Why We Lead: A Crew Leader’s Vested Interest — Part II

By Jeff Kisseloff, FOT Crew Leader

Continued from Part I yesterday

April 7, 2012 Arbor Day Planting in Eugene
Planting day (Jessyca Burke)

The training session was a snap. Afterward, they asked us to sign up for at least four sessions, so I put my name down for four, then four more and four more, and four more. My wife hasn’t seen me on a Saturday morning since October (except for one morning in January. When we woke up, she took one look at me and asked, “Who are you?”)

She’s ok with it though because every Saturday afternoon, after I come home completely and gloriously filthy (I’m more of a hands-on type  CL) she gets to hear stories about the day: who was on my crew, the challenges we faced and, of course, my rating of the spread: the quality of the hot dishes and whether there were bagels and donuts, the two most important groups on my food pyramid. I’ve planted more than 200 trees these past six months, with the added bonus that I’ve apparently become infinitely more entertaining in the process.

How could I not? Over the last few months, I’ve worked with a surgeon (who could knot twine better than anyone I’ve ever seen), a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, a professional songwriter, a novelist, a state senator and even a fellow who wore a kilt. Most of them, though, were just regular folks, young and old, who made the hard work a delight.

I’d encourage anyone reading this to think about crew leading. If you do, here’s some advice from a grizzled veteran of six months:

  • Not everyone will be interested in working hard. Figure out a way to engage those who are less eager than others. Along with the shovels and rakes, humor is a great tool to have on the job.
March 30, 2012 Irvington, Alameda, Sabin & Grant Park
Resting after planting (Holly Talkington)
  • Remember, it’s great just being out there. If there are people on your crew who resist any cajoling, don’t let it bother you. Work with those who want to help but make sure everyone — even the recalcitrant ones — enjoy themselves out there. But when it’s done, quietly make sure that those who worked hard know how much you appreciated their effort.
  • Find a really really good detergent. You’ll need it when you get home.
  • If any of the Friends of Trees folks join your crew, consider yourself fortunate and don’t hesitate to ask questions. In three hours you’ll have earned the equivalent of a PhD in treeplantingology.
  • Be efficient but don’t rush. You’re out there for the trees. Don’t be afraid to re-do a tree that you think wasn’t planted correctly. There are no prizes for finishing first.
March 30, 2012 Irvington, Alameda, Sabin & Grant Park
Finding the right planting depth (Holly Talkington)
  • Every tree presents a different challenge. Challenges aren’t a pain in the ass; they’re fun and make the work more interesting. Figure out how to do it right. If you’re not sure, pick up the phone and ask.
  • Don’t plant too deep. We plant trees, we don’t bury them.
  • Make sure before you head out that everyone who wants gloves has them. Look at the shoes of your crew members. They will help indicate who is right for which task.
  • Set your cell phone so you can hear it ring or feel it vibrate.
  • Pay attention to your crew’s level of interest. Just because you’re moving slowly doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to stay out there and finish planting your allotment trees. If your partner crew leader calls and says they are done and offers to take some trees off your hands, talk to your crew. They might be enjoying themselves and want to finish the job themselves, or they might have had enough.
  • Wear the vest proudly.

One more point. When I was a mere whip of a youth, we planted two maples in front of our house. They were so small that I used to amuse myself by jumping over them. Two years ago after my father died, I went back to our old home. Those two trees that I used to hurdle are now taller than the house and they provide shade for an entire block. In twenty years (provided I still have a memory), I’ll be able to go around Portland and point to some of the trees that I helped plant; trees that I hope will then be providing shade, color and fresh air to entire blocks of this city. How cool will that be?

Even cooler than the orange vest.

The Orange Vest (FOT File)