Re-Shingled

Astute regular readers here may have noticed that two tabs were recently restored to my front page after a several-year absence: Freelance Writing and Consulting. Why so? Why now?

For most of my years living and working in/around Albany (1993-2011), those were key parts of my professional portfolio, and in many cases were among the most gratifying and enjoyable jobs I did. But when I took over a struggling museum in early 2012 after our move to Iowa, that job had such a crushing 24-hour “on call” aspect that I just didn’t have it in me to maintain existing freelance clients or establish new ones. Then my job at TREE Fund had me on the road around the country about half of the time, plus the complicating factor that Marcia and I were splitting time between Des Moines and Chicago for three years, so that era also didn’t lend itself to doing the types of writing and value-added consulting work that I so enjoy.

But that’s going to change in the months ahead with my pending retirement as President and CEO of TREE Fund. We’ll be announcing my replacement there in a couple of weeks, and my last day of employment with TREE Fund will be November 15. I have one more trip planned from Des Moines to our offices in Naperville for turnover, then Marcia and I will be hitting the road on our own for awhile, within the States and abroad. We have some of those trips laid out already, but are really keeping the schedule fairly soft at this point for much of 2020, enjoying the opportunity to go where we want to go, when we want to do so. I am also looking into some writers’ workshops, fellowships, and conferences in the months ahead to reconnect in that professional circle and have the opportunity to hone and market some of my personal projects that have been back-burnered in recent years.

So those factors all lead me to conclude that it’s a good time to re-hang my professional shingle, with the simple act of adding those tabs as a first-step statement of intent. As averse as I am to getting new technology before my old technology has expired (I have had only four home PCs for all of my computing needs since 1993), Marcia and I both got fresh new laptops to take with us, to allow us to work (or play, or surf aimlessly) wherever we are.  (I’m still keeping my trusty home PC up and running, though. Loyalty to beloved and useful devices counts for karma points, you know). While our modern technological era is certainly fraught with challenges, perils, and annoyances, I think there is great joy to be found in being nimble, agile and portable, and doing what needs to be done where it needs to be done, untethered from the ties of home and office. Have computer, will write!

The two pages linked above lay out the areas of past expertise and future interest that I would like to pursue in the months and years ahead. Check ’em out. Am I missing anything? Are they compelling? Comments, critiques, complements or questions always welcome. I very much look forward to helping colleagues new and old, and I am open to conversations at any time if you think there’s something I do that might be of interest and help to you, your business, your board, your donors, or your clients. I’m also grateful for any referrals that you might direct my way. Networks count, and I know I’ve developed some good ones over the years.

At bottom line, if you’ve enjoyed working with me in the past, then there’s no reason for that to stop, at least from my end. We might even enjoy and leverage our professional relationships more fully in a new paradigm, unlocked from some of the structural constraints of the nonprofit world in which I’ve moved for most of the past 25 years. Only way one to find out, right?

Sticker purchased to decorate my new laptop. Words to live by. Bonus points if you know their source.

Island Song

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the October 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. You should be listening to this song from the greatest animated series ever as you read this article.

So here it is, my final “Leading Thoughts” column for TREE Press, three weeks before I retire as the organization’s President and CEO. As I type, we are in the final steps of the search process to find my successor, and barring something unexpected, next month’s TREE Press should feature an introduction of the new leader for our enterprise. We have outstanding candidates in the mix, and I am confident that the next President and CEO will be able to build on the successes we have experienced over the past four years. I look forward to cheering him or her on, and to continue supporting TREE Fund as a donor, Tour des Trees rider, and advocate.

I will be pleased and proud to continue my personal and professional associations with the amazing community of arborists, urban foresters, landscape architects and other green industry experts who I’ve come to know and respect during my time at TREE Fund. I’ve noted in earlier TREE Press columns that, after some travel, I intend to return to the freelance writing and consulting work that occupied much of my time and talent when I lived in Upstate New York for the better part of 20 years. If you see an opportunity where I may be able to help you, your business, your ISA Chapter, or your clients, I’d be happy to discuss that further. You can always reach me at my website for professional inquiries, to read whatever I might be writing for my own entertainment, or just to say “howdy.” The connections and friendships I’ve made over the past four years are precious to me, and I am happy to continue them!

