Coronablogus

I made my first public, written reference to COVID-19 on this website on March 14, 2020, as the world around us went to shit while Marcia and I were in the middle of a two-week vacation in Florida’s Tampa Bay region. Here’s what I wrote about it then:

While the weather here is lovely, and we’ve gotten lots of great walks in, being away from home as COVID-19 erupts and global markets collapse has been disconcerting, needless to say. Places that should be mobbed are quiet or closed, and public events that we might have considered are mostly cancelled. Which is good and right. We are practicing social distancing ourselves and monitoring the situation as best we can, keeping safe and smart, and listening to the experts, always. We hope that science and a sense of shared social responsibility carry the day(s) here, even as we worry about the volume of stupid that social media and some suspect politicians are already spewing right now.

Boy oh boy, in my worst imaginings, I would not have believed how much more stupid and socially irresponsible things could get on the pandemic front in the weeks and months that followed. Yeesh! But that’s probably a topic for a separate post, ideally one that I will write after the pandemic has run its course in the country. Hopefully before 2030 or so. Fingers crossed.

For the purposes of this post, I note that Marcia and I made it home safely after that trip to Florida (though our flight back was quite uncomfortable, as a woman seated directly in front of us seemed intent on coughing up not one, but both lungs, before we landed in Des Moines), and then, as so, so, so many others did, we went into a quarantine-mode lock-down that lasted for pretty much an entire year, until we received our Moderna vaccines in April and May of 2021. And as so, so, so many others did, we quickly adapted our lifestyles to accommodate the medical realities of the world around us, seeking amusements and entertainments that could be secured at home, or outside in spaces distant from other infectious human animals.

We resumed cooking most every meal at home, for starters, something we’d not really done since our earliest, poorest days together. We walked five miles or so every day that the weather allowed, dodging various blithering idiots in downtown Des Moines who seemed aggressively intent on getting in people’s faces, their own “freedoms and liberties” clearly trumping (no pun intended)(well, a little pun intended) other people’s desires for healthy self-preservation. We began watching television together every night, something that had been a once or twice a week activity, at most, before then. We began doing ZOOM meetings, with family members, work colleagues, and friends, desperate to have some human contact, even if of a choppy and annoying kind. And, of course, we started doing jigsaw puzzles, because even as counter-cultural and counter-intuitive as I like to be, there’s something to be said for joining the lowing herd in such a slow, methodical, time-killing pursuit.

For the record, we’re still cooking most of our meals at home, still walking five miles a day (though in much nicer surroundings), still watching a movie or TV show together most every night, still doing weekly ZOOM calls with Katelin and John, and still doing jigsaw puzzles. On that last front, we’re currently working on one of the hardest ones we’ve done together, from the excellent Rock Saws collection. It seemed like a good idea when I bought it, but Jeezum Krow, it’s certainly one of those where every piece looks pretty much exactly like every other piece, so it’s been slow going, as you can see:

On a personal front, with me being me, I also turned in early COVID days to writing on this website as a time-consuming project, and I ended up producing and publishing a far larger number of posts in 2020 than I had in all but a couple of years since I first got online in the early 1990s. While my 2021 output is not likely to quite match my 2020 levels, this year will still stand high on the list of my busiest website writing years. 2020 and 2021 are also going to be among my very highest reader traffic years ever, which communicates to me that loads of other folks were looking for diversions as they worked to kill time at home that they had not been planning to spend before the Anno Virum.

I note that I was not, at all, alone on that web writing front, and that it seemed to me that in the early days of the pandemic, there was a tremendous surge in the number of bloggers pooping out regular posts and updates, via rejuvenated websites (like mine) or brand new platforms created by people who suddenly had the time to create them. As I’ve written about several times over the years, I have a “love/hate” relationship with the WordPress platform on which I create things here, but I did find myself using its Reader function more than I ever had before, both to find gems among the plethora of new websites and blogs, and to pimp my own stuff to folks who might be new to the blogosphere, and who might benefit from or enjoy my piffle and tripe.

