Do The (Right) Research

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

“Research” is the word that we use to define a set of protocols designed to help people turn subjective assumptions into (more) objective conclusions. It can take many forms, but the requirements of good research generally include:

  • Intellectual rigor in seeking out and considering credible sources beyond those easily available in the public domain, even when they are not in alignment with the researcher’s presumptions;
  • An ability and a willingness to compile and analyze qualitative and/or quantitative data using generally accepted statistical and scientific methods;
  • A clearly-defined method for testing those data against a hypothesis, followed by a willingness to allow results to be re-tested by others;
  • Independent affirmation of data and conclusions by peers in the field of research; and
  • The recognition of the research’s utility, via cites and references from other researchers in the field of study, or wide-spread adoption of findings.

That list may be a bit academic, and perhaps it’s worth flipping the definition and asking: So, what isn’t high quality research, really? Some red flags:

  • Using non-scientific public web sites (e.g. Wikipedia) as primary sources, since none of those sites index the countless proprietary resources that require library assistance to access;
  • Throwing out entire sectors of the printed and online media worlds because they do not cover certain topics in ways that the researcher may wish to see them covered;
  • Working in a vacuum, without the intellectual testing that comes from the healthy give-and-take of collegial debate and discourse;
  • Reaching conclusions that are only cited or referenced by other individuals who enter the realm of research with the same viewpoint as the researcher; and
  • Using shock tactics or logical fallacies to make pre-determined points.

When you compare those two lists, one point should become readily apparent: people can do the “wrong research” list without many resources, where the “right research” list is far more dependent on the availability of skilled human, laboratory, field and/or financial resources. Which, of course, is where TREE Fund comes in: we’re one of a small number of funding sources for tree research projects, and we play a key role in developing rigorous findings that practitioners can trust, rather than depending on hearsay, half-baked experiments, gut feelings, or professional folklore.

Our next grant will push us over the $4.0 million mark in total funds expended to advance scientific discovery and disseminate new knowledge in our field. It’s an important milestone for our community, even as we look forward to empowering the next research project to answer the next burning question that faces us. Our grant-making processes are designed to inspire trust in our outcomes, and when you, our readers and supporters, are making professional tree care decisions with significant property impacts associated with them, you should expect — and demand — nothing less.

(Wrong) Research Proves That Cats Are Liquids.

The Trees That Move Us

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

Last summer, I wrote a Leading Thoughts column on “trees as inspiration,” sharing my affection for a wonderful work-in-progress book about ginkgos by Jimmy Shen, a professional botanic photographer based in east China. Last month, my column focused on another book, The Overstory by Richard Powers, a powerful novel about the ways that trees can shape our lives, from birth to death, and maybe beyond.

I received more feedback on those two columns than I did from any of the others I’ve written here, I think because those of us who count ourselves as “tree people” generally don’t leave our interest in trees at our work sites but are also awed and moved by them in our personal lives as well. We look for and admire great trees in the cities, fields and forests where we work, live and travel, and then we also seek out opportunities to celebrate trees in books, art, music, and in all of the other myriad of creative arts.

On one of our recent snow days, I bundled up and walked over to the Art Institute of Chicago – my favorite place in my favorite city, hands down – and wandered around the various galleries there as I often do. In the 19th Century European Art collection, I saw a wonderful painting that I’d not noticed before by Albert Bierstadt, depicting a glorious stand of birches around a rocky waterfall, and I shared a photo of it in on the TREE Fund Twitter feed.

And then I decided to have a full tree day at the museum, walking through every gallery, seeking out great trees in the collection. It was a wonderful way to re-experience galleries that I’ve seen more times than I can count, looking through a different lens at paintings, decorative arts, sculptures, and more. I found abstract trees, photographic trees, and impressionist trees. I was awed by the ways that artists were inspired by trees over centuries and around the world. I shared my findings on social media, and they were widely liked, commented on, and retweeted.

A couple of weeks later, I was home again and the song “The Trees” by the BritPop band Pulp came up on my stereo. Once again, thinking about trees, I decided to have a tree music day, going through the 14,000+ songs that I have on my computer, looking for great ones about trees, woods, forests, and more. I posted my 25 favorite tree songs on my personal website and once again got loads of comments, feedback, and response from others about their favorite tree songs. People just love tree art, in all of its forms.

I recommend you have your own museum tree day, or make a tree song playlist, or look at some other creative idiom through tree lenses. It’s truly rewarding to actively consider how the trees we care for professionally enhance our lives beyond their scientific and landscape value.

The Albert Bierstadt painting that inspired my Tree Day at the Art Institute.

St. Kitts

Updated February 16, 2019: We got home last night at around 1 AM after a long day on planes and in airports. I completed our photo album from the trip this morning. You can click on the beach horse (Marcia’s photo) below to be taken to the full gallery:

Marcia and I are in the Caribbean island nation of St Kitts and Nevis this week for the Tree Care Industry Association’s annual Winter Management Conference. It’s a great gathering of business leaders in the tree care and related industries, and I am always grateful that they afford me the opportunity to be a part of the event, providing an annual TREE Fund report, and being able to spend quality time with the folks who make our work possible, year after year after year.

I’m also always grateful to the event planners for keeping the schedule open enough that folks have the opportunity to explore the beautiful locations where the conference is held. Marcia and I arrived a couple of days early, and got a fantastic island tour from Barry Wyatt, who met us at the airport and then spent four hours a couple of days later showing us his home nation, with knowledge, perspective, wisdom and pride.

We have also had two brilliant dinners at Tiranga, an excellent Indian restaurant right across the street from the Marriott Resort where the conference is being held. If you are reading this while you are still at Winter Management Conference, I heartily recommend you give Tiranga a shot for one of your remaining meals, and then call Barry for a great tour, too. You will not be disappointed!