In my final remarks at this year’s ISA International Conference in Knoxville, I noted that when I reflect on my time at TREE Fund, the thing that I am most proud of is that I believe I have shifted our organizational focus and messaging away from “What should you do for TREE Fund?” toward “What can TREE Fund do for you?” Your continued support is, of course, crucial, but we only earn it by providing you with useful scientific research and education, and by sharing those mission-based products as widely as we possibly can. I believe we have achieved that with our improved website, newsletter and social media efforts, our wildly popular and successful webinar series, and a shift in emphasis for the Tour des Trees to make the focus on community engagement just as strong as the focus on fundraising. We are also putting our money where our mouths are: this year, we expect to break $400,000 in new grant awards for the first time in our history, pushing our total awards since inception over $4.4 million. With $385,000 raised by this year’s Tour, next year’s number should build on that further. It is satisfying to me to leave that strong base behind for my successor.

And with that, I doff my cap to you all, grateful for our time together. Your work makes a difference, and it moves me. Thank you for the opportunity to have served.

Come along with me, and the butterflies and bees. We can wander through the forest, and do so as we please . . .

Tour des Trees 2019, Tennessee and Kentucky: Biked!

With a breakfast ceremony this past Saturday, the 2019 Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund came to a close, with the top fundraising team (ISA Southern Chapter) presenting the “big check” for over $371,000 to our Community Engagement Manager, Maggie Harthoorn, who served as staff lead for the event this year.

This year’s Tour was a resounding success, and I can’t praise the work that Maggie, Tour Director Paul Wood, and the rest of our planning committee and support team did to make it so. First and foremost, our ~80 riders and ~20 support team members all made it to the finish line with no accidents, injuries, or incidents of note, barring one over-aggressive truck forcing a rider off the road onto a (fortunately) grassy shoulder, and a few cases of drivers feeling the need to yell at cyclists sharing the roads that we’re wholly entitled to share. The fundraising tally is the highest of the five years that I have served as TREE Fund’s CEO, and it’s still creeping up; as I type, it stands at $376,473. (We will still be accepting Tour donations here through September 30, if you want to make an after-the-fact contribution in honor of this year’s team). Our education ambassador, Professor Pricklethorn, offered 11 school programs for ~500 elementary school children, and we met with a variety of municipal leaders, businesses, and community groups along the way to spread the good word about professional urban forestry and arboriculture, and the scientific research that underpins those practices.

Those successes were all the more remarkable given the conditions under which we rode: ~450 miles over five days, in sweltering heat wave conditions with absolute temperatures in the 90s and heat indices pushing 110 degrees. I had ridden further and done more hill work this summer than I had in any of my prior Tour training seasons (moving to Iowa helped a lot in that regard), but despite that prep, I struggled physically on this Tour more than I had in any other, with the heat just sucking the energy out of me as the days went on, and with recurring cramping problems slowing me down throughout the week. I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way, and I know that my gratitude for our support team couldn’t be higher, as they pressed along with us, offering encouragement, hydration, nutrition and care to a line of riders that could be stretched out over ~25 miles by the time the day was done. Just amazing, and inspiring.

As I’ve written before, this will be my last Tour des Trees as President and CEO of TREE Fund. The whole team was incredibly kind, understanding and generous toward me this year as I prepare for that personal and professional transition. I am grateful to them in so many ways.  I do intend to stay actively involved with TREE Fund and its mission — as a Tour rider, as a donor, as a volunteer, or however else I can be useful — in the years ahead, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s an important organization doing vital work, and the Tour des Trees is the strong beating heart that powers it.

As is often the case, it’s hard for words to capture the Tour experience well, so I’m going to let pictures give you a sense of my week in Tennessee and Kentucky instead. We have an incredible photographer, Coleman Camp, who rides and shoots with us, often at the same time; I’d be cranking up a hill sometimes and hear a “whoosh” go by me, looking over to see Coleman carrying two large cameras on his back, and still out-climbing most of us to get to the summit for the snaps he wanted. He’s an amazing human being and an inspirational artist: check out his professional work here, and his gallery of this year’s Tour (he’s still adding to it as I type) here. Ride On!

This year’s Tour featured a great variety of riding environments, from shady woodlands with punchy hills to wide open Iowa-esque agricultural regions.