There were loads of “COVID Diary” type blogs in that profusion of new web content, as one would expect, and I have to admit that I assiduously avoided such content, as I didn’t need to wallow in others’ discomfort, when I was perfectly capable of wallowing in my own. But there were also a lot of great new websites covering a variety of non-COVID topics that emerged in the early days of the pandemic, as people who had long had or held ideas for websites finally found themselves with the time and inclination to create and share them, and I probably started following more excellent new websites in 2020 than I had in any prior year, ever.

I was motivated to write this post today by a growing realization that a lot of those early 2020 websites seem to have gone fallow and/or run their courses over the past few months. I suppose this could be a seasonal thing, where people are spending nice weather outdoors instead of clattering away at their computers. Or I suppose this could just a predictable manifestation of the fact that maintaining a blog-styled website over a long period of time can be quite a time suck, especially when writers don’t feel like they’re earning the hits and attention that they want and/or deserve. (Few of us do, for the record). But from a perhaps overly-optimistic standpoint, the dwindling of the COVID-era blogs might also be a leading indicator pointing to the fact that people are finally feeling like they (and we) are coming out of the back end of the virus’ global digestive tract, and that whatever benefits they (and we) got from the connections forged on COVID-era blogs are no longer necessary in the new dawn before us.

I don’t know which of these theories is the most accurate one (they’re not mutually exclusive, so I suppose it could be a combined function of all of them), but they do raise a slightly larger question about the continued role of and place for blogs online. I’m stubborn and patient on that front, and I’ve been doing what I do here for over 25 years now, pandemic or not, and am likely to continue doing so. (For the record, the first time the word “blog” appeared on my website was on September 7, 2000, when I wrote about how pleased I was to have a new word to describe what I had already been doing here for five years at that point). It has been nice to see something of a return to the “traditional” (if something so young can be so described) blog forms over the past 18 months, but also not surprising to see many of them petering out, since there were already plentiful “blogs are dead” communications to be found on the web well before the dawn of COVID.

Back in May of this year, as part of his own COVID-era effort to connect his community, fellow obsessive web-maniac Chuck Miller interviewed me as part of a ZOOM series he was hosting on his own website. It was great fun to catch up with an old friend from The 518 that way, and toward the end of the call, Chuck asked me to share my thoughts on the future of blogs. As I am now watching the COVID-era blog bloom beginning to fade and fall from its branches, that seems to me to be a good question for folks doing what I do here to consider with regard to their own online spaces. I free-wheeled my answer to Chuck’s unexpected question at the time, but since it’s something that I’d thought about before, I do think I hit some good and germane points about the nature of web community in my improvised answer. I transcribed it a few weeks later, and with some edits for style and grammar and accuracy, I reproduce that text below. Note that I have no intentions of giving up my platform in the foreseeable future, even as many others do so, but I do suspect that 2022 may be less busy here than 2020 and 2021 were. We shall see.

Here’s the text of my interview with Chuck, as perhaps a parting shot for the current era of web-living, and maybe as an ideal for living in the post-COVID website world:

In the early 2000s, when blogs were first emerging as a new writing paradigm, the sense was that they were going to change the world for the better, as their existence meant that there would no longer be any biased intermediaries between the public-facing media and the general public, allowing for unique and instant independent response to breaking stories and events, of both important and trivial natures.

And on the one hand, that belief was true, for a while anyway, but on the other hand, professional media outlets do have filters, editors, fact-checkers, things of that nature, (well, at least they’re supposed to, a lot of them don’t anymore, alas), and those things do add value to discourse, if for no other reason than precluding the propagation of lies and errors and propaganda.

When all was said and done, blogs certainly didn’t change the world for the better in many or any ways, and I think the blog realm was the place where a lot of contemporary “comment section” toxicity and anonymous sniping emerged into the realm of common online discourse. I saw that negative change emerge in the early days of blogs, well before it became standard behavior on Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites, so I think many people learned that such horrible behavior generated clicks and interest on the blogosphere, then took that paradigm to other social media platforms.

While the promise that blogging was going to change the world was hyperbolic, I do still think that the narrative over the past five years or so regarding the death of blogs was and remains equally over-stated at the opposite end of the argument. I believe there are enough people out there doing what I do here, on both commercial and non-commercial platforms, who have something interesting to say, and will continue to do so, and will continue to engage readers.

