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 than you might expect:

Friend: Oh cool, I love trees! TREE Fund is the one that does all those 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 recognition is when I say: “We fund science that supports 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, 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.

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 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.

Note: This article ran in TREE Fund’s e-Bulletin today. You can subscribe by visiting our website, here, and you could also help us out a lot by making a contribution to the 15th Anniversary Appeal, or by shopping in the TREE Fund Store. The buttons on the homepage should be intuitive in terms of how to do any or all of these things, so thanks for clicking through and following/supporting us!

This live oak stands above my Dad’s grave in Beaufort National Cemetery. I consider it a family friend.

Autumn of Evidence

1. I am at home today, taking eight hours of PTO (paid time off). I don’t have any particular reason for doing so — except that I recently realized that I have to take several such days between now and the end of the year, lest I forfeit the time under my organization’s “use or lose” leave policy. I know plenty of other organizations have similar policies, and as a financial manager, I understand them at a conceptual level, since accrued PTO shows up as a liability on the balance sheet, so one does not want to just let it amass endlessly. Still, though: when you pause to think about it, it seems like a perverse sort of corporate practice that was likely spawned from group think in a forgotten Human Resources Department somewhere. “You there! You will go home now and you will like it! Or else!” And so I must, and so I do. Now: before you get all puffed up with self-righteous ire and send me a hateful post or three, yes, I do know that this a Big First World Problem to have — boo hoo hoo, me — and I am indeed grateful for the paid time off that I do receive, knowing how many millions of Americans are not so lucky. I wish they all were, truly and deeply. But  still, that said: this is conceptually stupid, right?

2. I recently got a copy of the wonderful 80 Aching Orphans, a four-disc, career-spanning retrospective box set from The Residents, who have been long-time favorites of mine. In case you don’t know the shtick, the incredibly prolific Residents have been churning out high quality, high concept music since the early ’70s, without ever publicly identifying themselves by name or showing their faces. The Eyeballs have been their longest lasting and best known disguise; in recent months, they’ve rolled out a new stage design involving plague masks and cattle. The Rez are currently touring and put out a fantastic new studio album, The Ghost of Hope (which I wrote about in April) earlier this year, but there’s still a bit of an “end of era” vibe as I listen to the new retrospective discs, since one of The Residents recently, all these years on, left the band and de-cloaked. Hardy Fox has served as band spokesperson since the ’70s as a member of the group’s management company, The Cryptic Corporation, but earlier this month, he let it be known on his website that he was “the anonymous primary composer, producer for The Residents from their beginning until 2015.” The Rez had announced that composer “Chuck Bobuck” had left the group earlier this year, so it wasn’t really surprising on some plane, since most seasoned observers “knew” that Bobuck was Hardy Fox, and that Cryptic Corporation’s other principle executive — Homer Flynn — was Randy Rose, The Singing Resident, formerly known as Mister Skull, among other names. But still . . . I honestly never expected either of them to admit as much, so it feels weird listening to their wonderful, wonderful work in a different head space, where they’re no longer all hewing to N. Senada’s “Theory of Obscurity” and denying their identities. At this point, Flynn-Rose-Skull is the last link to the original four-piece incarnation of the band/company (original Cryptic Corp. members Jay Clem and John Kennedy departed in the early ’80s), so here’s hoping Homer’s a-rarin’ to keep it going on behalf of the mostly retired team. I’ll always be willing to suspend disbelief and pretend I don’t know who he is, if I have to, just to get music this good.

3. Speaking of good music, I will likely post my 26th Annual Albums of the Year Report in the next couple of weeks, ideally before Thanksgiving. (Probably on another day when I’m not allowed to go to work, come to think of it). I went back through the past 12 months of listening and reading and pondering, and I pulled together my first cut of likely contenders for the title this past weekend: the list had 29 albums on it, though I will probably tweak it down to 25 in the final report. You readers got some favorites that you think I need to consider before I put pen to paper (or what passes for that in these digital days)? Holla in the comment section, if so! For perspective, here’s the list of what I thought passed muster at the high end of the scale at the mid-point in the year, and the intro to last year’s report cites the title-winners for the past quarter century. Jeez, I’m a creature of habit, aren’t I?

