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Recognized worldwide as the ’father of modern arboriculture’, Alex Shigo has spent most of his life studying, researching, dissecting and writing about trees.  “A tree is much more than just a piece of dead wood” Shigo says, “Trees are living beings, which are in action during all the year, not only in spring and summer; in recent years much of my research was addressed to the study of biological activity during the ‘dead season’ and I concluded that the winter is a period of great activity for the tree and its ecosystem. Too many people spend their time and their research on what is wrong or incorrect in the trees, on the contrary I will study what is beautiful and correct”.
Born in 1930 in Pennsylvania he was interested in the study of biological sciences from an early age: he studied at the University of West Virginia graduating with a doctorate degree in biology and pathology.  His other passion was for music; a talented clarinet player he played in the U.S. Air Force military band during the Korean War.  Military service interrupted his studies during the war, however after completing service he soon resumed his research into biology, botany and genetics.   He worked as a laboratory assistant and researcher in the 60s, after which he joined the U.S. Forestry Service devoting himself to plant pathology.
During his years of fervent research he familiarised himself with a new work aid – the chainsaw.  As chainsaws became more manageable and user friendly they became his preferred instrument of use for furthering his study of trees and facilitating his observations of dissected material.   Not afraid of physical labour he soon came to realise that field work was the best way to fully understand nature.  Only by touching the trees could their defence mechanisms be fully understood.   This led him to formulate the CODIT model, which is now undisputed and legitimate, forming the basis of modern arboriculture and enabling a new approach to the study of trees.
Shigo retired as head researcher at the U.S. Forestry Service in 1985, but this did not slow him down.  He continued to write books and publish scientific papers and started lecturing globally at conferences, seminars and workshops.  He has written and published many texts over the years and is the author of over 300 scientific publications.  He has many followers worldwide.  Denno Goldstein, editor of ‘Arbor Age’ an American journal of arboriculture, says, "The name ‘Shigo’ has become a legend: when he walks into a conference room or university he becomes the point of major attention; he is surrounded by a halo of religious respect".
 Shigo first came to Italy in 1988 at the invitation of Daniel Zanzi, a friend and admirer, both professionally and personally.  He spoke in Varese at the International Conference entitled ‘New perspectives in arboriculture’.   On this occasion attention was focused on Peter Bridgeman, famous for his book ‘Tree Surgery: The Complete Guide’, the only arboricultural book available in Italian at this time.  Astonishment was evident within the audience when Bridgeman, proving to be an honest researcher, reduced his lecture to only a few minutes instead of the expected time, in order "to leave the place and the word to the man to whom my text should be fully rewritten”.  This was the then almost unknown Alex Shigo.
 This event marked the start of modern arboriculture in Italy, the study of urban trees with real scientific knowledge.  Alex Shigo has since returned to Italy many times, so much so that he considers Italy his adopted country.  He once said in an interview published in the Boston Globe, "I have many ideas and projects yet. Among these there is an Institute for modern arboriculture in which my studies will continue. I sincerely think this will be possible in Italy, a country that I appreciate and love so much”. 
He last visited Italy in 2003 to speak again at the International Conference of Varese, this one entitled "The past, present and future of city trees."  The lecture, a philosophical rather than a technical lesson received huge applause; fitting for a man who has single handedly changed the approach to caring for street trees.  
Alex Shigo always welcomed visitors to his home territory.  The last occasion was in September 2005 when, in collaboration with the Forest Padano Consortium, a unique trip was organised to understand the origins of modern arboriculture.  Nineteen technicians spent eight days with Shigo visiting the birthplace of modern arboriculture and discussing his theories with him at his home and in the forests where he spent so much of his time studying.
Shigo has received numerous awards throughout his unique career, notably the ‘Award of Merit’ by the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Padua in 2000 for his research in the biological sciences.  He was awarded the post of ‘Honorary President of the Modern Institute of Arboriculture’ (a private institute for modern arboriculture) in recognition of his life’s dedication to the teachings of tree biology.  His texts have been translated into numerous languages (including Chinese!) and his travels have led him to conferences all over the world – America, Asia, Australia and of course Europe, and particularly Varese and Merano in Italy.  A charismatic man with an extraordinary ability to communicate he has successfully transmitted his philosophy of life, that of love for nature, respect and optimism.  In 2003  at Varese Town Hall Shigo signed the book of honoured and famous guests who have visited the city of Varese.
Shigo had the foresight to catalogue his enormous heritage of documents, photographs and artefacts accumulated during his years of research.  His great collection of wood samples was recently donated to The Institute of Modern Arboriculture in order to allow everyone to 'touch' the parts of the tree.   His immense work should not remain hidden but be spread by whatever means possible. Shigo died in October 2006, but his positive philosophy, his analytical and passionate approach to trees, and his constant invitation to understand and respect nature are always among us - along with the music of his clarinet!



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