Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: January 15 to January 20, 2020

Winter Quarter, January-March 2020, we have two groups of University of Washington students working with us in the Greenbelt. Three Carlson Center Service-Learning students who are taking an Introduction to Community, Environment and Planning course come on Wednesdays from 1:30-4:00. We also have Capstone interns who are seniors majoring in Environmental Studies. They join the Service-Learning students at the Wednesday work parties and also work in the site on most Friday afternoons.

The first work party of Winter Quarter was held on January 15. In the days leading up to it, it became clear that weather was a potential problem. The Seattle Park Department notified us that we were to cancel work parties if the temperature was less than 32 degrees, if there was more than two inches of snow on the ground or if the more than ½ inch of ground was frozen. We also cancel work parties if there are high winds. All of those things were possible.

By the morning of the event, there was 1/2 – 1 inch of snow on the ground and the possibility of winds. We had expected 20-degree temperatures, but it had warmed up considerably. We decided to take it minute by minute. We would do a longer than normal orientation in my house and, if weather permitted, would take a tour of the site and do some restoration work afterwards.

Shirley and I did the orientation and the tour of the site. There wasn’t much time left afterwards and it was so cold that we decided not to start the restoration work that day. Still, we were off to a good start!

UW Capstone interns and Service-Learning students

One of the Capstone students’ assignments is to take responsibility for a section of the site and do the needed restoration work. They will also come up with a planting plan for that area and create pamphlets that will be useful for future volunteers.

On Friday, January 17, the interns worked on their section of the site for the first time. They took down a drying rack where invasive plants like blackberry and ivy vines had been drying out for a year and moved the contents to a house foundation where dried debris is breaking down further. That area will eventually become another planting area.

After finishing moving the dried debris from the rack, the interns started digging out blackberry root balls and ivy from their section. I taught them what they needed to know to do those two jobs and then picked up trash from the site and the adjacent stairs, checking in with the students from time to time.

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In future sessions, as the interns finish removing invasive plants from their section of the site, they will spread wood chips over the newly cleared area to prevent soil erosion.

On January 20, we held our second annual Martin Luther King National Day of Service work party. Our team leaders were Maya, who is Forterra’s Green Cities Stewardship Coordinator, Shirley and me from GreenFriends, and Dave who is one of our regular team leaders.

Most of the volunteers were alumni from Western Washington University’s Huxley School of the Environment and their families. They were celebrating Huxley’s 50th anniversary. Others included our two UW Capstone interns, a family from the neighborhood where our site is located, a man who had signed up for event information on our GreenFriends information list during Amma’s last Seattle area visit, and several people who found us on Green Seattle Partnership’s event page.

After an orientation, we divided into four teams and started to work! Shirley and the family picked up branches that had fallen on pathways during the last few months, weeded planting areas in the north part of the site and loosened up or replaced flagging tape on shrubs that had grown so much that it had become tight. (We use flagging tape of various colors to show what year a tree, shrub or ground cover was planted.)

(Click on any of the photo galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Maya’s group pruned a strip of shrubs and removed invasive blackberry and ivy vines along 25th Ave S. The shrubs had been planted years before we started our restoration project. They had grown big enough that in places they had become a thicket.

Dave’s team worked in one of the few areas on the site where we hadn’t done much clearing in the past. It contained many forms of invasive shrubs and vines, primarily blackberry vines. Before the work party, I saw one blackberry vine that was at least 20 feet long.

At the beginning of the work session, several members of the group moved the contents of an old drying rack so that they would have a place to put their cuttings.

My team removed the dried vines and weeds from one of the drying racks; looked for tagging tape that had gotten too tight and loosened it; and weeded several southern planting areas.

After a snack break, all of the groups joined together to move wood chips from a pile on 25th Ave. S into smaller piles on our site. (Moving the wood chips onsite makes them much more accessible to members of future work parties.) We accomplished that task by forming a bucket brigade.

Maya took two time lapse videos of the bucket brigade. I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I do. https://photos.app.goo.gl/W77onh6wwyBfWVN86 (Hover the cursor over the video to make it work. To make either of the videos fill the full page, click on the arrow. )

The three work parties between January 15 and January 20 were very different from each other, but each was productive and gave the participants a significant forest restoration experience.