Whether we call our platforms “blogs” or “websites” at this point is kind of immaterial. I personally hardly ever use the word “blog” to define my virtual space anymore. I have a website under my own name that I update regularly, with various narrative elements and recurring features, and that domain is all there is to my personal output. So it’s not like you come to “jericsmith.com” and then get redirected to some separate blog, since the blog is the website in total, and vice versa.

In my case, I like to write, I do so habitually bordering on compulsively, and my website gives me a platform for that, regardless of what I or other people label that platform. I’ve been doing what I do here for so long, in internet terms, that it’s also allowed me to build a community. I have people who I consider to be dear friends who I’ve been writing for and communicating with for over a quarter-century, and I’ve never sat in the same physical space with many or most of them. I think that community-building aspect is quite valuable, and I don’t see it going away.

So I think there will remain, for the foreseeable future, spaces online where folks like me, and the people who read what folks like me write, perhaps also doing similar things on their own websites, will have platforms where such communities can continue to thrive. I’ve abandoned social media because it has become so toxic and shrill, and I know I’m not alone on that front, so I think that these blog-type platforms, whatever you choose to call them, can remain a viable place for community engagement without the hateful vacuity and biases that have come to define most social media sites.

It is what it is, and they are what they are, at bottom line, and I don’t really see any reason or rationale for stopping doing what I’m doing, so long as I get the positive reinforcement that some small cohort of folks find it valuable or interesting or whatever, and so long as I don’t bore myself with my own output.

Where the blog/web magic happens, if you’ve ever wondered or cared . . .

Unusual Occurrences in the Desert

A couple of days ago, Marcia and I did an absolutely stellar hike of about seven miles, starting and ending at our temporary home in Sedona. Our favorite hikes tend to be loops (in preference to “out and backs”) with some “there’s a there there” spots along the way. This walk met both of those criteria well.

One of the highlights of the day’s ramble was clambering atop a rock formation called Hole in the Sky atop Brin’s Mesa, affording really wonderful 360° views of the various Red Rock formations north of town. There was a young couple from Louisiana atop the rock when we arrived, and with attention to safe social distancing and masking, we swapped photos with each other, eschewing the usual selfie approach. Here we are atop Hole in the Sky:

After exchanging thanks and pleasantries, I walked to the other side of the rock and snapped a southward-facing vista. It looked like this:

I shared that photo on a web forum where I’m active, and as I saw it on a bigger (e.g. non-phone) screen for the first time, my eye was immediately drawn to what appeared to be a figure sitting on a log just below the rock, in the sort of scalloped curve in the yellow stone that shapes the lower left quadrant. Dammit! Did someone photo bomb my scene? Grrr! I had neither seen nor heard anybody down there, so it seemed a sneaky surprise. I blew the photo up a bit and looked closer:

Hmmm. Is that a black-clad goth grrrl sitting on a rock with legs crossed, leaning with elbows on knees while looking back up at me? That seems odd on such a hot day. Or did I capture some hidden person or desert spirit or (burnt) wood nymph enjoying a sunny day instead? Another zoom:

Yeesh. Now it’s sort of starting to take on monstrous proportions. Were scary things moving in the desert in advance of Hallowe’en and its second blue moon of the month? Did I need to investigate paranormal activity hereabouts? By all popular accounts, there’s a lot of it.

After I posted that first blow-up image on the web forum, other folks pointed out some additional oddities in the scene to the left of the Ghostly Goth, highlighted in orange below: a couple of smiling heads at top left, a ballcap-wearing ghost at center, a strange cat-bird hybrid at bottom left:

I’m sure if we kept searching, we’d find plenty more haints and boogers and ghouls and horrors in that clearly haunted little dell tucked in below the big rock. Or, conversely, we’d find more fine examples of pareidolia, defined as “the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music.”

Did we see something ghoulish in the desert on Thursday, or did we see a jumble of wildfire-burnt logs and rocks stacked up randomly per common natural causes? One of those explanations is fun and freaky, especially given the season. One is not so much so. You be the judge. We’re heading out into the rocks again today, so I’ll update you if Ghostly Goth Grrrl and her Parade of Pareidolic Phantasms turn up again . . .

