South Side Century (Take Two): Completed

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a long piece about biking in Chicago’s South Side, and how sometimes cycling training rides go the way we want them to, and sometimes they don’t. Having waxed at length about getting stymied in my first attempt at a South Side Century this year, I wanted to provide an update to note that after two interim rides in the 70-mile range, I set out early yesterday and did indeed finish my South Side Century, logging just under 102 miles per the map image.

As advertised, this year’s Tour des Trees includes two century days (116 and 103 miles), but there’s another one listed at 97 miles, and experience tells me that a wrong turn or a construction detour or time spent off road at stops adds up and that’s likely to actually track as 100 or more miles when all’s said and done. So probably three centuries over a seven day span. The longest single day I’ve ever ridden was 128 miles, so nothing quite that strenuous, but still, a good amount of sustained long-distance days. So it feels good to get that first 100-mile day of the season in.

I’ve got three other long-distance training days planned, so hopeful to get one or two more century days in before we roll out of Columbus, Ohio on July 29th. I’ve still got about $1,200 to go to reach my fundraising goal, so if you’re so inclined, you can help out on that front here. I also want to note that Marcia decided to help TREE Fund this year as one of our first “Virtual Tour” participants: she’s not a cyclist, and she couldn’t take off a full week to be with us, so instead she committed to walk 500 miles on our behalf and raise $3.00 for each mile finished. She’s already met both of her goals, as reported on her blog.

I’m grateful to all of our Tour participants — virtual ones and riders alike — and it’s really an honor to head the organization that benefits from their hard work and commitment. Maybe you’ll join us next year? It’s a world of fun, if you do, and it’s awe-inspiring to inundate yourself fully into a group doing good this way.

I close this post with a link to the song that spins on my mental jukebox more than any other when I’m trucking on down the road on my bike. A little P-Funk makes everything better — and I’m going to see George Clinton and company next Sunday, to boot!

Ride on, riders, RIDE!!

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.

TREE Fund at 15

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NOTE: TREE Fund just launched its 15th Anniversary Appeal. I would be humbled and honored if those who follow my piffle and tripe here would consider supporting my work on behalf of the organization. I copy our appeal letter below, with a link to our donation page, should you be so inclined. Or if you’d like to get a jump on your holiday shopping while supporting TREE Fund, we’ve also got a mad “Sequoia Sized Sale” of cycling and climbing apparel and gear at our online store, here

Dear Friends,

As the leaves turn glorious colors across much of the nation this month, we find it a good time for pausing to consider TREE Fund’s roots, which run deep and strong, anchoring us against challenges, both anticipated and unforeseen.

2017 marks the 15th anniversary of the trust agreement signed by esteemed industry titans Allan West and Jerry Morey to create Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (“TREE Fund”), and we celebrate their foresight in empowering a model that works effectively and efficiently to this day. But our roots go even deeper than that, as TREE Fund is the successor organization to the International Society of Arboriculture Research Trust (ISART, founded in 1976) and the National Arborist Foundation (NAF, 1985), which were established to formalize and streamline the acquisition of knowledge in the fields of arboriculture and urban forestry, and the professional training and certification of businesses and individuals who plan, plant, preserve and protect our crucial urban forests.

Tens of thousands of individuals and businesses have worked together and pooled their resources since those early organizational days to empower scientific advancements and disseminate findings to tree care professionals, municipalities, urban planners and architects, and to property owners and the general public. The power of such partnerships is profound, and has directly contributed a greater understanding of the role trees play in the urban biome, and their benefits to our shared community health, environment and economy.

Our organizational roots are healthy, and they are anchored in the good and fertile soil of scientific inquiry and exploration. But that does not mean our work is done: just as mature trees with strong roots require attention and care to respond to changing situations, so too does TREE Fund depend on faithful annual support for today’s needs, even as we build endowments to secure our long-term work.

One of the 1976 signatures on the original ISART articles of incorporation read “Hyland R. Johns” – and we are honored that Hyland is joining us as co-Chair of our 15th Anniversary Appeal. Please click here (then select “General Operating Fund”) to make a gift that will commemorate this milestone, empower our staff today, and push for our next decade of transformational operations from a position of financial health and stability.

Thank you for your consideration. We appreciate it, and it will make a difference.

