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Composing community

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“I’ve flowed in and out of trees and music my whole life,” says Lubbock, Texas native Carl Meinecke. “My dad was the orchestra director at the high school. My mom sang at church. I grew up around music.”

As Carbondale’s newest town arborist, Meinecke brings richness and drive to his dream career, which was to work outside in nature, in a governmental capacity, which “forces me to find a public middle ground,” he says. “There are a lot of different opinions and there are people from all across the board. I know what my standards are, what the laws and ordinances are, but we still all have to work together. That challenge is appealing to me.”

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At times, though, he feels the public can’t see past the uniforms of service workers in the public.

Doffing his vest, Meinecke recently put his 28-year love affair with standup bass into play with Natalie Spears and Ellie Barber. Both shows at Steve’s Guitars sold out. 

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“When I arrived in Carbondale two and half years ago, I didn’t know anyone,” says Meinecke.

Previously working with the Bureau of Land Management in Gunnison County, he was the bassist for Free the Honey, a bluegrass band through which he met Lizzy Plotkin (currently of Plotkin & Spears).

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“I knew Lizzy. She knew Natalie — we actually saw each other on the street and I yelled out, ‘Hey, I’m a friend of Lizzy’s!’” he laughs. “That shows the inner workings of musicians and how that community is this small, connected thing.”

Carbondale’s own small, connected thing reverberates off the worn brick walls of Bonfire Coffee as Meinecke traces his life story through jazz, classical and R&B music.

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Becoming saturated in that music, Meinecke craved time outdoors by his 20s. Lacking experience, he volunteered for a week of trail and forestry work in Washington. It changed his life.

“I didn’t realize you could work outside,” he says, “that you could make a living doing it!”

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He continued, “When COVID hit, I was in Tucson, Arizona for the winter, working with a gentleman, Rod, who designed, built, and maintained Japanese Zen gardens,” reinterpreted through an arid, desert lens.

Deliberate and thoughtful, Meinecke seems to live through song and story, beyond labels — beyond the vest — which comes out in his selfless conversation around Rod.

“A very complex person,” Meinecke begins, “a vet, Special Forces-turned-humanitarian. He was a fascinating person!

“One of the houses we maintained belonged to the family of Linda Ronstadt. We’re driving up in Rod’s old Dodge truck. He still listened to tapes. He knew I liked music, so he brought his box of tapes and he had ‘The Best of Simon and Garfunkel.’ He put that thing in, and he’d just be singin’ to that. He was just the greatest character!”

Working in Zen gardens and their maintenance-intensive particularity, paired with what Meinecke saw as “a time of immense social and political turmoil and division.” The draw to working in government and public spaces was a siren song. He came across the position here in Carbondale, applied, and has stewarded our public spaces since.

As a landscape technician, Meinecke exemplified dedication. His love for trees, plants and community was obvious as he tended beds throughout town and interacted in a genuine, warm way with the public.

What was Meinecke’s reaction when the role of town arborist opened?

“Oh, man. If this could work out, that would blow my mind,” he smiles. “This is what I’ve wanted forever … Public spaces are something everyone can enjoy.”

As the new arborist, Meinecke began assessing the larger trees in the older parts of town to develop priorities and a management plan. “This work is ongoing and ever evolving,” he says, and will expand into the entirety of public town trees.

“I’m also excited to update our tree inventory which hasn’t been updated since 2010,” he says. “This will help me analyze data about our community trees and aid in planning and maintenance decisions for the future.” The public can view our current inventory online at and find our community on the map.

Through Meinecke’s Adopt-a-Garden program (to be featured in next week’s Sopris Sun), citizens can sink their hands in public garden soils, stewarding them back to balance and beauty.

“Another big project I’ll be working on in the next few years is taking an in-depth look at our trees downtown along Main Street. Some of these trees are starting to decline to the point of needing to be removed and replaced,” he says, with community envisioning and input.

So when you see him on the street, or any of the town land stewards wearing blaze and reflective safety vests, be sure to introduce yourself. Share your thoughts. Give a high-five and “thanks.”

As a composer of land and music, Meinecke would love to meet the public touched by his department’s endeavors.

Tags: #arborist #bass #Carl Meinecke #music #Olivia Emmer #trees
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