(P.S. Count yourself a good music nerd if you know from whence I cribbed the title of this post).

Driftless

At about 8:15 AM this morning, Marcia and I drove across the US-20 bridge from Jo Daviess County, Illinois, into Dubuque, Iowa. This marked our final re-entry burn into Iowa, after more trips out of and back into the Hawkeye State since 2011 than we could begin to count. We then worked our way down to Interstate-80 in Iowa City, and drove west to Des Moines, the last time we’ll drive that highway as well, again having done so more times than we could count, or enjoy.

We had spent the long weekend in the Driftless Area, situated around the point where Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois meet along the mighty Mississippi River. The name doesn’t mean that the area, its inhabitants, and us while we were there existed in a state with neither aim nor direction, but rather refers to the fact that the region is free of glacial drift, and seems not to have been covered by the Pleistocene ice. It’s geologically unique in the Upper Midwest accordingly, and is a spectacularly beautiful part of the country. We’ve traveled through it a bit over the years, and it seemed an apt place to make our final Iowa road trip, at the peak of autumn color, of which we don’t expect to see much once we drive off to Arizona next week.

We stayed in Galena, Illinois, a lovely little tourist town with some deep history of national import, most especially having been Ulysses S. Grant’s home through his post-Civil War career. We also drove up to Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is one of the most historically and visually stunning locales in all of Iowa. While there, we hiked up to the famed Hanging Rock (no picnic, alas) to bask in the extraordinary views of the Mississippi River valley in its gaudy autumnal attire. Very nice, all around. Recommended if you find yourself in that out of the way part of the country.

I snapped away as I always do, so if you’d like to see some of the color and scenes, click the happy couple selfie below (taken at Hanging Rock) to see the full photo album. The next one I post will likely look much, much different!

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place (Update #2)

I rode 75.1 miles today, the fourth jaunt in my “Rollin’ in Place” Anno Virum version of the Tour des Trees. That puts me at about 84% of my mileage goal, which I should finish early next week. I had originally planned to complete the 321 miles in six rides, but I’ve been going hard enough that I will get it done in five instead. Zoom zoom!

On the fundraising side, I’m at 69% of my goal. I’m truly grateful to those who have supported me and TREE Fund already. (See this post for more information on how these funds will be used). I’d be even more grateful if other readers would consider making a gift to the good cause. If you do it this weekend, I may be able to complete the money part of my commitment around the same time that I complete the physical challenge. That would be most satisfying. You can click the image above to get to my fundraising page. Easy peasy!

It was chilly out there today, in the high 30s when I rolled out, frost still visible in the fields. Hoping for a little balmier air next time I take Trusty Steed out . . . but if I need to be bundled up to get the job done, so be it. Worse things happen at sea.

Autumnal

Yeah, I know that the astronomical autumnal equinox happened the week before last, but from a “boots on the ground” standpoint, we’ve been just a bit behind the curve here. (As is often the case in Iowa. Zing!) But that’s changing now, and quickly. Our daily walks over the past few days have involved more clothing layers than usual, and occasional hats, and tonight we’ve got our first frost warning posted. I’m planning to do a long bike ride tomorrow (for this), and it looks like the temperature will be ~36º F when I get rolling. More layers!

But that should be a short-term situation, as  today marks the three-week point before we load up the jalopy and move to Sedona, Arizona. Which means that unless global weirding queues up some particularly extreme and abnormal scenarios over the years ahead, 2020 should the last year that I spend dreading cold season, while trying to enjoy the pleasant elements of autumn. Not complaining. After 35+ years living in the frozen, damp, windy climes of Iowa, Chicago, Upstate New York and Idaho, I’m more than ready for a bit of year-round dry heat.

That said, I do note that I have raw, primal reactions to two common stimuli experienced in Northern autumns: hearing the sound of geese migrating southward and seeing Orion hunting in the Zodiacal plane on crisp, clear nights. I think these sights and sounds must resonate in our collective unconscious from centuries when shorter days and falling temperatures didn’t just mean higher fuel oil bills or extra lap blankets, but instead meant that the most perilous time of the year was nigh, and many of a community’s weaker members wouldn’t live to see the return of sunlight and warmth. Any time I hear the geese fly over, I involuntarily stop in my tracks and look up. Any time my eyes are drawn to the night sky and light upon Orion’s belt, they stay there, taking an active effort of will to look away. Those sounds and sights evoke awe, which I think of as wonder leavened with fear.

