THE THREE TREE GEEKS OF SAN FRANCISCO & THEIR #COVIDTREETOURS
As we edge toward a whole new winter under the twists and turns of the Covid-19 Pandemic, now closing in on two years, we’re speaking this week to three tree geeks of San Francisco who since the early days of Covid in the late winter of 2020 have been crafting weekly neighborhood tree tours throughout the city – getting people outside, engaged and meeting their tree neighbors in all new ways.
Mike Sullivan is the author of Trees of San Francisco and founder of SFTREES.com, His interest in San Francisco's trees started in the early 1990s, when he began volunteering with Friends of the Urban Forest - planting trees every Saturday morning with that group in neighborhoods all over the city. He later joined FUF's board of directors, and served on the board for 12 years, including a stint as board president. He also serves on the City’s Urban Forestry Council, an advisory board on all things tree-related for San Francisco, and on the City’s Commission on the Environment.
In early 2001, he had the good fortune to run into Arthur Lee Jacobson, author of Trees of Seattle, w ho convinced him to tackle the project of a book about San Francisco's trees. He writes: "Fortunately or unfortunately, during the dot-com crash of 2001-2002, venture capital lawyers had very little to do, so I had the time to write Trees of San Francisco, which was published by Pomegranate Press in 2004. Wilderness Press published a second edition in 2013.
Jason Dewees is the author of Designing with Palms (Timber Press, 2018), and the horticulturist and palm expert at Flora Grubb Gardens, in San Francisco.
A volunteer at the San Francisco Botanical Garden since 1994, he works as a horticultural consultant for landscape designers, landscape architects, and gardeners. He has offered guidance to the Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, the University of California Botanical Garden, the City of San Francisco, the Presidio Trust, the San Francisco Department of Public Works, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden, trained volunteers and docents, and has propagated thousands of trees.
Jason has lectured at the California Horticultural Society, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Garden, the Marin Art and Garden Center, the Mill Valley Outdoor Art Club, the Sherman Library and Gardens, and the Garden Conservancy.
Jason joined the Northern California Chapter of the International Palm Society as their youngest member in 1986, and has served on the council of the California Horticultural Society, as well as on the Horticultural Advisory Committee of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and the Advisory Council of the Conservatory of Flowers. Born and raised in San Francisco, he graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
Richard G. Turner, Jr is the editor emeritus of Pacific Horticulture and co-editor of The Trees of Golden Gate Park. After receiving degrees in architecture and landscape architecture from the University of Michigan more than thirty years ago, he escaped to California, where he has worked in the fields of garden design, public garden education and administration, and garden publishing. His small, chemical-free San Francisco garden provides habitat for wildlife while serving as a test ground for mediterranean-climate plants.
Jason, Mike, and Dick - or The Three Tree Geeks of San Francisco as I have come to fondly refer to them - got together in the early days of the Covid 19 Pandemic and put their imaginations and frustrations to work creating self-guided, pop up, sidewalk-chalked, walking tours of the trees of the various neighborhoods of San Francisco. In the process, and at a time of high rates of emotional isolation for many, the three tree geeks got a city of people outside into the fresh air to meet and know better their tree neighbors all around them.
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Thinking out loud this week:
There’s something about this conversation with Mike, Jason and Dick about the historical narrative held in the trees of their city, and really of any center of human habitation that I find moving.
Trees are some of our most charismatic mega plant friends – in forests, in our gardens, in our imaginations – let’s just start with the Tree of Life.
According to Nasa, Forests are considered one of the world’s largest banks for all of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere through natural processes and human activities. They cover about 30 percent of Earth’s land surface, while accounting for 50 percent of plant productivity. As much as 45 percent of the carbon stored on land is tied up in forests.
They can live for many years – with one clonal quaking aspen community dating back 80,000 years and Great Basin Bristlecone Pines as old as 5,000 years. With more and more research, including that of Dr. Suzanne Simard and her work now out in book form Finding the Mother Tree, Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, we now know that trees are far more communal and communicative than we’ve ever understood before.
Trees are and have been Compelling human companions, wayfinders and signifiers of place throughout our existence. They were here long before us, and in our individual lives those that we plant will be here well after us.
Couple tall of this with Jason, Mike and Dick’s noting that the diversity of the trees – the diversity of their countries of origin, the diversity of their care and siting stories – parallels the human face of not only their city but our planet in these times.
Finally, I love imaging the people finding the chalked tree tour information – putting a name and a country of origin and some other bit of personal information about a tree – and how BAM all of a sudden even in isolation even in lockdown, we are untethered from the hardest parts of our everyday even if momentarily and our imaginations are transported around the world, high above our own viewpoints, and deep into the rooted core of the earth by and with our tree friends and family.
In introducing urban dwelling humans to their trees, and these trees to their people, the three tree geeks of San Francisco and all our other knowledgeable tree folk doing likeminded work in the world – provide us a journey lesson on looking, listening and living.
That’s a pretty good tree tour.
With a whole new winter of pandemic complications and complexities in front of us, it would seem, there is something I love about these three tree loving humans offering these tours of trees and human and nature community out to the world. There is the age old seasonal story of the Gifts of the Magi, somehow the three tree geeks of San Francisco seem right up there, in our world, at his time of year.
What better gift than knowing the tree neighbors all around us better and more truly?
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