Every volunteer who comes here contributes significantly to creating another healthy forest in Seattle.

Two Amazing … Astounding… and Inspiring Videos

My friend Kathie from Chosenperspectives sent me a video link yesterday for a performance on Georgia’s Got Talent. I watched it this morning and was astounded. I can’t even imagine having the level of concentration and balance that this woman has.

I suggest you watch the whole video, from beginning to end. I think every part of it is important. This video is just over 12 minutes in length.

The video that came up after the one above was amazing for a completely different reason. I decided to share it with you too. Again, watch it from beginning to end. The second one is about 6 1/2 minutes.

Both videos left me speechless and in awe. They also both brought tears to my eyes, running down my cheeks type tears.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 27, 2019 – January 4, 2020

Sunrise and Sunset Photos

The sunrises and sunsets in Amritapuri are spectacular. I’ve been frustrated, both here and in Seattle, that my sunrise and sunset photos never come close to the view I see with my eyes. One day on this visit, I did an internet search to see if I could find tips for improving those photos.

One of the tips I read was to turn on the HDR setting. I took the photos below soon after I did that. The HDR photo looks crisper and I like it better. I look forward to experimenting with HDR and trying some of the other sunrise and sunset photo tips after I return to Seattle.

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Amma’s Paripally Orphanage

Generally, during December, groups of children from Amma’s orphanage in Paripally come to Amritapuri to receive Amma’s darshan (blessing in the form of a hug). This year, I noticed that there were no such groups and wondered why. I got my answer Christmas week when it was announced that Amma was going to the orphanage to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Everyone was invited to attend. I heard there would be cultural performances followed by Amma giving darshan to each of the children.

I decided not to go, but I did reflect on the past. My first trip to Amritapuri was in January 1990, a few months after Amma had taken on responsibility for the orphanage. I have been there several times. The visit that I remember best was when Amma stopped at the orphanage after she held programs in Trivandrum. Those of us who had attended the Trivandrum programs went with her.

Oh how it has changed over the years. The children who lived at the orphanage when Amma had taken responsibility for it were starving. Under Amma’s care, the orphanage and the generations of children who have lived there have thrived.

I had assumed that several busloads of ashramites and visitors had gone to the orphanage celebration, but during bhajans at the ashram that night it became obvious that most of the ashram had gone. There was no sound system in the auditorium and none of the normal bhajan leaders were present. The number of people in the normally packed auditorium was tremendously reduced.

I had expected the orphanage visit to be a half a day experience but it turned out to be an all day one. The buses started returning to Amritapuri twelve hours after they had departed that morning.

I learned later that many previous alumni and teachers attended the event, in addition to the current orphanage residents. They had also received Amma’s darshan that day. To read more about the festivities… and to see photos… go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/76883/19parippally.aum.

New Year’s Eve

Some visitors left the ashram after Christmas, but many more arrived. In fact, I think the New Year crowds were bigger than at any other time during my visit.

New Year’s Eve was similar to Christmas Eve in that after dinner Amma came back to the auditorium. There were performances, Amma’s New Year’s talk, singing and other activities. One of those activities was a chant for peace in the world.

Like Christmas Eve, I knew it would be unhealthy for me to stay up late and I had a 7:30 a.m. cafe shift, so I watched three or four of the performances and went to bed. Unlike Christmas Eve, I went to sleep immediately and slept through the night.

Again, I feel sad about all that I missed, but know I made the right decision. I also believed I had Amma’s support in that decision because there were several times on the U.S. tour last summer, after I talked to her about my balance problems, that during late night programs she told me to go to bed!

To read about and see photos from the New Year’s Eve programs, go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/77089/20newyear.aum

Prasad Assist Seva

Amma continued changing the directions for the prasad-givers every time I did the assistant job. I got a bit cocky about being able to go with the flow. That cockiness ended the day that darshan was held in the temple.

I wasn’t worried about the change since I had done another prasad assist job in the past and I knew the system that had been used when darshan was held in that location. As strange as it may seem, I didn’t consider the possibility that anything could have changed.

I panicked when I came to my shift only to discover that the chairs had been removed from the area and everyone, except for a few people in the darshan line, was sitting on the floor. I didn’t know how I would get down and I was even more concerned about how I was going to get up. That would not have been a problem in the past but that day it seemed like a BIG PROBLEM!

