night after about a decade on the micro-blogging site. I won’t go into the details of why, as they’re probably pretty obvious, pretty common, and pretty boring accordingly. No big blow up, no big meltdown, just . . . it had worn out its utility in my life, and I’m cutting back on time-wasting pursuits of limited value to clear the decks for some possible new projects and adventures (watch this space!) in the months ahead. If you need to update any bookmarks or lists or suchlike to find me here, instead of there, now’s the time to do it, with thanks. You can find my professional stuff (for now) at my LinkedIn Profile. I’ll keep that active for now, since I’ve got like 2,500+ connections there, even though I’ve never really figured out why. I’ll keep promoting my blog posts there. It may go at some point too, but it doesn’t actively annoy me or waste much of my time right now, so that’s about all I ask.

Before I destroyed my Twitter account, I downloaded all of the images that I had posted there over the years. Here are 10 randomly selected from my first year or so on Twitter, with no context or explanation, just to make the point that . . . well, it’s really kinda stupid there, when’s all said and done, isn’t it? You can make up your own stories about them if you like. I’ll even let you use more than 280 characters . . .

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Simple Things: Johnny Clegg (1953-2019)

Johnny Clegg died of pancreatic cancer today at the age of 66. He was an accomplished and inspirational musician, social anthropologist, songwriter and activist. His multi-racial bands Juluka (founded with Zulu migrant worker Sipho Mchunu in the early 1970s) and Savuka (formed in the mid-1980s after Mchunu retired and returned to his family’s farm) provided a pointed, potent cultural spearhead through the final years of South Africa’s apartheid era and beyond.

The vast majority of his musical output touched on the sociopolitical and personal realities of life in South Africa, with two songs in particular capturing the world’s fancy: “Scatterlings of Africa” (Juluka, 1982) was a global pop hit, telling the story of the dispossessed and dislocated people of his home continent; and “Asimbonanga” (Savuka, 1987) was an open cry for the release of Nelson Mandela from his prison cell at Robben Island. A 1999 video of Clegg performing “Asimbonanga” with his band, joined by a very special guest dancer — no longer a prisoner, but instead the duly elected President of his people — is one of the most joyful things on the Internet to these ears and eyes:

I can’t write an obituary that would do Johnny Clegg the honor and justice he’s due. NPR has a nice one here and France 24’s obituary provides a more European perspective on his life. It’s also worth reading Clegg’s Wikipedia page, if you are unfamiliar with his life and career, and the numerous honors and awards that have been bestowed upon him over the years. I can, however, share some stories about how special he was to me in my own musical, cultural, and personal development, by way of explaining why his death touches me so.

While at the Naval Academy in the early ’80s, I made a decision to focus my political science major on African politics. My motivations were not entirely altruistic: I found that it was easier to wait until the last minute to work on papers and projects because so few books about Africa ever got checked out of the Academy’s library, while the Soviet or European or Chinese shelves would be picked clean most of the time. Score one for the lazy man with a keen eye for an angle.

Initial motivations notwithstanding, I actually really got into my African studies, and in parallel, I got deeply interested in African music, and spent much of my paper-writing, reading and studying time listening to it. In those pre-Internet (and pre-“World Music” CDs at the Starbucks check-out counter) days, records from Africa were still relatively hard to find, and information about all but the most high-profile artists (e.g. Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, Miriam Makeba, King Sunny Ade, etc.) was scarce. I had an odd hodge-podge of tapes and albums from all over the continent that I played to death for a couple of years, but the popularity of “Scatterlings of Africa” (the album it came from was even reviewed by the likes of Rolling Stone and Spin) opened up new interest in African music, politics and culture that made it easier to access some true gems of the era and beyond, on and on for me up to this day. (Case in point: the brand new album from Kinshasa’s KOKOKO!, which you should hear!)

While UK artists like The Specials (“Free Nelson Mandela,” 1984), or Peter Gabriel (“Biko,” 1980) helped raise awareness of the cultural price of Apartheid, and Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986) brought Township music a wider global audience than it had ever had, Clegg’s work always seemed to me to be somehow less manipulative, and more honest, than its European and American counterparts. It was a whole lot easier for the Westerners to bring African musical concepts into their (safe) European homes than it was for Clegg to learn Zulu language and dance, gain the trust of KwaZulu’s musicians and activists, and then merge his own Celtic and folk musical influences with native South African styles and themes, in an environment that was decidedly not safe for such cultural cross-pollination.

There was nothing of the debutante about Johnny Clegg from where I sat as a fan and follower, whereas the appropriated cross-cultural works by the likes of Simon and David Byrne always left me feeling vaguely icky after I listened to them.  (Heck, when you get right down to it, Neil Diamond beat both of those guys to the punch by more than a decade with his “African Suite” from 1970, but he’s not considered cool enough to get due credit for that, now, is he? He deserves it, though, and I commend Tap Root Manuscript to you as well).