4. Bet you thought the title of this post had something to do with it appearing on Indictment Day, didn’t you? Sure seems like it could and should. But actually, it’s just a reversal of “Evidence of Autumn,” a B-side title from Genesis (the flip-over track to the 1980 “Misunderstanding” single) that I had used as a title for a similar omnibus post some years ago. As we get our first fall weather here in Chicago this week, the phrase/title popped into my head today when I started this post, and then when I realized I had already swiped it from Genesis, I just flipped the words, and it suddenly seemed even more seasonally apt for the days and weeks before us. But I don’t get political here, though, so you can take it as you read it, free and easy, no comment from me. How ’bout them pretty leaves out there, huh?

TREE Fund at 15

2017_TF_AnnualAppeal_Ad_Final

NOTE: TREE Fund just launched its 15th Anniversary Appeal. I would be humbled and honored if those who follow my piffle and tripe here would consider supporting my work on behalf of the organization. I copy our appeal letter below, with a link to our donation page, should you be so inclined. Or if you’d like to get a jump on your holiday shopping while supporting TREE Fund, we’ve also got a mad “Sequoia Sized Sale” of cycling and climbing apparel and gear at our online store, here

Dear Friends,

As the leaves turn glorious colors across much of the nation this month, we find it a good time for pausing to consider TREE Fund’s roots, which run deep and strong, anchoring us against challenges, both anticipated and unforeseen.

2017 marks the 15th anniversary of the trust agreement signed by esteemed industry titans Allan West and Jerry Morey to create Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (“TREE Fund”), and we celebrate their foresight in empowering a model that works effectively and efficiently to this day. But our roots go even deeper than that, as TREE Fund is the successor organization to the International Society of Arboriculture Research Trust (ISART, founded in 1976) and the National Arborist Foundation (NAF, 1985), which were established to formalize and streamline the acquisition of knowledge in the fields of arboriculture and urban forestry, and the professional training and certification of businesses and individuals who plan, plant, preserve and protect our crucial urban forests.

Tens of thousands of individuals and businesses have worked together and pooled their resources since those early organizational days to empower scientific advancements and disseminate findings to tree care professionals, municipalities, urban planners and architects, and to property owners and the general public. The power of such partnerships is profound, and has directly contributed a greater understanding of the role trees play in the urban biome, and their benefits to our shared community health, environment and economy.

Our organizational roots are healthy, and they are anchored in the good and fertile soil of scientific inquiry and exploration. But that does not mean our work is done: just as mature trees with strong roots require attention and care to respond to changing situations, so too does TREE Fund depend on faithful annual support for today’s needs, even as we build endowments to secure our long-term work.

One of the 1976 signatures on the original ISART articles of incorporation read “Hyland R. Johns” – and we are honored that Hyland is joining us as co-Chair of our 15th Anniversary Appeal. Please click here (then select “General Operating Fund”) to make a gift that will commemorate this milestone, empower our staff today, and push for our next decade of transformational operations from a position of financial health and stability.

Thank you for your consideration. We appreciate it, and it will make a difference.

With gratitude and best regards,

J. Eric Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer

Hyland Johns, Founding Trustee, ISA Research Trust

ISA remains one of TREE Fund’s most important partners, supporting our operations and endowment via their annual membership dues.

Dance of the Cobras

1. One of my favorite things to do while traveling abroad is to visit non-chain record stores and ask the clerks for recent music by local artists that I would not likely be able to find back in the States. I’ve had wonderful success in finding amazing music from the 12 Tonar store in Reykjavik (twice) and at Discos Revolver in Barcelona, to cite two examples, bringing home great music from those trips that still earns regular spins around our apartment. So while we were in Amsterdam last month, I blocked out an afternoon and identified four record stores that seemed promising based on the online reviews I had found. Unfortunately, here’s what I found in each store, with varying degrees of disarray in evidence:

The re-emergence of a vintage vinyl obsession among aging record nerds and wannabe hipsters seems to have forced up-and-coming artists to peddle their wares online and at shows, while moldering crap and arcana from decades ago fills up the available retail space in brick-and-mortar outlets. I saw the same thing in Florence, Italy last year . . . and it’s also endemic among most of the record stores in my home city of Chicago. That’s a real pity, I think. There’s value to a music scene in having your local record store serve as a point of focus for your music community, with knowledgeable clerks standing as great arbiters and champions for the regional specialties. While I suppose I could go to the Google Box and search for “best new music from Florence or Amsterdam,” that’s just going to return results based on how good the local musicians are at search engine optimization, not how good their actual music is.

