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.

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!

Regular English Speaking Tree Nerd On Holiday

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the January 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. Also, if you don’t get the reference in the title of this post, then you must go play this video while or after reading the article.

It’s always an extra treat to travel when you’re a tree nerd, since you get to play “canopy compare and contrast” between your home turf and your destination(s) while you are abroad. Marcia and I greeted 2019 with a trip to London and Paris, and my FitBit tells me that we walked 160,000 steps (about 80 miles) over the course of the week, much of that time spent with me ooo-ing and ahh-ing at special street trees or historic park trees or “what the heck is that?” trees we passed as we ambled about.

I love London Planes (Platanus × acerifolia) anywhere I spot them, and it was particularly delightful to see so many mighty specimens at the heart of their namesake city, their dappled trunks striking in sun or shade, and their distinctive seed balls providing “winter interest” as you surveyed the streetscape. In Paris we strolled the Bois de Boulogne with its native and curated forests, and we admired the Tilias that abound throughout the city, and which lay people call lindens, or basswoods, or limes, depending on where they make their homes.

We spent a lot of time in airplanes getting to and from Europe, and also had a nice EuroStar train trip via the “Chunnel” between London and Paris. This gave me a hefty amount of quiet time to read (more than I normally have, anyway), and the tree nerd in me was happy with that prospect, too, as I read a most remarkable book about trees, and people, and people and trees called The Overstory by Richard Powers.

I have to assume that if you’re reading this article in the TREE Fund newsletter that you’re at least a little bit of a tree nerd yourself, too, and so I most heartily recommend this book to you. It’s a transcendent novel that twines the tales of a half dozen wildly dissimilar humans into a single, solid, towering, powerful creative monument, with every step of the story given shape and substance by trees. The New York Times perhaps captured this concept best in their review of the book, where they noted “humans are merely underbrush; the real protagonists are trees.”

While The Overstory can resonate with those who don’t necessarily love or know their trees (e.g. it was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, awarded to the best novel in the English language issued each year), it was positively electrifying to me given my professional avocation. It’s not every day that mycorrhizal networks pop up and play key roles in a work of fiction, after all, but they’re quiet superstars here.

Like all great novels, The Overstory leaves the reader with a lot to consider when it has run its course, and while not everyone may agree with all of Powers’ implied or explicit lessons and morals, I can guarantee that his words, his stories, the magic of his prose, and most of all his trees will resonate with you all.

Happy reading, and let me know what you think!

Street trees had a big role in the experience of New Year’s Eve on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

People Make the Mission

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the December 2018 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.

As I write my final column for 2018, we are deep into TREE Fund’s annual year-end operating appeal. I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for a long time, so I’ve come to associate these appeals with the season: there’s turkey, there’s shopping, there’s revelry, there’s resolutions, and in the midst of all that, there’s a last push to raise funds, to give donors both “feel-good” experiences and year-end tax benefits.

I wrote here back in September about how changes in Federal law may impact the tax benefit of those gifts, but also how important it is that we all still “keep charity charitable,” empowering and celebrating the good work that nonprofits do in so many ways, in so many places, for so many people. That charitable intent is particularly important when it comes to the unrestricted operating funds that many year-end appeals support. They may not have the pizazz of brick and mortar giving, nor the permanence of endowments, but they are crucial to what we do.

For some folks outside of the nonprofit world, that phrase — “unrestricted operating funds” — may have unintended negative connotations: “Wait, you can do anything you want with it? Are you going to just spend it on overhead? Is that okay? Maybe I’d better give to this restricted endowment pool instead.” But all it really means is that we have the flexibility to support our “areas of greatest need” internally, and for TREE Fund, that need largely equates to people!

When you remove grants we pay from our operating budget, about three-quarters of the remaining expenses pay for the folks who actually do the work to fulfill our mission — and do it well, if it’s not inappropriate for me to say so. That’s Barb managing the grants, Karen communicating our research findings, Monika educating our donors, Maggie managing community engagement, including the Tour des Trees that Paul directs, Dipika keeping the books, and Russ ensuring our computer systems support it all. Plus me, often on the road, doing my best to champion tree science and the professionals who benefit from it.

Some of those folks you may know, some not. Some are employees, some are contractors, some part-time, some full. All are passionate about our mission, work hard to pursue it, and are largely supported by unrestricted operating funds, secured via appeals, partnerships or events. So anytime you email, call, engage on social media, read a newsletter article, share a research finding, or see a TREE Fund team member in person giving you great service in pursuit of our shared goal, then that’s what “unrestricted operating funds” are all about: it’s the people who make the mission.

 

You can click the advert to donate online. Do it for the people!!