With gratitude and best regards,

J. Eric Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer

Hyland Johns, Founding Trustee, ISA Research Trust

ISA remains one of TREE Fund’s most important partners, supporting our operations and endowment via their annual membership dues.

Dance of the Cobras

1. One of my favorite things to do while traveling abroad is to visit non-chain record stores and ask the clerks for recent music by local artists that I would not likely be able to find back in the States. I’ve had wonderful success in finding amazing music from the 12 Tonar store in Reykjavik (twice) and at Discos Revolver in Barcelona, to cite two examples, bringing home great music from those trips that still earns regular spins around our apartment. So while we were in Amsterdam last month, I blocked out an afternoon and identified four record stores that seemed promising based on the online reviews I had found. Unfortunately, here’s what I found in each store, with varying degrees of disarray in evidence:

The re-emergence of a vintage vinyl obsession among aging record nerds and wannabe hipsters seems to have forced up-and-coming artists to peddle their wares online and at shows, while moldering crap and arcana from decades ago fills up the available retail space in brick-and-mortar outlets. I saw the same thing in Florence, Italy last year . . . and it’s also endemic among most of the record stores in my home city of Chicago. That’s a real pity, I think. There’s value to a music scene in having your local record store serve as a point of focus for your music community, with knowledgeable clerks standing as great arbiters and champions for the regional specialties. While I suppose I could go to the Google Box and search for “best new music from Florence or Amsterdam,” that’s just going to return results based on how good the local musicians are at search engine optimization, not how good their actual music is.

2. We visited about a dozen museums and ancillary attractions in the Netherlands and Belgium, seeing some really great exhibitions there. One of the nice things about living in Chicago is knowing that the opportunity to do does not end with the last day of vacation, and Marcia and I enjoyed getting to see Takashi Murakami’s The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg at the wonderful Museum of Contemporary Art a mile or so from our apartment last week. It’s a big show in every sense of that word: a major artist, showing a lot of works, many of them physically massive, including breath-taking new pieces commissioned specifically for MCA Chicago as part of the exhibition. Well worth a peek if you’re in the City. Holla if you do, as I’ll be happy to go see it again. For a sense of scale, here’s a snap of Marcia with one of the featured works:

3. Two weeks from tomorrow, I will be headed to Washington, DC for my third (and the 25th Anniversary) STIHL Tour des Trees, joining ~70 other riders and support volunteers over seven days and 500+ miles on our bicycles, raising funds and awareness for arboriculture and urban forestry research and education. For those unfamiliar with the Tour, here are some action shots (courtesy Jeannette Martin) from last year’s event to give you a sense of what it’s all about:

We don’t just ride for the sake of riding, but also make numerous stops en route to spread the good word to audiences of all ages about the importance of research to sustaining our communities’ tree canopies around the country, while also ensuring that the dedicated professionals who work in the field have the best and most current information at their disposal. (And, yes, that’s me cutting the ribbon with a chainsaw!)

The fundraising deadline for Tour riders is July 24, and I would be honored and humbled if you’d be willing to support my campaign before then, by clicking here. 100% of funds pledged/paid to Tour riders go to research, either in the form of grants made in the following year, or (if donors so designate) by adding to our endowment to support research in perpetuity. As CEO of TREE Fund, I’ve made significant structural, operational, and fundraising changes over the past two years, resulting in record-setting levels of grants awarded in 2016 . . . but that, of course, means we also need record-setting levels of revenue to sustain that growth in the years ahead.

I appreciate your consideration of this request . . . and if you’re able and willing to share it with your own social networks, that would be wonderful! Feel free to shoot me a note if you have any questions about the Tour, my work with TREE Fund, or anything else on your mind! It’s always good to connect, even if via a blog post like this one.

Growth Rings In The New Year

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December 11, 2016

Dear Friends of the Urban Forest,

Annual growth rings in temperate-climate trees mark the increments of new wood added each year. As you all know, we can learn a lot by studying a tree’s annual rings: its age, the climates it has thrived in, its relationships with symbiotic organisms, and even the nature and quality of its interactions with humans.

I’ve been thinking about the imagery of annual growth rings as I reflect on my first year with TREE Fund, much of it spent traveling to meet, listen to, and learn from professionals working in the tree care community. We’re a year older now, so what would our latest annual growth ring say about our nonprofit organism if you peeked inside?