It’s amazing how helpful it is to be cheered on from the roadside as one summits a nasty hill.

Words of encouragement from Paul Wood, our most outstanding Tour Director.

An icy cold towel from the support van hits the spot too.

Our friend Sam from Vermeer organized a trivia event at dinner one night. The winners received Kentucky and Tennessee appropriate cycling jerseys.

Having a route map on our sleeves makes it easy to explain our travels to visiting dignitaries.

We ended the week with an amazing event at Hull-Jackson Montessori Magnet School in Nashville. It was amazing to have a couple of hundred kids running out to greet the riders as they rolled in.

The full team in Clarksville, Tennessee. Where’s J. Waldo? (Hint: Throw the horns!)

Closing remarks on Saturday morning. Quite emotional!

The Big Check!!

The team gave me a TREE Fund jersey autographed by this year’s riders and support crew. I wore it while Coleman used me as an art shot model, with the Nashville skyline behind me.

And thanks once again to Paul Wood and Maggie Harthoorn for their tireless work in coordinating this year’s Tour. TREE Fund’s next CEO will be incredibly fortunate to have them on the team, as I have been.

On Community

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the September 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. This article was adapted from a much longer piece written earlier this year, and available on my website here, for those who are interested in reading more about my views on “community.”

If you were to create a word cloud of every document, article, letter, and email I’ve written during my four-plus years as President and CEO of TREE Fund, I suspect that after the obvious mission-related words — tree, forest, research, endowment, education, arborist, etc. —  the word that would show up most frequently would be “community.” I use it all the time, referring to the Tour des Trees as our primary community engagement event, discussing how our work helps the global tree care community, noting that our work focuses on the importance of urban and community forests by promoting research designed to benefit whole communities of trees and related organisms (including humans), rather than individual specimens or species.

If you ran that same word cloud for the four years before I arrived at TREE Fund, I suspect you would not see “community” ranked so highly in our communications. We used to refer to the Tour des Trees as our primary fundraising event, and we discussed how our work benefited the tree care industry, and how our efforts advanced arboriculture, with much of our research focused on individual plant response, rather than forests as a whole. This change in language was not necessarily an organizational shift driven by some strategic planning decision, nor was it a modification to what we do and how we do it directed by our Board or emergent outside forces. It was frankly just me shaping the narrative about the organization I lead, and I how I want it to be perceived.

Calling the Tour des Trees just a “fundraising event,” for example, misses the critical component of how we interact with people as we roll on our way throughout the week, providing education and outreach to help people understand our work and how it benefits them. Saying that we work only for the “tree care industry” seems somehow antiseptic to me, implying that the businesses are more important than the community of people they employ, who collectively engage in the hands-on work of caring for trees. “Urban and community forests” is a helpful rubric in expressing the full scope of our focus, evoking and including big city park spaces, street trees, yard trees and trees along utility rights of way in suburbs, exurbs, and rural spaces. And thinking more about communities of trees, rather than individual plants, helps us better understand and communicate the exciting, emergent science exploring the ways that trees have evolved as communal organisms, and not just as disconnected individuals.

I think my focus on the word “community” is indicative of its deep importance to me, personally and professionally. My desire over the past four years, and hopefully into the future, is that TREE Fund acts and is perceived as part of something bigger and more connected than our relatively small physical, financial and personnel structure might otherwise dictate. I have been awed, truly, by the immense generosity, enthusiasm, wisdom and diligence of the global tree care community, and it has been an honor for me to be a small member of that great collective body, which works wonders, and makes a difference.

Getting ready to rejoin this great community of tree-loving cyclists again this weekend. You can click the photo if you want to make a last minute Tour des Trees gift to support the cause!

Lessons I’ve Learned From the Tour des Trees

We are down to less than a week before this year’s 80 Tour des Trees riders have to meet their minimum fundraising goals, and the team as a whole is within $10,000 of our total goal for the year, hooray! If you want to help somebody get ‘er done here at rug-cutting time (or if you want to help push me up the leader board), you can click on the image above and support any of our riders. We should definitely hit our $300,000 mark this week, so I am hoping that when all’s said and done, we can be above last year’s $327,000 mark before the week of actual riding ends. The more we raise, the more research we fund or endow in next year’s budget, so it’s win, win, win to raise more, more, more!