Autumn is a bittersweet season, at bottom line. I love the color, I love the weather . . . but winter is coming soon. For inside workers, it doesn’t really change the day to day pattern of our lives. But for those who spend warm months on the land, I imagine winter is a much different experience. I wrote a poem about these sorts of feelings back in the early 2000s called “Harvest.” It doesn’t explicitly mention geese or Orion, but it does try to evoke the sense of awe the season inspires in me. When I wrote it, I kept feeling like I should end it, then kept tacking on extra triplets (it has an odd structure), much in the way that we cling to the last leaves on the trees, the last warm days, the last pleasant evenings, lingering before the darkness falls and the snow is upon us.

While I was looking for that poem today in my old writing files, I stumbled over a few other pieces that also seem to evoke that autumnal spirit for me, some directly, some obliquely. They’re all posted below, for your consideration. Perhaps they’ll read well with a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate?

HARVEST

Let’s take a long deep breath
and ponder the pasture
and our place in it:
we’ve got the harvest in,
the orchards are pruned and
all our wood’s been split;
the leaves have long since gone,
the frost’s on the pumpkins
and it’s cold at night.
In less than four short weeks
we’ll stand here again and
see a sea of white.
We’ve stored the grain inside,
stacked hay in the stalls and
put our tools away.
The growing season’s done,
the colors have faded
into brown and grey.
It doesn’t seem that long
since last we all stood here
at this time of year.
We’ll hunker down inside
for five months or so and
try to fight the fear
that winter brings to us:
the cold and the darkness
and the sickness too.
We’ll count the days for months
and pray for the spring, that’s
all that we can do.
These bittersweet fall months
are fraught with emotion
in these farming fields:
we’re glad the harvest’s done,
we’re proud of our work and
happy with our yields,
but now we hibernate
like beasts in the forest
(less the gift of sleep).
We take one last long look
and walk from the fields, and
many of us weep.

FREEZE

Outside, we can tell the air itself is thickening,
while we ponder cold weather wear we’re ordering
from fall catalogs, the rate of cooling quickening
with the first frost freezing hard the backyard bordering,
the once green growth succumbing to nature’s savaging,
organic ice orchards wilting first then splintering.
By night, we hear the winds all whistling and ravaging,
and know that before we’re ready, we’ll all be wintering.

MIGRATION

Gotta go the long way, fly along the highway,
high above the flyways, flat upon our backs.
Order over-rated, over-saturated,
rate the ones we hated, stop them in their tracks.

Wing as sharp as knife edge cuts into the first hedge,
watching from the high ledge, just above the stacks.
Flightless in the liner, lines from here to China,
over Asia Minor, chin up, Uncle Max.

Gotta go the long way, drive below the flyway,
park it in the driveway, fill and seal the cracks.
Watching the migration on a TV station,
where’s the destination? I’m so bad with facts.

GEMINI SNAKE

Gemini Snake coming out of the forest,
as the leaves fall, he rolls on, he rolls on,
I had a dream he was headed this way, and
I’m thinkin’ he’ll get here tomorrow, ’round dawn.

Gemini Snake at the edge of the farmlands,
he never stops, he rolls on, he rolls on,
went to the church to tell Preacher he’s coming,
and bone up a bit on those visions of John’s.

Gemini Snake in the next village over,
spinning off sparks, he rolls on, he rolls on,
on the horizon, we see smoke arising,
and harvest our crops, and chew bitter pecans.

Gemini Snake coming faster and faster,
right into town, he rolls on, he rolls on,
passes the town square and court house on Main Street,
damned if he doesn’t roll right to my lawn.

Gemini Snake passes straight through my property,
he doesn’t stop, he rolls on, he rolls on,
where he is headed now, I can’t imagine,
but I’m quite relieved by the fact that he’s gone.