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Click the growth rings to support our work.

First off, it would show that we’re growing in both resources acquired and resources expended, and that the ratio of those two flows is trending in a healthy direction, as we’re working to get more of every dollar we raise back out to support our colleagues in the field. We’re doing this by growing new branches and adding new coverage — additional programs, larger grants, and more awards — all to the benefit of the professionals who shelter under our canopy of knowledge.

To sustain this healthy growth, we’re continuing to “open the circle” in a healthy, non-invasive fashion, thereby allowing new friends and supporters to build atop our strong roots, injecting new revenue streams that will ensure we remain vibrant for many years. Trees are long-lived organisms — just as endowment funds are — and we exist to provide long-term support for tree care professionals, helping them adapt to the ever-evolving challenges facing our urban forests.

Of course, there’s another meaning to “annual ring” — namely, a once-per-year call — and I’m hoping you’ll indulge me on that front here as well. As we move forward and upward, solid sustenance sets the stage for potentially transformative growth in 2017, so I respectfully request that you consider a gift to our 2016 year-end appeal. Please make your contribution at treefund.org today. With your support, growth can ring in the New Year from day one.

With best regards, and deep gratitude,

J. Eric Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer

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Raznovrsnost

1. On January 14, I ran my annual “Oscar By The Numbers” model, and the results were so overwhelmingly in favor of one film that I declared it “the most shoo-in of shoo-in winners that I’ve forecast to date,” and noted that “if it doesn’t win the big prize, then this multi-year model is clearly a failure, and I will report it as such, with 2016 being my final year of forecasting.” Unfortunately, the film my model picked was The Revenant, and the winner of the big prize was Spotlight. So consider the model retired, in its current format. I continue to believe that the historic assumptions that underpin the model are sound, but in the era where the number of Best Picture nominees exceeds the number of nominees in each of the other categories, the mathematics get a bit hinky, and the correlations break down. Which happens sometimes. I saw similar impacts on my “Mid-Major At Large” NCAA Tournament forecasting models when the BCS era alignments and the emergence of the non-football version of the Big East emerging. Are they a major without football money? And if they are, are some of the other conferences similarly worth removing from the Mid-Major rosters? In both cases, the data sets I built are large and versatile, so maybe I’ll look for some other correlations and come up with a new variant on Oscar By The Numbers next year. Or maybe not. There might be something new to model, right?

2.  Want to come work with me? I’m currently hiring for two positions at the TREE Fund: a full-time Accounting and Grants Manager position, and a part-time Development Database Administrator. Our offices are located in the Western suburbs of Chicago. We work hard and have fun, and support an awesome community of folks around the world with our research, education and community engagement programs. Making a difference is a good thing. Please share these postings if you know anybody who might like to help us do that.

3. Related to the TREE Fund, our number one community engagement event each year is the STIHL Tour des Trees, a 500+ mile, seven day cycling tour where about 100 folks take to the road to tell our story, educate the public, raise funds, and have a truly wonderful time doing it. I got to ride four days with the team in Florida soon after joining the TREE Fund, and I’m looking forward to riding the full seven days in the Carolinas this October, starting and ending in Charlotte. Our riders come from around the country, and there’s still spaces available for new folks to join us. How about it? If you’re not up for that commitment, you could also contribute by sponsoring me on the ride. Here’s my donor page, if you’d like to help out that way. We’d all appreciate it very much!

4. How Not To Be Slick: Marcia and I were looking for something to watch on television one night earlier this week, and as is often the case, even with a zillion channels, we couldn’t find anything that was mutually pleasing to us both. Her birthday is coming up, and I had ordered a box set of a TV show that we actually both like. Earlier that day, a package had arrived for me, and I had set it aside for the birthday — but being a problem-solving kind of guy, it occurred to me that I could give her that gift early, so we’d have something to do that night. I grandly offered to let her open a birthday gift early, told her what the gift was, went to my desk to get the package, opened it . . . and found two toner cartridges for our printer inside. Insert sad trombone noise and FAIL meme here.

5. I pushed the random word generator button this morning for March’s Short Story of the Month. The four words it gave me were: simple, perverted, bughouse, front. This is going to be a fun one.