NYSUFC VP Brian Skinner on Retirement, with a Twist

skinner-cropped-for-retirement-essaySo … to the surprise of many (including myself), I really did finally retire from National Grid at the end of October. After 45 years of enjoying the care of trees, service to innumerable individuals, mutual and professional associations with many industry friends, and decades of sharing knowledge and expertise whenever and wherever needed, it was time to hang up the hard hat and relish the thought of no-more-sawdust-in-my-shorts-at-the- end-of-the-work-day.

Those who know me well know that I’m a bit of a workaholic (OK, maybe a lot) and could never see retirement as a word that would ever flow from my lips … but it has! I had thought maybe I could help keep the good ship “Social Security” afloat, but also thought, maybe it’s time to get my share out before the sump pumps fail. So … what advice can I pass on to those still not close to that goal post?

Never be afraid to look back at the past; that’s (supposedly!) how we learn from our mistakes. How many mass failures of trees in our urban environment did it take before we finally subscribed to diversity in species selections when planting our streets? Yes, monocultures provide simplicity in appearances and management … until an invasive pest comes to visit.

How many re-planted trees in that same hole did it take before we realized there’s merit and logic in “Right Tree, Right Place” site assessments?

How many lawsuits, personal injuries, or property damages did it take before municipalities, property owners, and businesses realized that tree inventories and hazard tree evaluations (and management plans, carried through to completion) are actually cheaper than ignoring such dangers and alert us to the condition our urban trees are in? Looks are often deceiving; never judge a book (or a tree) by its cover!

In most cases, utility and municipal arborists now work as if emulsified—i.e., to each other’s mutual benefit and not as an oil-and-water antagonistic amalgamation.

Tree researchers now see their years of painstaking work actually applied in the field to the benefits of many … and more money for research flows in.

brian-heavy-lifting
Brian doesn’t shy away from the heavy lifting.

When I started in the industry back in the early 1970s (wow, that sounds like a looong time ago!), tree rope was still twisted manila fiber, some guys were still using wooden boards as saddles, it was only men doing the work, hard hats were just being accepted (and their use enforced), the pesticides of the day caused an entire environmental movement to be born, and aerial lift trucks were just becoming more affordable and accepted.

At that time, elm trees were following the same unfortunate fate of the American chestnuts, but with the hope of control through new tree injection materials and technologies. Milk bottles, rubber tubing, and cork/rubber stoppers were being put to pasture as the injection tools of the day.

Safety practices and standards for the industry were coming into play; professional industry organizations promoting worker safety actually weren’t antagonistic.

Research as to how trees actually worked, how decay spread, and how trees stood up and fell down was being done. Communities wanted something grand to replace all the disappearing elm trees on their streets. “Bring back the arching canopies and glorious tunnels that we grew up with,” was the plea! The industry responded with honey locusts, lindens, and ash trees:  lesson not well learned!

Today we know more about trees than we ever did and have a multitude of machines and technologies to help us understand and “see” inside the trees. We have tools, techniques, and formulas to make the site better and more hospitable for trees to grow in our urban environment. But it still comes down to people interpreting all that data and making proper decisions as to what it means and what to do with it. Data can work for or against us—it’s not perfect, nor are we. Just look back in history as to where we were, what we did, and how we got there. Was it good, bad, or indifferent—and how do we want that to impact our future?

Having been both a commercial and utility arborist I have experience working both sides of the coin, often at the same time! I’ve worked for homeowners, municipalities, towns, villages, developers, contractors, major (MAJOR!) corporations, educational institutions, law firms, and utilities. While all these diverse entities have different goals and budgets, they share the motivation to treat their trees properly. We have the unique knowledge and experiences needed to solve their problems—something to be proud of.

As I attended various meetings and functions over the years offered by industry professionals and the NYSUFC, I’ve seen a wide variety of individuals who share a passion for the planting, growth, survival, care, and appreciation of trees and all the products and benefits they offer. I see that cadre of passionate people expanding, as are the programs they offer and/or manage that affect the establishment and survival of trees in and around our communities. I’m pleased to see a whole new, energetic, highly educated level of professionals coming into many facets of arboriculture … men and women with a deep-rooted passion for work they love and live for. It’s an occupation, not just a job!

Just dig up old photos of your communities and you’ll notice that trees have (often unknowingly to the photographer) been a center of focus in those pictures. But are they still there on those sites? If not, it may not take much to figure out why. If yes, are they doing well or knocking on death’s door and if the latter, how come? What could have or should have been done to assure their quality and existence? What was done (or not done) in the past?

Looking back is not bad … it’s disappointing sometimes, but hopeful in other cases and ALWAYS a necessity when looking towards the future. It’s something we tree huggers should have no fears of embracing. It only makes us better as we learn.

So … what do I do now with all that idle time now that every day is a Saturday (except Sunday)? Well, the Council didn’t want to see me go, so I signed on for another tour as vice president and took on the added responsibility of treasurer as well as continuing to be the annual ReLeaf conference financial advisor.

I’m getting caught up on a lot of DVD recordings, finally reading trade publications, catching some extra ZZZs here and there, enjoying all the grandkids—oh, and returning to the workforce part-time as a contractor consultant after the first of the year! Retirement’s for old guys!

 

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