Spitfires, Ducks and Cups: Catching Up

1: SPITFIRES.

Marcia and I got back to Chicago (me) and Des Moines (she) yesterday after a great nine-day trip in England. We did the Battle of Britain Tour with Back-Roads Touring Company, who also guided our 2016 tour to Tuscany. On both trips, we were the sole Americans in the groups, which were otherwise composed of Australians and New Zealanders. We enjoyed that facet of the trip very much.

We saw lots of planes (World War II and Cold War era, primarily), had the chance to fly in a 1936 Dragon Rapide, and also got to see a pair of Supermarine Spitfires (the sexiest plane of the war, if not the most effective) take to the air. Also saw ships, tanks, bombs, submarines, cars, memorials, monuments, code-breaking equipment, museums and so on, while having the chance to amble and ramble about London, Cambridge, Woodhall Spa, Lincoln, Winchester and Portsmouth. Among many highlights, I think Marcia and I would both agree that a private dinner in the Squadron Mess used by the legendary No. 617 “Dambusters” RAF Squadron in their wartime barracks in Petwood Hall was a most unique and rewarding experience. Over 40% of the young men who participated in the famous Dambusters raid against German hydro-power facilities died along the way, and those numbers were not atypical among the aviation units of the day. It was good to spend time where they did, and to remember their amazing stories.

One powerful theme that reoccurred throughout the trip was hearing from folks about their family connections to World War II  and its aftermath in Central, Southern and Eastern England. One of many examples: a bearded, long-haired older gentleman named Mike at Thorpe Camp near Woodhall Spa, who has given of his time, talents and resources for over 30 years to preserve a bunch of old buildings that the Royal Air Force had abandoned to first squatters and then council housing after the War. Why did he see them as being worth so much work, and so much care? We asked Mike what fueled his passion for the project, and he said he still sleeps in the bedroom where he was born near the Camp, and that the other men and women who lived (and died) in and around Thorpe Camp “did not want forgetting.” He was committed to saving the buildings that housed and fed them and their families, and telling those community stories in the exhibition space he and his fellows created, keeping the global story local, as it were.

We met folks like Mike every place we visited: older women volunteering in replica NAAFI canteens because they did so as girls; a distinguished older retired Avro Vulcan engineer who (as a volunteer) wore a crisp suit and perfect tie to walk us around a collection of V bombers, sharing their quirks and secrets; an enthusiastic docent at the new Bomber Command Memorial in Lincoln who noted how often she cried as family members came to find the names of their loved ones and share their stories, etc. It seemed like everyone we met was touched somehow by the war and service to it, via family members or direct personal contact as veterans or survivors of the bombing of England during the Battle of Britain. We do not really get a sense of that magnitude from our side of the pond. We also saw that there are active efforts around the country to increase the remembrance as the last of the soldiers, sailors and flyers of the era are going on to their collective great rewards. That’s a good thing, and I am glad to have that perspective from this visit.

As always, we snapped lots of pics. Click on the image of the Dambusters’ Mess at Petwood Hall below to see them all:

2: DUCKS.

Well, “Duck,” more precisely. Or “Tree,” more relevantly. The latest edition of our TREE Press newsletter just hit the (virtual) news stands, and I copy my monthly article below. Which discusses a duck. And also a tree. You can read the whole issue here, including our new quarterly research report, which goes into deeper detail on a project of particular interest and relevance among our portfolio. The inaugural edition of this report features Dr. Kathleen Wolf of University at Washington, who’s doing exceptional work on the economic impact and value of urban and community forests.

Here’s my feature column . . .

My father was a career Marine Corps officer back in the days when “unaccompanied tours” (i.e. family members not included) were more the norm than the exception, often for long periods of time. During those times when he was overseas, my mother and I often lived with my grandparents in Ridgeland, South Carolina, in a small cinder block house that my grandfather had built himself. There were lots of cats and dogs around my grandparents’ house, along with an ill-tempered duck named Twiggy who lived on the roof and dive-bombed visitors, and an amazing (to me) tree, right smack in front of the door to the house.

It was a classic Low Country longleaf pine, and it was older than the house; I have pictures of my grandfather and uncle during its construction, and you can see that they tried to preserve as many of the existing trees on the lot as they could, even that one that crowded the front door stoop. And if that wasn’t inconvenient enough, my grandmother later planted wisteria around the tree, and its vines grew huge and thick, completely surrounding the bole of the pine – which is why I loved that tree so much as a little kid, because I could just pop out the front door, stumble over the root-buckled stairs, and use that knotted network of vines to climb to a favorite perch, high enough that I could even see Twiggy on the roof! Perfect!

I claimed that as my very favorite tree for much of my childhood and beyond. Of course, I know now that all the decisions my grandparents made about it were wrong – though they made them with good intentions, hoping for shade, pretty wisteria flowers, curb appeal, etc. The last time I was down that way, I drove by the old house and, not surprisingly, that tree and its choking vines were long, long gone. I suspect removal was an expensive and complicated job, given how knitted into the house that tree must have been when it finally wore out its welcome.

We all teach and preach “right tree, right place” when planting, but I suspect many of us might make the same sorts of mistakes my grandparents did when it comes to building around and in established urban forests, because at heart, we love our trees, and we want to save them all. This is why we seek to cover the full life cycle of trees in our cities when we award our wide spectrum of research grants, recognizing that with rigorous science behind us, we can make better decisions about what goes in, and what comes out, and when, and why.

dickdel1

My Great Great Uncle Dickie and my Grandfather Delmas building the house mentioned in the story above.

3: CUPS.

Well, again, I suppose the singular would have been more apt, since I am discussing the Stanley Cup here . . . which my much beloved and long-suffering Washington Capitals won while we were in England. Huttah!

I’ve been following the Caps since elementary school days in Northern Virginia when they played their first season, and it should come as no surprise if you know them, me, and/or this blog that Caps Fandom has been, well, complicated throughout the years. As I noted more than once here on the blog, they are really the team that I love to hate, or hate to love, more than any other. They have been truly maddening, year after year, losing series after taking 3-0 or 3-1 leads, capturing individual honors by the score while the team wallows in mediocrity in aggregate, doing well in the playoffs when they barely squeak in as #8 seeds, and tanking when they roll in strong with the #1 conference ranking.

The Pittsburgh Penguins (who came into the season as the defending Cup champs) have been a particular nemesis for the Capitals, so it was exciting to see them come back from being down against Columbus, then gutting out a win over the Pens (finally!), then blowing a lead, but recovering from it against Tampa Bay, then surviving a rocky first game loss to move into dominant mode, dispatching the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in five games.

I haven’t wanted to jinx them here along the way by writing about all the games I’ve watched and fingernails I’ve gnawed while doing so, and on some plane, it was probably a good thing that I wasn’t able to watch the final games, since that might have been completely unnerving for me . . . but, at bottom line, they got it done, and that ends their long, hard reputation as not-so-loveable losers. I’m pleased and proud to have supported them so long, through so much, and happy as I can be for the them as a team, especially Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Bäckström, who have 24 years between them with the Caps, including a lot of sad, bad, and disappointing finishes that they were blamed for, mostly unjustly.

I think there’s dynasty potential here, now that they’ve exorcised their demons. Plus it will be nice to wear my “Rock the Red” t-shirt, and not have it seen as an ironic statement anymore . . .

Senators_Capitals_Hockey_07994.jpg-e8c41_c0-103-3391-2080_s885x516

Good job, guys . . .

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.

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.

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.

 

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.