Anyway: Juluka and later Savuka were regular, nearly constant, spins on my stereo for years, and you’d likely be amazed at how much isiZulu I can sing phonetically, having those sounds and words deeply burned into my brain through repetition, repetition, repetition. Fast forward to 1987, when Marcia and I are both working at Naval Reactors, hanging out with the same group of friends, but not dating, not quite yet. We did a lot of stuff with various permutations of our social group, but things just did not work out so that it was only the two of us doing something together, no matter how hard I worked to make that happen. After some months and many missed opportunities, a Savuka concert at the legendary 930 Club (the original one, at the deeply scuzzy 930 F Street, not the shiny new, big, trendy, popular, safe one that came later) finally became the thing that got us out on the town together, just she and I, doing and seeing something really, really cool, together. Wow! Fireworks! Wow! That one night made it easier to do other things together, just the two of us, and a few months later, we were couple, inseparable for over three decades since.

So Johnny Clegg was a part of our own story that night, as was Dudu Zulu, Clegg’s dancing partner onstage with Savuka, their traditional jumps and thrusts and leaps and kicks taking the music up to a whole ‘nother level of mind-blowing and ass-kicking. After that tour, and after a few more tours and records beyond that, Dudu Zulu was gunned down near his home in KwaZuluNatal in 1992. That was the end of the line for Savuka, with yet another tragic loss added to the list that Clegg had written and sang about for so many years.

Clegg played on after that as a solo act, and on, and on, and on, and he kept the memories of Zulu and Biko and Aggett and Mxenge and Mandela and the causes they fought for in front of his audiences, lest we forget their importance and their lessons. I learned a lot about the real issues facing South Africa through Johnny Clegg’s music, beyond what the textbooks could tell me. And I learned a lot about how to speak truth to power, and how to use simple language to express complex sentiments, and how to build bigger, better, more innovative things by working with diverse communities, rather than sulking in a silo of social homogeneity.

Fast forward yet again, lots of years, to our first summer in Chicago, 2015. After four years in relatively sleepy Des Moines, it was huge for Marcia and I to have so many options to see so many cool things, right within walking distance of our new condo. As fate would have it, one of the first gigs we spotted and scored tickets for was Johnny Clegg playing at City Winery, with his son, Jesse, opening the show. It was an awe-inspiring evening, and an amazing way to mark the opening of a new phase of our life, just as that Savuka show in 1987 had been a milestone for us all those years before. We loved it! We sang along! We danced! We talked about it and marveled at how wonderful he remained, and how powerfully his songs still spoke to us! Yay, him! Yay, us!

And then soon after that, we learned that Johnny Clegg had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and then after 2017, there were no more tours and no more records to follow. Clegg fought that awful disease, but it got him in the end, as it almost always does. He was too young to leave us, but golly, what he life he lived, what a legacy he left behind, and how important he was to me, in so many ways, over so many years.

As we are subjected to racist hate-speak emerging from the maw-hole of our nation’s malefic President this week, it’s shocking, but important, to consider and focus on just how important Johnny Clegg’s messages remain, everywhere, all the time, whenever we are faced with institutional or individual racism and discrimination. No, the Republic of South Africa may not be ruled by a racist oligarchy anymore, more power to it and its people, but us? I’m not so sure . . . if we aren’t there already, we’re in danger of getting there soon, and we need to stand up and join hands and sing songs and tell stories and act in ways that cast light on and denigrate the shrill, shallow, petty evil of racism and its proponents and apologists. Johnny Clegg showed us how to do that. May others emulate him, right here, right now, and tomorrow, and in all the years that follow even after that.

As many people do, when they learn that a beloved artist has passed, we tend to fill up the listening spaces in our lives with the departed one’s music, a phenomenon that Marcia has dubbed “I Hear Dead People,” given how often I do it hereabouts, as the stars of our youth age out and pass on to some great reward. I will note, somewhat sadly, that because I knew Johnny Clegg has been deeply ill, I actually got a head-start on that process over the past year or so, and we’ve been spinning him regularly for a long time, loving his songs, loving his language, loving his stories.

I’m glad we were thinking about him while he was still fighting his final battle, and not just after he flew away from us. That listening will be continuing in the weeks and months ahead, likely with a larger playlist, since I’ve got plenty of his stuff. I close this post with the song I chose to title it, probably my personal favorite from Clegg’s canon. This one was co-written by Sipho Mchunu from the 1982 Scatterlings album. Its bottom line message — “Simple things are all we have left to trust” — resonates with me, in a tumultuous personal and political world, where the little, dear, personal things are really the ones that sustain me, the constant anchors in the noisy rushing flow of life around all of us.

Bless you, Johnny Clegg, for the gifts you gave to so many. You truly made a difference.

The Legacy of a Lifetime

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the July 2019 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE Fund. You can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here.