As always, I’m constantly snapping photos, and will do my usual Flickr album when I get home, but here are a sampling of the sights we’ve seen so far (obviously if I’m them, then those are Marcia’s snaps), with a few days yet to go before we return to the frozen north. Enjoying it while we can, life is good!

Tour des Trees 2019: Rider Registration is Open

TREE Fund Headquarters has been closed for the past two days due to the Polar Vortex, but we all still worked remotely behind the scenes so that we could flip the big switch this morning and open rider registration for the 2019 Tour des Trees, hooray!

It’s lunchtime, and I see that 10 riders have already signed up this morning, some regulars, some new folks to the team. I’ve waxed effusive at length here about the experience of riding the Tour over the past four years, so I won’t do that again . . . but I will simply ask you to consider joining us this year, for five amazing days of fully-supported riding through the beautiful back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee.

It’s a good time with good people for a good cause, and you’ll get good and fit training for the event, so what’s not to love? Click this year’s Tour medallion below to be taken to the main page for all things Tour des Trees, and then consider making the commitment, as I’d love to ride alongside you this year! Or if that’s not in the cards, then I would gratefully appreciate your support for my own campaign, which is now underway here.

Tree Songs

I was puttering around the apartment this morning, appreciating being indoors as the snow swirled in the cold north wind of a winter storm, and the Family iPod randomly queued up the BritPop band Pulp’s 2001 UK hit song “The Trees.” It’s a moving, melancholy song about love and loss, wherein Jarvis Cocker sings despondently “the trees, those useless trees, produce the air that I am breathing / the trees, those useless trees, they never said that you were leaving.” The song isn’t about trees, exactly, but they shape its narrative and its imagery, and it’s a lovely autumnal work, one of the group’s finest pieces, and a longtime fave of mine.

When it was done, I got to thinking about my other favorite tree-inspired or tree-related songs, and the list was (not surprisingly) fairly long and lush when I actually sat down to compile it. I share the best of the best with you below, working upward (as trees do) from #25 to #1, and with links so you can check ’em out yourself, and then perhaps think about and compile your own list. Please share it in the comments section if you make one, so I can add some new tunes to my new green playlist!

#25. “Fig Tree” by Bunny Wailer

#24. “Forest” by Robert Wyatt

#23. “Tall, Tall Trees” by Roger Miller

#22. “In Dark Trees” by Brian Eno

#21. “A Forest” by The Cure

#20. “The Trees” by Rush

#19. “Back To The Apple” by The Count Basie Orchestra

#18. “Bare Trees” by Fleetwood Mac

#17. “Lemon Tree” by Peter, Paul and Mary

#16. “Red Barked Tree” by Wire

#15. “Aria: Ombra Mai Fu,” from Handel’s Serse by Andreas Scholl

#14. “Leaf and Stream” by Wishbone Ash

#13. “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)” by The Coleman Hawkins Quartet

#12. “Fruit Tree” by Nick Drake

#11. “The Oak” by The Albion Band

#10. “The King in the Tree” by Shriekback

#9. “The Saw and the Tree” by Tim Finn

#8. “Sugar Magnolia” by The Grateful Dead

#7. “The Trees” by Pulp

#6. “Deep in the Woods” by The Birthday Party

#5. “Bury Me in Willow” by Asia

#4. “The Green Boy” by Peter Blegvad

#3. “Battle of the Trees” by Katell Keineg

#2. “The Sound of Trees” by Schnell Fenster

#1. “Songs from the Wood” by Jethro Tull

Let me bring you songs from the wood . . .

2019 Tour des Trees Route Announcement: Let’s Ride!

Last August, I put a Save the Date announcement up here about the 2019 Tour des Trees, the amazing annual community engagement event that benefits my organization, TREE Fund. Earlier this week, we made the formal route announcement for this year’s Tour, which will roll September 16 to 20 in a 448-mile loop route through Kentucky and Tennessee, beginning and ending in Nashville. You can click on the high-level map view at left to get to the detailed cue sheets for the Tour. It’s gonna be a good one, through some beautiful country, and with some great overnight stops. We begin with an orientation dinner Sunday night, ride hard for five days (including two centuries), and then have a closing celebration Friday, so you can pack your bike and be home the next Saturday. One clean week of adventure, with all funds raised benefiting tree research. What’s not to love?

Next step: On February 1, we will open registration for riders and volunteers. All the details about the Tour are available at the TREE Fund website, here, and that’s also where you would sign up, if the spirit so moves you. Those of you who know me best are aware that I’m not generally a fuzzy-wuzzy-touchie-feelie type of person prone to making statements like “Oh my God, this is a life changing event” . . . but in this case: Oh my God, this is a life changing event!!! This will be my fifth Tour, and some of our riders have been on the road with us for over 20 years. The support team is awesome, the sense of community and spirit of camaraderie are exquisite, and the cause is truly a just one: our urban forests do so much good for so many people at such a relatively small cost, but the science to keep them vibrant and viable is under-funded and growing ever more so, as government programs dwindle even as environmental threats (e.g. climate change, invasive species, etc.) continue to mount in an exponential fashion. TREE Fund fills an important niche as one of the only private grant-making organizations specifically funding research on the trees we live with, and the Tour des Trees truly makes our work possible.

Here’s the report of my experiences on the 2018 Tour, and if my words and pictures don’t move you a little, then take just two short minutes to watch the following video, which I think beautifully captures the spirit of the thing. I’d love to have you on the road with me and my colleagues, and I am happy to answer any questions you might have as you consider whether or not you might like to join us. Holla!