HAPPINESS

There’s a lantern in the window
and a wild boar in the wood
as I’m standin’ in the plantin’ field
and feelin’ pretty good
’bout my farmin’ situation
an’ my plans for wintertime,
’bout that woman from Winooski,
‘an how glad I am she’s mine.
Got a bottle in the bureau,
and a smokin’ ham out back,
as I look about my holdin’s,
there ain’t nothin’ that I lack,
‘cept that boar . . . he keeps escapin’
every time we hunt him down:
like a ghost he disappears and leaves
us shootin’ at the ground.
I got ‘coons and I got turkey,
I got squirrels and I got deer,
shoot ’em, skin ’em, cook ’em, eat ’em,
that’s the way we do it here.
But that boar, he keeps eludin’ us,
he’s smart as twenty men.
I b’lieve I’ll know true happiness
when I make a ham of him.

Gemini Snake is a particular loathsome specimen of the hoopsnake genera, clearly.

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place (UPDATE!)

A couple of weeks back, I publicly stated my commitment to support my former employer, TREE Fund, by participating in their Anno Virum “Rollin’ In Place” version of the organization’s long-standing alpha community engagement and fundraising event, the Tour des Trees. I’ve ridden in five Tours, and they were truly wonderful, in many, many regards that I’ve written about at length here multiple times before. (Here’s last year’s report). While I will certainly miss the spirit of community that defines in-person Tours, I sincerely applaud TREE Fund for taking the safe and sane approach to the big event this year. I’m glad to do my part, where I can, however it can help them. So motivated, I defined my goal for this year’s activity as follows:

I’m sticking with cycling as my activity, with a 321 mile goal, ridden out on the road, like a normal Tour. While I can’t get the climbing experience in Iowa that I would have gotten in Colorado, I do want to replicate the daily endurance aspect of the Tour, so my objective is reach 321 miles in six rides (a typical Tour week), ideally including one century (100+ mile) ride. We are moving from Iowa on October 22, so I intend to complete the miles and the related fundraising before then.

I’m pleased to provide the following status report, updated after a solid (but cold, and windy) ride today of 70.2 miles:

That’s a screen cap from my fundraising page. You can get to it by clicking the image. Hint hint hint. For the record, I’m at ~61% of my cycling goal after three rides, averaging around 65 miles per excursion, all on real roads, in real-world conditions. Just like the Tour. I’m at ~51% of my fundraising goal, and would like to see those two metrics running in parallel. I’d be most grateful for your support, as would TREE Fund. Every gift counts, especially this year, when so many sources of funding are drying up or being redirected in the face of the pandemic and its related economic tumult.

Throughout the years that I served as TREE Fund’s President and CEO, I wrote boodles of words and articles explaining what we did and why it mattered and why donors should fund us. I think my favorite of those various fundraising pieces was one called “The Trees We Live With.” I reproduce its text below to help frame TREE Fund’s work, if you’re not already familiar with it. Their mission is important. I’m to glad to continue supporting them as I am able. I’d be deeply appreciative if you’d join me by making a contribution to my campaign on their behalf. Here’s the link again. Thanks for your consideration and support, as always. It means a lot, and it makes a difference.

THE TREES WE LIVE WITH

When friends and new acquaintances outside of the tree care industry hear that I am the “President of TREE Fund,” they almost always express enthusiasm for my work, although the conversation is often a little more complicated that you might expect, e.g.:

Friend: “Oh cool, I love trees! TREE Fund is the one that does tree planting events, right?”

Me: “No, that’s not us.”

Friend: “Oh, so you’re protecting the Amazon Rain Forest, right?”

Me: “No, not really, sorry.”

Friend: “Ummm . . . so you’re the organization that buys up land and puts it into trust so it stays forever wild, right?”

Me: “No, we don’t do that either.”

And so on, and so forth, sometimes for a few more rounds. In trying to cut to the chase politely on such conversations without diminishing people’s enthusiasm for my work with trees, the phrase I’ve found that seems to most quickly make their eyes light up with realization is when I say: “We fund research to benefit the trees we live with.”

