Research Without Frontiers

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column as a preview teaser of the forthcoming October 2018 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE FundYou can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here.

Earlier this month, I attended the International Urban Forestry Congress in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Congress was a unique gathering presented by Tree Canada, Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), University of British Columbia, Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, and other partners. Nearly 800 people from 30 countries participated, and we were blessed with fascinating and useful lectures, engaging panel discussions, exceptional networking opportunities, and an unparalleled “battery charging” opportunity to spend time with colleagues away from our proverbial trenches, sharing our passions for urban forests around our ever-more-connected (for better or worse) tiny blue marble of a planet.

It was good to be reminded that TREE Fund is part of that global research network, and not just an Illinois corporation, nor just a United States nonprofit, nor just a North American charity. This is reflected in our grant-making programs: we typically award two Jack Kimmel International Grants in partnership with the Canadian TREE Fund annually, and a growing number of grants from our other programs have been going abroad in recent years too.

I know some readers may not consider this a positive trend, since I have had domestic partners challenge me on why they should support us if we are sending money overseas, just as I have had ISA Chapters ask why they should support us if researchers in their regions are not receiving TREE Fund grants. Regionalism is a strong force among human beings, nationally and internationally. But trees (and their symbiotic companions and parasitic predators) do not recognize property lines, nor do they hew to municipal borders, nor do they heed state lines, nor do they respect international borders.

Trees are migratory organisms across our ever-changing world, as they slowly and naturally respond to global environmental changes, or rapidly stake out new turf when we select them to line streets and shade homes on continents where nature never would have taken them. And while human preferences and prejudices vary widely from nation to nation, both native and non-native urban trees living in temperate Mediterranean climates like those found in Beirut, Perth, Los Angeles, Rome, Tunis and elsewhere may benefit from exactly the same areas of rigorous scientific inquiry, regardless of where the researchers disclosing it work and live.

I say all this as an older, pragmatic and practical American professional, and not as an inexperienced, pie-in-the-sky Utopian. Trees are a global resource, and tree science is globally relevant, regardless of any of our social, economic, religious or political leanings. TREE Fund is a small — but mighty — player in this planetary network, and we become stronger every time we gather with colleagues from around the world on behalf of the planet’s urban canopies.

Okay, so maybe this Vancouver tree does want some boundaries . . .

September Morn

Holy moly, how did that happen, and where did the summer go???

(Well, actually summer started late in Chicago, and it’s as hot and damp here right now as it’s been all year, so maybe we’ve just shifted the season forward a couple of months, along with the summer storms . . . )

But, regardless of what the weather is weirdly doing, the calendar says it’s September! School’s back in session! Leaves are (conceptually) beginning to brown! Days are getting shorter! Turtlenecks are being brought out from under the bed! And so forth and so on! Makes me feel like I need to recap some summer stuff, so here goes . . .

1. Between rain showers, we caught five great sets at the 40th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival over Labor Day Weekend, always a signature event for us here. Among the legends, we saw Ramsey Lewis (who received a city proclamation on the date of what was said to be his last Chicago performance)(!) play a deliciously accessible set of his usual pop standards interpreted with brilliant piano arrangements, and then we caught Maceo Parker, who repeatedly noted “I do not play jazz” over a great set of funk and soul classics; Maceo impressed as much as a vocalist, bandleader and front man as he did on his alto sax, so that was a nice surprise in terms of the flow of the set. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society was probably the biggest surprise for us, not being familiar with the 18-member jazz orchestra, not Argue’s compositions. We’ve since rectified that situation and added his studio recordings to our archives. While Marcia was still in Des Moines, I caught Nicole Mitchell’s Mandorla Awakening, though Mitchell herself was absent due to a family emergency. A very, very cool set with highly unusual instrumentation, including koto and theremin; cellist Tomeka Reid served as fill-in band leader, and she was a delight, as always. Finally, we caught local stalwarts the Sabertooth Organ Quartet playing a six-part suite to celebrate their 25th anniversary on the scene, and it all went down good and interesting, especially some choice bits with baritone sax and Hammond B-3 organ dueling at the bottom end of the sonic spectrum. Mmmm, nice!

2. Every year I say I am going to travel less for work, and every year, it doesn’t quite seem to work out that way as I find it hard to say “no” when asked to attend various conferences and events in our professional community. Three-quarters of the way through 2018, I’m at least keeping more density in the Midwest region per my travel map below, though that will shift outward a little before year end with trips to Vancouver, Mystic, Charlotte, Philly and Albany.

3. I am not posting weekly (or more) about the 2018 Tour des Trees anymore (for now), but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still support this year’s campaign: we are just as hair below $340,000, and we will continue fundraising through October 1, so you can still make a difference in what our 2019 budget looks like, here. One of the final pieces of the campaign was a wonderful picnic in Northeastern Ohio the week before Labor Day, and I was glad to be able to join the team there for good eats and good company and good fundraising. Local film-maker Jeff Reding of FilmMag Productions even came out and shot some video for the day, which was nice; you can see his mini-documentary of the picnic here.

Buckeye State: Biked!

I’m back home in Chicago today after completing the 2018 Tour des Trees, plus three bonus days of work events and presentations in Columbus, Ohio after the cycling event wound down. The final Tour mileage count was about 585 miles for the week, and as of this afternoon, we’ve raised nearly $328,000. (The campaign stays open until October 1, so you’re welcome to still support our 2019 budget here, if the after report moves you more than the advance pitches!)