2. We visited about a dozen museums and ancillary attractions in the Netherlands and Belgium, seeing some really great exhibitions there. One of the nice things about living in Chicago is knowing that the opportunity to do does not end with the last day of vacation, and Marcia and I enjoyed getting to see Takashi Murakami’s The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg at the wonderful Museum of Contemporary Art a mile or so from our apartment last week. It’s a big show in every sense of that word: a major artist, showing a lot of works, many of them physically massive, including breath-taking new pieces commissioned specifically for MCA Chicago as part of the exhibition. Well worth a peek if you’re in the City. Holla if you do, as I’ll be happy to go see it again. For a sense of scale, here’s a snap of Marcia with one of the featured works:

3. Two weeks from tomorrow, I will be headed to Washington, DC for my third (and the 25th Anniversary) STIHL Tour des Trees, joining ~70 other riders and support volunteers over seven days and 500+ miles on our bicycles, raising funds and awareness for arboriculture and urban forestry research and education. For those unfamiliar with the Tour, here are some action shots (courtesy Jeannette Martin) from last year’s event to give you a sense of what it’s all about:

We don’t just ride for the sake of riding, but also make numerous stops en route to spread the good word to audiences of all ages about the importance of research to sustaining our communities’ tree canopies around the country, while also ensuring that the dedicated professionals who work in the field have the best and most current information at their disposal. (And, yes, that’s me cutting the ribbon with a chainsaw!)

The fundraising deadline for Tour riders is July 24, and I would be honored and humbled if you’d be willing to support my campaign before then, by clicking here. 100% of funds pledged/paid to Tour riders go to research, either in the form of grants made in the following year, or (if donors so designate) by adding to our endowment to support research in perpetuity. As CEO of TREE Fund, I’ve made significant structural, operational, and fundraising changes over the past two years, resulting in record-setting levels of grants awarded in 2016 . . . but that, of course, means we also need record-setting levels of revenue to sustain that growth in the years ahead.

I appreciate your consideration of this request . . . and if you’re able and willing to share it with your own social networks, that would be wonderful! Feel free to shoot me a note if you have any questions about the Tour, my work with TREE Fund, or anything else on your mind! It’s always good to connect, even if via a blog post like this one.

Mengelmoes

1.  So after finishing my short-story project in 2016, and with anticipated travel being less than it was last year, I figured I’d be a better and more regular blogger in 2017 than I had been in recent months/years. But here I am in the second half of February with six trips completed or planning in the first two months of the year, and only one blog post to my name. Oh well. I suppose I can always claim quality in lieu of quantity.

2.  I wrapped up the new short stories with some older ones and submitted them for editing (both content and copy) to a professional colleague and friend from olden Metroland days. He did an excellent job (if you need an editor, holla, and I’ll hook you up), but of course his great and thorough work means that I now have a lot more work to do to address his corrections, suggestions, concerns, and critiques. As it should be, I note. I actually miss having independent review of my writing, since I think that lack of quality and editorial control has reduced the overall experience to be had and accurate information to be gleaned online, witness our current political and journalistic shambles for confirmation. When I am able to get through revisions, I know I will have a much better product in hand. I hope to be able to share it in one form or another before the end of the year. Watch this space.

3.  Two of this trips I’ve taken this year were more fun that work travel often can be, since Marcia accompanied me (or I accompanied her, in one case), and we went to warm weather regions during the depths of Chicago’s wintry season. First up was Arizona, where we spent most of our time in Scottsdale, with a day trip to Tucson. Second was my industry’s Winter Management Conference in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. As is the norm here, I’ve posted some snaps for those who care to see them: Puerto Rico Arizona. For the nerds and the locals, I’ve also updated these galleries: AirplanesChicago Winter.