I also discovered that there were other changes. There was no longer a small line of people waiting on the balcony to give prasad and I didn’t know where the other prasad assistant was. There was no way I could be repeatedly getting up and down as the job often requires. I was near tears and felt desperate.

I was able to get down and had no trouble sitting on the floor throughout the shift. I talked to my supervisor about not being able to get up and down and she let the other prasad assistant know that I would not be available in that way. When it was time, two people helped me get up. Even though I had been shaken, I had survived the challenge and done well.

Shoes/Thongs

In India, people take off their shoes/thongs when they enter a temple or a house. In Amritapuri, we wear shoes/thongs in the auditorium now but still take them off when we are in the temple and when we go up on the auditorium stage for darshan. As a result, there is always a hodgepodge of thongs going every direction not far from those areas.

One day during this time period, I watched as one of the darshan line monitors meticulously picked up pairs of thongs with her toes and one after another placed them in straight lines. It was like a work of art. No one took the hint though. People kept taking them off and leaving them wherever they fell. The line monitor soon gave up.

This scene reminded me of a time when Swami Paramatmanda, one of Amma’s senior Swamis, remarked that how we place our footwear when we take them off, is representative of the state of our minds. That felt true to me then and it still does, or at least it is representative of MY “monkey” mind. I usually take off my shoes in the entry way when I enter my house, but there are times when I take them off in the hallway, or the kitchen, or the bathroom, and occasionally even in the living or dining room. And I certainly don’t take care to see that they are placed side-by-side neatly.

Monkeys

On Tuesday, December 31, there were FOUR monkeys in the café courtyard, two big ones high up in a tree, the small one that I’ve seen many times during this visit and one that is considerably smaller than the one I consider small. They apparently had been chased away from the back of the café earlier because they were stealing food.

One monkey had been hard enough to deal with but now there appeared to be a whole family. I watched as the small one started opening trash can lids and attempted to turn over the bins. Luckily, the trash cans the monkey looked into didn’t have food in them and it was unsuccessful in turning any of them over. I can imagine the mess it would have made if it had found the trash cans that held the food waste. (In Amritapuri the recycling stations have separate bins for hard items, soft plastic, paper, food waste, etc.)

Weather

Two years ago, it was hotter than normal when I came to Amritapuri in December. Last year it was back to “normal.” I got fooled into thinking the weather might not be shifting. But this year it’s been even hotter than it was two years ago. As I write this, it is 90 degrees and very humid. I’m sweating even though I am in my room with a large fan nearby.

I am so ready to be back in Pacific Northwest weather which this week is in the upper to mid 40’s for a high and high 30’s to low 40’s for a low. Hummmmm. I see the forecast for the Sunday after I get back is for snow. Oh, well that could change by then, or it could just be a little bit of snow that goes away fast.

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Titan Arum Flower

When I posted today about the Rafflesia flower, MZ & Cho from Chateaux Des Fleurs commented that the flower reminded them of the Titan Arum flower. I looked it up and found that even though the flowers look very different from each other they definitely have things in common, e.g. they come from Indonesia, they are very big and they have an unpleasant odor.

Again, I found some Titan Arum royalty free images on Getty Images. The photo below is from that site. Click on the Getty Images link to see a lot more photos, some free, some not.

Getty Images caption: This very large flower bloomed in January 2018 in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. However the flower is not indigenous to Australia, actually being native to Sumatra island in Indonesia. The bloom attracts people not only because of its large size but also because it really stinks. The unpleasant odor resembles a rotting flesh and is known as the corpse flower. Its scientific name is Amorphophallus titanum, also known as titan arum. The flower stalk can reach over 3 metres in height. These days the plant is seen around the world, particularly in public gardens in tropical cities.

I also found many Titan Arum photos on Wikimedia Commons. The next three photos are from there but if you click on the link you will find many more.

I think it is very interesting that like the Rafflesia plant, the Titan Alum plant is called a corpse plant, because of its rotting flesh odor.

I have enjoyed learning about these two plants today.

Rafflesia Flower

This week, I read an article on cnn.com that said a scientist had found a nearly four feet in diameter rafflesia flower. It was found in West Sumatran, Indonesia. I didn’t have access to a free photo of that particular flower but found a royalty-free photo of a similar flower on Getty Images.