People seem to embrace “the trees we live with” quickly and intuitively. These are the trees in our backyards, our street trees, the ones our children climb, the trees that shade our schools. They’re the formal arrangements that make our civic architecture more grand, the little glades that provide green backdrops to our developments, that killer oak along the fairway that costs us a stroke every time we slice a tee shot into it, the canopy above the cemeteries we visit on Veterans and Memorial Days, and so many others. The “trees we live with” are a part of our everyday lives and experiences. TREE Fund supports the science needed to sustain them.

I know, of course, that the benefits of our research and education programs reach well beyond that simple rubric. But getting people outside our industry to think actively about the myriad choices and decisions that can surround a single familiar tree over its lifetime is a great first step in helping them understand not only what TREE Fund does, but also the benefits that professional tree care services anchored in rigorous science can provide.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate “the trees we live with.” Bringing our work home for people that way can help us open the circle to new friends and supporters, one conversation at a time.

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place

I retired from my role as President and CEO of Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund) in November 2019. That was right around the time that we announced that the next installment of our premier community engagement event, the Tour des Trees, would be rolling through Colorado in September 2020. Having ridden in and fundraised for five prior Tours (click here for last year’s report), I had fully intended to ride that planned 2020 mountain route as well, but those plans changed last Spring when I was awarded the opportunity to visit Ideas Island in Sweden, creating an irreconcilable scheduling conflict.

Then, of course, Anno Virum happened, and everything changed. I’m not posting from Sweden right now, and the Tour did not roll through the Rockies as expected. Bummers on both fronts. While losing the opportunity to work on a project at Ideas Island impacted only me, the loss of the 2020 Tour had far more consequential impacts on TREE Fund, significantly cutting into its ability to provide community engagement and fundraising to support crucial arboricultural research programs. The West Coast is burning as I write this post, demonstrating clearly and painfully how necessary and valuable scientifically-robust research findings and practices are to mitigating climate change, combating invasive species, and capitalizing on the myriad benefits provided by healthy urban and community forests. TREE Fund is a major player in that effort, especially as Federal funding for such work has evaporated or been redirected in recent years.

I was pleased, therefore, when TREE Fund announced plans for a “Rollin’ In Place” Tour designed to allow riders, runners, walkers, swimmers, hikers, whatevers support the organization safely from and in their own home communities. They’ve set a goal of $150,000, around the theme of “3-2-1 Go!,” explained thusly:

Traditionally, Tour des Trees riders would spend a week riding through a state or region, engaging with communities and raising funds for TREE Fund. Instead of riding 321 miles in the Rockies this year, we challenge you to take on 321 your own way! Ride 321 km a month the entire duration of the campaign, run 3.21 miles a day, do 321 pushups a week, walk your dog 321 miles, pogo-stick jump to a new record of 321 . . . you get the idea. 321 is the magic number!

I’m down to do my part on that front to help TREE Fund reach its event goals. I’m sticking with cycling as my activity, with a 321 mile goal, ridden out on the road, like a normal Tour. While I can’t get the climbing experience in Iowa that I would have gotten in Colorado, I do want to replicate the daily endurance aspect of the Tour, so my objective is reach 321 miles in six rides (a typical Tour week), ideally including one century (100+ mile) ride. We are moving from Iowa on October 22, so I intend to complete the miles and the related fundraising before then.

I’ve kicked things off by making my own contribution to the cause, and would greatly appreciate it if you would support TREE Fund via my “Rollin’ In Place” campaign. Here’s my fundraising page, where you can make your own gift to support the mission and goal. That page is linked to my cycling computer, so it will show progress updates as they occur, and I will also report them here, of course. Thanks in advance for whatever you can chip in to the effort. I am grateful, as will be the entire TREE Fund team.

Last year’s Tour team. We’re not together in person this year, but the communal spirit remains strong. (Click to enlarge and see if you can spot the very professional Ex-President/CEO throwing the metal horns. BRUTAL!!)

Self-Descriptor

I learned a new word this week: autotelia, which is the state of being autotelic. It’s a 20th Century construction merging the Greek roots autos (self) and telos (goal). No, that’s not a fancy soccer/football term for kicking the ball into the net your own team is defending, but is rather a term used by T.S. Eliot to describe texts which are self-contained and independent of the author, and later adopted and adapted as a clinical descriptor by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Per Wikipedia, Csikszentmihalyi describes people who are internally driven, and who as such may exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity, as autotelic. This is different from being externally driven, in which case things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force. Csikszentmihalyi writes:

“An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work, in family life, when interacting with people, when eating, even when alone with nothing to do, they depend less on external rewards that keep others motivated to go on with a life of routines.”