4. Since I typically do my “Album Of The Year” reports in late November or early December each year, there are invariably albums that come out in the last month of the year, or that I don’t discover until it’s too late, that would have made my list had I waited until the very last minute and listened to all of the things, all of them. At this point, my 2016 list is still looking pretty good to me, with only one glaring miss: Kubla Khan by Golden Suits.  A (mostly) solo project by Fred Nicolaus, whose sublime work with Department of Eagles still wins regular spins hereabouts, Kubla Khan is a delightfully engaging and enjoyable record, blending smart narratives and sweet melodies and creative arrangements into a very pleasing whole. My outsiders’ view of Department of Eagles’ inside workings has been that Nicolaus’ musical partner Daniel Rossen provided more of traditional singer-songwriter touches (largely based on his work with Grizzly Bear and solo), while Nicolaus provided more of the wildcard and arrangement touches. To some extent, I base this view on the fact that I like the slightly-weirder Department of Eagles more than I like the slightly-more-accessible Grizzly Bear, so if Nicolaus is in the former and not in the latter, then he’s likely the difference maker. That may be be so (or may not be), but Nicolaus proves here that he’s got formidable singer-songwriting chops of his own, and I’m glad to be able to hear his voice (literal and figurative) here, after many years of only listening to Rossen and Nicolaus working together. While it probably wouldn’t have challenged David Bowie or Chance the Rapper for the tip-top of my musical pile in 2016, Kubla Khan  is a solid Top Five album of the Year for me, so I regret that I didn’t get to it in time to properly acknowledge it with its peers at the time.

5. I will be riding in my third STIHL Tour des Trees from July 30 to August 5. We will be in the Washington, DC metro area this year, with a stop in Annapolis to see Ye Olde Navy Yard, hooray! The route will be a little over 500 miles this year, with a mix of urban and rural riding. All funds raised by riders (me included) go to support research and education programs to benefit our urban forests and the professionals who care for them. You can support my campaign now, with my deepest gratitude or I can bother you later on in the year with a personal request that’s harder for you to evade. Just saying. Here’s my rider page, and I’d seriously appreciate your support there, all kidding aside. It’s a good event for a good cause with good people. Can’t do better than that, really.

2016 Year In Review

We’re two days shy of the year’s shortest day, and deep in the heart of the coldest snap of the current winter, so it seems a good time to look back over the past twelve months here at the blog and in the greater personal, professional and cultural world around me.

Counting this one, I published 27 blog posts here in 2016. That’s a big drop off from the 77 posts I published in 2015, but that was a somewhat conscious decision as I decided to focus on my Short Story of the Month project, which I completed successfully earlier this month. The 12 new stories I wrote over the past year were knit together with half a dozen older ones into a single manuscript, and it’s off for copy editing as I type. You writing types: if you’ve got any good leads you’d suggest for placing the manuscript commercially in 2017, I would appreciate an introduction!

Marcia and I opened 2016 in our still new home town of Chicago, watching the inaugural edition of the city’s “Chi-Town Rising” star drop on the river, which was frankly underwhelming. You’ve got too much going for you, Chicago, to try to ape New York City! Let them have their thing, because you’ve got plenty of your own! Seriously! They’re apparently doing it again this year, but we will welcome 2017 in a more exotic locale instead: Reykjavik, Iceland. We loved our summer trip there some years ago, and are excited to see it under the polar twilight with (hopefully) some Northern Lights in play to guide us into a new year together.

Between those two points, we had a crazy travel year. Marcia goes back and forth between Chicago and Des Moines ever other week for work, and I traveled to 26 states this year for my own work with the TREE Fund. (Speaking of, it’s not too late to contribute to our year-end appeal . . . hint hint). Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, here’s the visual representation of my travels in 2016:

cwne26ewgaazm9i-jpg-largeThe arrow pointing southward was to Grand Cayman, which Marcia and I visited together as part of a work trip for me. One of the northerly arrows points to Iceland, as mentioned above, and the other one points to Tuscany, where Marcia and I had a wonderful vacation with many new friends from Australia and New Zealand. I also did about 600 of those miles  on a bicycle through my native Carolinas. Big thanks to R. Jeanette Martin for the photos at that prior link, which are totally worth seeing, even if I’m in them.

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See? While it was my intention to try to do a little bit less traveling this year for work, I just laid out my 2017 schedule with my staff, and at this point it looks like I will be going to Mississippi, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ontario, Maryland (twice), Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Florida, Colorado, Washington (state), Oregon, Missouri, Texas, Iowa, Connecticut, California, Ohio and Oklahoma during the next twelve months. Plus wherever Marcia and I decide to go for our international summer trip. Personally, I’m lobbying for Malta. So, uh, my 2017 map will probably look like a spaghetti chart too. Hmmm.