I have to be at our office in Naperville the week before the Tour, so next week is my final training window. I feel in good shape at this point. It’s easier to do training rides in Des Moines than it was in Chicago, for sure. I’ve ridden a couple of centuries already this summer, and did a five-day unsupported week of 305 miles, so being in the peloton with regular rest stops, support and meals that I don’t have to carry should make the actual week’s tally of about 450 miles with one century and less climbing than we had last year in Ohio more than attainable. I won’t be winning any time trials, but I’ll be back at the barn before dinner every day, and that’s what it’s all about.

While this will be my last Tour as CEO of TREE Fund, I do intend to keep riding it in the years ahead, so long as my ever-more-creaky body allows. I was thinking this week about the things that make the Tour des Trees special, and some valuable life lessons learned on the road over the past four years popped into my mind, so I thought I would share them with you here. I’d welcome any of your own lessons learned in the comments!

1. When life gives you free lunch, you eat it.

2. When everybody stinks, nobody stinks.

3. Love every single glorious descent, because you will be punished for each one later.

4. No matter how many gears you have, life will always throw something at you where none of them are quite right, and you just have to grit your teeth and grind it out.

5. There’s nothing wrong with being able to recognize your friends by their butts.

6. Knowing you have support in front of you, behind you, and alongside you makes everything achievable.

7. No matter how nice your bike is, somebody else always has a nicer one.

8. A ride with no trees makes it most clear why we ride for the trees.

9. You’ll never have nicer conversations than the ones you share on a journey with fellow travelers.

10. What happens on the Tour does not stay on the Tour: it ripples outward, over space and time, and makes the world a better place.

Ride on! See you soon in Tennessee and Kentucky!

Tour des Trees 2019: Final Fundraising Push

I got back home to Des Moines last night after spending three days at the International Society of Arboriculture‘s (ISA) International Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. We held our annual “Tree Fund After Hours” reception on Tuesday night (co-hosted with our good friends from ISA Southern Chapter), where a few hundred professional tree folks came out to celebrate our community, the work we do together, and the research that underpins our commitment to support and the sustain the world’s urban and community forests, and the utility rights of way that connect them.

As a result of our guests’ generosity, and the stack of checks and online gifts from other folks we had waiting for us when we got back to the office, we just pushed over a total of $250,000 raised by our 2019 Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund riders and teams. Our goal for the year is $300,000 — and the deadline for riders to meet their individual minimum fundraising requirements ($3,500 each) is now only 19 days away. Folks are fundraising hard to meet both individual and aggregate goals, so if you’ve been thinking about making a gift toward this important community engagement event, time’s getting short, and there’s no time like the present for making that contribution.

I always try to lead by example and keep myself high on the fundraising leader board (I’m in fourth place among individual riders right now), so if you’d like to help me stay ahead of some hard-charging (friendly) competitors who are neck-and-neck with me, you can support my campaign here. Or if you want to support a rider who is still working to get his or her minimum fundraising done, there’s a list of all of this year’s 82 riders at this page, and you can click on any of their names to support their campaigns. Either way, you’ll push us closer to this year’s budget goal, and we’ll all be grateful.

This summer, TREE Fund pushed over $4.3 million in total grant awards made to support tree research and education, and we published an independent report by Drs Richard Hauer (University of Wisconsin: Stevens Point) and Andrew Koeser (University of Florida) evaluating and explaining the outcomes, outputs and impacts of those grants over our 16 year history. Their complete report is available here, and it ably demonstrates how these grants change the way our industry works, and leverage other dollars toward applied research and outreach. It’s a compelling story, and the Tour des Trees is a cornerstone to our success in the past, present and future.

I’ve shared a few photos from last year’s Tour (by the awesome Coleman Camp) below just to give you a taste of the experience, which depends on the goodwill of thousands of partners and donors every year. I appreciate you considering a gift this year. Your generosity will make a difference — now, and for many years yet to come.

The love we’re shown by the countless towns and cities we roll through is truly inspirational.

Riding is only part of the Tour des Trees story. We also make frequent community engagement stops to share the importance of tree research and education, for kids of all ages.

The end of the road in 2018, at the Ohio State House in Columbus: tired, stinky, sore, and proud, with over $340,000 raised for grants and scholarships!