This term and definition resonated with me as a good descriptor of how I function much of the time. Take this website as a good example, with thousands of posts written over the years, many of them later destroyed, with few of them created for any work purposes or financial benefits. I just like to write (among other pursuits), I regularly enter flow-state, I am happy when that’s the case, and many (most?) of my topics are not “useful” in any meaningful way, but are rather products of me becoming interested in or curious about something and wanting to process and/or preserve it. There have been loads of other examples like that over the decades, back to when I was a fairly young child, creating things (e.g. stories, games, songs, pictures, websites) for my own amusement, even if they look like absurd time-wasters to parents, friends, teachers, and work colleagues. I am a big fan of novels, stories, artworks and films that are fundamentally based in expert-level world-building, and I think that’s at least partially because I so enjoy building little worlds myself, even if I’m the only one looking at or inhabiting them.

I think another reason that autotelia resonates with me, at least in the ways that Csikszentmihalyi decribes it, is because it’s presented as an acceptable personal trait, and not something to be apologized for, or explained away, or to be given up or outgrown to free up time and energy “better” spent pursuing external rewards. I note that I do not mind external rewards when they are offered to me. I appreciate feedback on my little creations, and if someone wants to pay me for them, that’s fine too! But I seldom, if ever, make decisions expressly for those reasons when it comes to my writing and reading and researching and other creative activities. I just do them because that’s the way I am wired, finding them satisfying in their own rights as end products, even if I never share them, or even if I share them, then later remove them from the public domain. I’ve written online for over a quarter-century now, so I do have some strong sense of and data about what types of things are going to generate the most response from and interaction with my readers, but I very, very rarely expressly plan to write and post such things just to pursue such responses, excluding pieces written for work purposes or other publications, then reproduced here. (For the record: this type of personally philosophical post is not from one of my more audience-pleasing categories of writing).

I hope that being drawn to the concept of autotelia as a self-descriptor does not make me sound self-aggrandizing. I know that if I read an article by someone explaining how they were self-actualized (or worse, transcendent) per Abraham Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, my gut emotional reaction would be to want to chide them for being presumptuous and pretentious. Such an article would also imply to me that the author did not actually understand self-actualization (nor transcendence), the achievement of which would, by definition, preclude such public grandstanding about their ascension to a state of being that most of us never achieve. I feel the same way about people who unilaterally declare themselves to be successes in the material and public worlds without external evidence to the same, especially when they then want to teach you to follow in their footsteps, for a modest fee, of course.

In both of those examples, the claimed “higher plane” is something that can only be achieved through a lot of work and reflection, whereas I read autotelia to be something that just is. I have green eyes, most other people do not. I am tall and thin, many other people are not. I was born in South Carolina, they vast majority of people were not. And I am autotelic, which some other people are not, though I have no idea as to what that percentage may be. It’s just the way I’m built, and not how I built myself. I don’t perceive that as a value judgment, nor as a self-congratulatory back-pat, nor as a humble brag. In fact, it’s really easy to make an argument that being autotelic is a bad thing, at least as far as my writing goes, with me having given away product of value for decades instead of having parsed it out for paying customers or public acclaim. But it’s an accurate assessment of my personal quirks, and I like having a single word to describe something about myself that has more typically required paragraphs or pages to explain. Makes life simpler that way, yeah?

In closing, I need to acknowledge where I learned the word: it’s the name of a musical group, and I read a review of their new album on an excellent website I frequent. Which then led to a long online research effort to get a better grip on the topic, eventually resulting in this article, which pleases me, and may also please others, but that’s just gravy if it does. Did I waste precious time in this little endeavor? Or was my exploration valuable simply because I found purpose and satisfaction in the acts of reading and thinking and writing? I know my own answers to those questions, though I leave it as an exercise for the reader as to whether I’m right or not about them, or anything else stated herein.

Click the image to hear Autotelia (The Band).