Even with all of that travel, I suspect that 2017 will look like more of a typical blogging year for me, so if you have been and intend to remain a faithful follower this site, then (1st) thank you, and (2nd) there might be more things for you to read beyond short stories next year. I’m considering a couple of web-based writing projects that are a little bit more interactive, so will update on that when I decide which one (if any) I want to pursue.

Some other bits and bobs to wrap things up . . .

Music, Theater and Dance: I’ve already done my 25th Annual Best Albums Report, here, and my Annual List Of Most Played Songs, here. On the live front, we saw many plays, concerts and dance performances, and honestly, I’m just really happy to have spent the year experiencing them in the moment and not documenting and making lists of them, and I’m disinclined to go back and do so now to try to recreate them after the fact. Maybe next year, I’ll start keeping a list. Or maybe not. We’ll see. I kinda think my live performance criticizing years may be behind me, y’know?

Books: As posted here multiple times before, my book reading tends to cluster predictably into four primary areas: 10% Fiction, 40% Natural Science and History, 40% Music Biography, and 10% Tales of Human Suffering. Over the past year, my fave reads didn’t stray too far from the norm, although I read more older books than newer books in 2016, so my list of favorite new releases is a bit brief:

  • The Fisherman by John Langan
  • Death’s End by Cixin Liu
  • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
  • The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
  • Not Dead Yet: The Memoir by Phil Collins
  • My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor by Keith Morris
  • But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman

Movies: We have a theater within walking distance of our apartment, so we saw more flicks in first release than we typically have in the past. The best films I saw in 2016 (thus far, recognizing that much of the Oscar Bait is just coming out now) would include:

  • The Witch (My current pick for Best Movie of 2016)
  • The Lobster (A very close second place)
  • Everybody Wants Some!!
  • The Jungle Book
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Sausage Party
  • Hell Or High Water
  • Arrival
  • Manchester By The Sea
  • La La Land
  • Office Christmas Party

Politics: Ennnnnhhhhh . . . . the less said here the better, I think. I’ll leave it to others to write about those matters more regularly and effectively than I do. That said, I did write and publish a poem here in the days after the election called “Tiny Blue Isle,” which explains what it feels like to me to live in Chicago right now. A local colleague liked the concept and approached me about using it for a progressive politics feed on Twitter and (maybe later) as a website, and I agreed to let my friend do so. Follow here for more news on that in the months ahead.

Art: We are blessed with ready and easy proximity to some exceptionally fine museums hereabouts, and three solo exhibitions stand out for me among the dozens we saw in 2016:

  • Mastry by Kerry James Marshall, at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • Future Present by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, at the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • Procession by Norman Lewis, at the Chicago Cultural Center

Websites: Two websites dominated my daily reading in 2016, and I have written about both of them here before:

  • Electoral Vote Dot Com: I’ve been following this website through every Presidential election since 2004, and I think it remains the best real-time aggregator of relevant information, and the best site for thoughtful, objective analysis that I’ve found for comprehending our incomprehensible electoral nightmare process. I wrote about it back in 2012, and my thoughts about it (and its competition) remain unchanged.
  • Thoughts On The Dead: I wrote about this website back in 2015, and my thoughts on this one have changed a bit. At the time, I cited it as one of the few websites that actually made me “laugh out loud” (not LOL) as it did a bit of creative world building around the history of the Grateful Dead. While that element of it remains (e.g. the coverage of the Dead And Company tour with John Mayer was sublime and hilarious), somewhere along the way, the site also evolved to include some truly brilliant fiction (the Roy Head adventures, the Route 77 travelogue, and the Little Aleppo series, among others) and some of the most incredible rock music writing I’ve ever read, anywhere (the recent series on Van Halen and Queen, most especially). The volume of exceedingly high quality work being posted here on a nearly daily basis boggles my mind. Thoughts On The Dead is unquestionably my Website of the Year for 2016, and if I knew who he was in real life, I’d celebrate and hail him by name as my flat-out favorite writer of the past twelve months as well. And I’m done here with this note, so get on over there and just dig in . . . wonders await you, I promise!