Blooming rafflesia in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

I also found photos of smaller rafflesia flowers on Wikimedia Commons. The two photos below come from that source.

The article went on to say that the plant doesn’t have any roots or leaves; it is parasitic, feeding off of another plant, drinking its water and taking its nutrients. It releases a foul odor that resembles the smell of rotting meat. To read the full article click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 21-26, 2019

University of Arizona – Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham Partnership

I have learned more about the event that took place in the ashram auditorium early in my stay. At that time, a Letter of Intent was signed by University of Arizona and Amrita University (Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham) representatives. The agreement marked the beginning of dual degree programs at both the baccalaureate and master’s levels.

Two hundred students will participate in the study abroad program for at least one semester each year. An 11-member delegation came from the University of Arizona for the signing. To learn more about the partnership go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/76232/19arizona.aum

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Other groups

One of the first times I went to Amma for darshan, a group of about 60 young Indian men and women were brought to the stage. They looked like they might be college students, but were not in the uniforms that students at her colleges usually wear. When they first came on the stage, most sat and watched Amma give darshan (hugs). After some of the group had received their hugs, other members joined the darshan line. Amma talked to several of them for a long time. I never found out who they were but wondered if they had been working in one of her humanitarian projects.

One day last week, about 20 members of an Israeli group were led to the stage during darshan. Later, I learned they were from Tel Aviv University and had been doing something with Ammachi Labs. I found this description of Ammachi Labs on amritapuri.org.

AMMACHI Labs is an academic and research center at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham that brings an interdisciplinary approach to addressing societal challenges. We create innovative educational tools and skill development solutions to help uplift entire communities. In our commitment to rural villages of India – the very communities that stand to benefit the most from skill development – we are as excited about our continuing development of community outreach solutions as we are about our focused R&D for CHI, robotics and automation, haptic technologies and applied robotics.

To read more about Ammachi Labs go to: https://www.amrita.edu/center/ammachi

Br. Dayamrita Chaitanya

Br. Dayamrita Chaitanya is the brahmachari (male monk) who is responsible for Amma’s North American satsangs. He has been with Amma for about 35 years. He and I have been in Amritapuri at the same time before but it generally has only been for a day or two. This time our visits overlapped for much longer.

On December 23, Dayamrita held a question and answer session for residents and visitors. The program was held in a building called Shanti Mandiram. I had never heard of that building. I was astounded to find out it is a huge building next to the place where the brahmacharinis (female monks) live. The building had apparently been under construction for years and has been in use for about three years. All of the silent retreats are being held there.

How could a building have been built so close to the main ashram and I had never seen it? I’m still having trouble believing it.

On the 23rd, I found the building and walked up to the third floor. The room was big; but so was the attendance. There were Amma devotees from many different countries as well as both Indian and Western ashram residents.

Br. Dayamrita answered many questions. He also told many stories. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was so glad that I attended the session.

Christmas Eve program

In Amritapuri, the big Christmas celebrations are held on Christmas Eve. They consist of cultural performances, Amma’s Christmas message, singing and distribution of Christmas cake. They usually start late and aren’t over until around 2 a.m. Since I work in the cafe at 7:30 a.m. I knew I couldn’t stay the whole time. I had decided to leave after the first three cultural performances.

The program starts when Amma comes. She led the evening bhajan (singing) program from 6:30 to 8:15 p.m. and we had dinner after that. Amma was expected to arrive for the Christmas program around 10 p.m. but came just before 9:30!

I was very happy about her early arrival because it meant I would be able to watch more of the performances. I ended up staying for all of them; they were wonderful. There was a shadow puppet show, a choir, a salsa dance, Indian traditional and non-traditional dances, a flamenco dancer, a dance called Mother’s Prayer and more. There was also a beautiful performance centered around Hanukkah. One of my favorite parts of the program was the finale. The singing and dancing that occurs when all of the groups come on stage together is always so joyous.

I went back to my room after the performances but wasn’t able to get to sleep. I could hear the sounds of fun coming from the hall. It was all I could do to keep myself from getting dressed and going back to the auditorium. I feel sad about what I missed but know I made the correct decision for me.