This is my fourth Tour des Trees, and it was a tough one. The terrain in Northeastern Ohio is “lumpy” (as our Tour Director would say), and we climbed about 28,000 feet of mostly punchy steep little hills that didn’t often give you the reward of a nice descent when you finished them. We also had three century days in a row in the middle of the week, with the longest one being 116 miles. We had heavy rain one day, but for the most part, we actually got lucky with slightly cooler and cloudier days than the region normally produces in July and August. Most importantly, our 75 participants and 20 support team members all made it around the course safely, with no accidents or incidents of note. We’ll take that and bank it.

The program side of the Tour this year was truly awesome, with many great community engagement stops, visits to some of our key corporate partners (most notably The Davey Tree Care Company, who announced a $250,000 endowment pledge when we visited their headquarters in Kent), and just a really positive vibe on and off the road from everyone we interacted with. Many of my own rest stops were filled with media availabilities or presentations with our hosts and guests, so it often made for a frantic day of pushing hard for me, but it’s really all worth it when you see how much it means to folks to have us roll through and celebrate their trees with them.

Our friends at ACRT invited us to participate in one particularly special event, and then they produced just a lovely little film about it that really captures the spirit of the Tour, I think. It’s worth two minutes to check it out:

Our support team includes a outstanding young photographer named Coleman Camp (who’s also a killer cyclist, which is convenient!), and he’s working to get a week’s worth of amazing images up at our Flickr page, here. I’ll use his work for the rest of this post to shift us from “tell” to “show” mode about my own experiences, with deep thanks to everyone who supported me and the other Tour riders this year. We literally have the first discussion meeting about the 2019 Tour  (Kentucky and Tennessee) with our staff and Tour Director tomorrow, so as we already start looking forward, here’s hoping maybe you’ll think about joining us, with a full year to get ready for a life-changing adventure!

Day One, just before roll out.

At our first event, the Mayor of Gahanna read a proclamation declaring July 29 Tour des Trees Day.

Strategizing with Thom Kraak, who received the prestigious Ken Ottman Volunteer Award at closing dinner.

So! Many!! Hills!!! (I was actually pleased with my climbing, given how little of it I get to do in Chicago).

We reached Lake Erie right by the R&R Hall of Fame, then turned back into the hills . . .

We meet so many cool people on the road, and it’s a delight to talk trees with them all.

And we meet loads of cool trees, including the historic Signal Tree near Akron.

As part of our educational mission, we leave behind children’s trees books with local libraries.

The Big Check! Thanks, Davey!!

We planted a Liberty Tree at the Ohio Statehouse, as we did in Maryland last year.

The team on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse, before our last three mile ceremonial slow roll.

Celebrating our top fundraisers at the closing ceremony. Go team!! And bring on 2019!

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!!

2018 Tour des Trees: My Final Appeal

Hello Friends, Family and Blog Lurkers!

I wanted to make one final appeal this year letting you all know that I’m headed to Columbus, Ohio in three weeks to ride in my fourth Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund — and I’m hoping that you’ll see fit to help a good cause by supporting my campaign in this amazing event.

Remember those old Hair Club For Men TV commercials? The ones where Sy Sperling, the head of the company,  appeared on screen and said “I’m not just the President of Hair Club for Men — I’m also a client!”?

Well, I can kind of relate to that as the President and CEO of TREE Fund when it comes to the Tour: “I’m not just the President of TREE Fund — I’m also a rider!”

Sure, I’m the boss, and I could get away with just waving folks off at the start line and clapping them in at the finish each year, then going back to my office and counting the proceeds — but for this event, I put my money (and my body) where my mouth is.

I will be in the saddle for about 580 miles over seven days (July 29 to August 4), making numerous stops along the way for community engagement programs, speaking engagements, media opportunities, and educational outreach events. We will be riding from Columbus up to Cleveland and back via a large loop route, with at least two and maybe three “century days” of 100 miles or more (the uncertainly on the third day relates to progress on a construction project along the route). It’s a tough week!!

I’ve been training hard for the Tour as the mostly awful Chicago weather this year allows. Sometimes the training days go great, and sometimes they don’t. You might enjoy an article I wrote on my blog about one of the latter types of training rides, here: South Side Century: Denied.

I’m also fundraising hard. Each full-time rider on the Tour commits to raising at least $3,500 for research to benefit our urban forests and the skilled professionals who care for them. I have set a stretch personal goal of $7,000, and please note that I do not take or claim any TREE Fund organizational support to assist with my campaign.

Will you help me reach my goal? If so, you can make a gift by clicking the link below:

J. Eric Smith’s Tour Fundraising Page

Because our corporate partners underwrite the production costs of the Tour, gifts made to rider campaigns (like mine) will be applied to research, either via new awards, payments on multi-year research pledges, or contributions to endowment funds that will sustain research in the future. In short, your gift will be put to work within the next year, and it will generate results.

For those who have supported me already in this and/or any prior Tours des Trees, THANK YOU!! For those thinking about doing so, boy oh boy, would I love it if you could do it soon!!!

All best to all, with gratitude, and smooches,

Eric

Thumbs up for those who support my Tours. Thank you!!