After TREE Fund was organized in 2002 via the merger of the ISA Research Trust (ISART) and the National Arborist Foundation, our very first research awards were made under the Hyland Johns Grant Program, originally established by ISART. This grant program’s namesake was, and remains, one of the great innovators and leaders in scientific utility arboriculture, and he was onsite in 1952 at the very beginning of the legendary “Bramble and Byrnes” research test plots in Pennsylvania, which TREE Fund now administers.

Over the years, TREE Fund has awarded ~$1.5 million in Hyland Johns Grants, and some of our most influential findings and outcomes have emerged from under this program’s auspices. But unlike the majority of our other grant programs, these awards have always been made on a “pay as we go” basis, rather than being secured by a permanent endowment fund that generates revenue annually. As we have often observed, trees are slow-growing, long-lived organisms. Permanent endowments are the best possible ways to ensure that our often equally long-term and slow-moving research programs can continue with confidence that funding will be in place to see them through to fruition.

Two months ago, TREE Fund’s Board of Trustees recognized that our signature program needed such long-term security, and unanimously voted to establish the Hyland Johns Endowment Fund. This new endowment will immediately become an important part of our investment and grant-making portfolio. It will further reduce our dependence on labor-intensive, transactional, retail fundraising to support our scientific mission.

Named endowments and grant programs are often established via memorial gifts, so that their honorees do not actually have the opportunity to see and appreciate the work done in their names. That’s not the case here, as Hyland Johns has been – and remains – an ardent, regular TREE Fund supporter, a great source of wisdom and historical perspective for us, and a mover, shaker, collaborator and networker par excellence within the greater tree care community. It’s always a privilege to let Hyland know what we’re doing in his name, and it’s always a treat when he contacts us to share his thoughts on and reactions to our work.

In addition to being an inspiration and leader on the scientific side of our endeavors, Hyland was also a trend-setter as one of the earliest members of our Heritage Oak Society which honors supporters who have included TREE Fund in their estate plans. There is literally no better way to support endowment funds than by making legacy gifts, which will outlive all of us, continuing the work we care about in perpetuity. The last time Hyland and I spoke, he let me know that he would be honored to direct part of his own legacy gift to the new Hyland Johns Endowment Fund – a perfect, fitting alignment of past, present, and future, a great life’s work now extended and amplified through the generosity of his estate gift.

Endowments and estate gifts are essential to TREE Fund’s long-term success. I hope others may be inspired by the example of Hyland Johns, and join him as members of the Heritage Oak Society.

2019.5

Last December, I noted that I was utterly, mentally fried by the endless onslaught of exhausting, soul-sucking social media agita over the prior year, and that I was dismayed by how it had eaten into more productive/positive writing and reading and living time. I set myself three goals for 2019 accordingly:

  • Read better political coverage, and less often.
  • Write better stuff, about something different.
  • Read more books, and less social media.

I’ve achieved the first goal by un-following any and all social media accounts that have any whiff of the political about them, and by beginning my days by reading a few trusted media outlets over coffee, and then not looking again until the next day. As I noted in December, “America’s educated working classes functioned for decades, if not centuries, with once-a-day newspapers or news shows on radio or televisions, and we did just fine all that time. Better than we’re doing today, actually, by most metrics.” I feel that was a good and accurate step and assessment. It’s working for me.

I didn’t explicitly say “write more” in my goals for the year, but that has happened: in addition to my regular writing for work, I’ve put up 33 pieces on this website in the first half of 2019, compared to 21 in the first half of 2018. Reader traffic is up by about 20%, which isn’t really a priority for me, since I’m not monetizing or selling anything here, but it is still nice to see. I feel good about my Credidero project, which is on schedule, up to about 22,000 words in aggregate at this point, and is actively leading me to reflect on some personally meaningful concepts in ways that I have not done before. Personal growth gold star there. Dunno if it’s really been of interest to others, but it is pleasing me, and I think there will be a nice 50,000-ish word manuscript there at the end of the year that might be a cornerstone document for some future endeavors or activities.

On the reading front, I’ve already read more books in the first half of 2019 than I did in all of 2018, so that feels very good in terms of filling my head with entertainment and wisdom, rather than hate and noise. Since I usually do a “Best Albums of The Year (First Half)” report here, I figured I’d also share my fave new book reads of the first half of 2019, in case in any of these might rock your worlds as well.

On the cusp of last year and this, I had mentioned in December that my next read was Richard Powers’ 2018 The Overstory, and it was indeed the masterwork I expected it to be, as I reported here. I also read one other great 2018 book after I did my year-end report last year: Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. If you only know the story of USS Indianapolis from Quint’s soliloquy in Jaws, you owe it to yourself to read the full account.

And then, on to 2019, first half, the best of what I’ve read so far, the dozen things I’d most recommend to you . . .

NONFICTION:

FICTION:

The best of the best so far this year . . . glorious and heart-breaking . . .