I don’t have Christmas program photos to share with you but you can read more about the evening and see photos at: https://www.amritapuri.org/76453/19xmas.aum

Eclipse

On Thursday morning there was an eclipse of the sun between 8 and 11 a.m. When an eclipse happens here, everyone stays inside. The café was closed for the morning, but the canteen was open from 7-8. I had some breakfast and then went to the temple to participate in the Vedic chanting that was taking place throughout the 3-hour period.

The hall was packed. I didn’t know the chants and didn’t have the books, so just listened. The woman seated next to me was looking at the chants on her phone. About halfway through I noticed that she was looking at one that had a font that was big enough for me to read it. When she noticed I was doing that she held her phone between us. She shared her phone with me for the rest of the session.

Throughout the experience, I kept expecting it to get dark. Every time I looked outside, though, it was sunny. I was puzzled. Had the eclipse not happened? I was even more puzzled when I later looked at an online newspaper and saw photos taken in Kerala of the full eclipse. I talked to someone who had stayed in her room throughout the morning and she told me it HAD gotten dark. How could I have missed it? During the first half of the chanting I had often closed my eyes. Had I also fallen asleep?

The chants were beautiful. Maybe someday I will put in the time and effort needed to learn some of them.

Monkey

The monkey I mentioned in an earlier post is still visiting frequently. It probably has learned that if it comes to the café kitchen area it might be able to steal some food. I saw it once last week and it was there again on Thursday afternoon.

New additions to café menu

Over the years, the café and canteen have certainly changed. I was at the ashram on the day in 1990 when the Western food service began. At that point, Western food was only available for dinner. I remember it as consisting of a bowl of soup but the photo below shows bread and possibly something else.

On most nights, the dinner was served on a balcony in the temple. On Devi Bhava nights, it was served on a staircase on a higher floor. We felt so excited to have something other than the kanji (watery rice) with a small serving of vegetables that was served in the Indian lines for breakfast and dinner in those days. (Lunch was regular rice and some vegetables.)

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In 1990, we never would we have imagined the time would come when the ashram would offer a wide variety of Western foods at every meal and there would even be gluten free options available…. and a bakery.

A few years ago, the café staff started making almond milk. Earlier this month, they added sides of quinoa, hummus, and broccoli (when they can get it) to their already abundant menu options. Three days ago, they started offering a new drink. Some of the ingredients are spirulina, wheat grass, aloe vera, and lemon!

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Question to Readers: What Makes You "Duck" Unnecessarily? (Also… A Guest Post Opportunity)

There is a corridor in Amritapuri that can be taken as a shortcut between the auditorium and the north part of the ashram. That slightly sloped corridor has a low ceiling.

A tall person would have to duck their head to get through any of that area, but for many people bending down isn’t necessary. I have tested it out many times and there is no need for me to duck when I walk through the lower part of the walkway… but I do. For me, there is at least an inch of free space over my head, but I’ve noticed that many people duck even if there is more than a foot of space between their head and the ceiling.

Since I’ve become clear that there is no need for me to duck my head, I have tried to walk through the area standing straight. So far I seem incapable of doing that. In the past two weeks, the closest I have come to my goal is to walk through with my hand on the top of my head or to scrunch my neck as much as I can, as if my neck was a spring. I am hoping to be able to walk through the area without any kind of ducking by the time I leave India.

After I observed my own and others behavior, it occurred to me that the situation could be seen as a metaphor. There must be many times in my life, when I have metaphorically ducked. Then it occurred to me that there might be a wide variety of metaphors or stories that could result from this observation. I decided to find out if readers relate to my experience, as well as to offer a potential guest post opportunity.

I believe one of the times I metaphorically duck is when I worry about what other people think about me. What situations in your life cause you to duck unnecessarily? I would love it if you would share your answer to that question in the comments below.

Or … use your creativity to develop a different metaphor. Or … write a short story, poem, fable, parable, or any other modality, on a topic inspired by my post. Perhaps you will even see something to photograph that you think relates.

Consider coming back to this post later to see the ways other readers responded to my question. And if you decide to accept my challenge to write a story, poem, fable, parable, or any other piece, and want it to be considered for a guest post, sent it to me at livinglearningandlettinggo@gmail.com.