“I’m looking for Karuna,” a tall young man said as he descended the first tier of the Hanford Stairs to the Greenbelt work party.
He was the last of 20 volunteers from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class that turned up on a cold, foggy morning in Seattle to volunteer their labor. Below us, the silver cars of the Light Rail Transit system rattled across the horizon, headed for SeaTac. Tall maples showing fall colors formed a canopy overhead, and ferns filled the understory.
“Just sign your name here on the roster,” I said, offering my clipboard. “Then follow the blue flags along the trail to find Karuna and the others and get some work gloves.”
He strode off enthusiastically into the greenery, leaving me free to walk around the work site and take pictures. I had been afraid the footing would be too uneven for me to handle, but the expertly built wood-chip trails were cushy and sturdy. I just followed the dozens of little blue flags marking the way.
Seeing what the crews have accomplished during this year’s and last year’s work seasons blew me away. The photographs over the months have simply not done the scene justice! For one thing, the drying piles of blackberry and ivy debris are bigger than they look, and areas that have been re-planted with native trees and plants have a more complex flagging and labeling system than can be captured in photos.
I could tell the layout has been carefully thought out and executed. The site will become a lovely forest as everything begins to take hold and mature.
Another way to tell what has been accomplished is to compare the left side of the Hanford Stairs to the right side.
To the right of the stairs (see the photo below—the north side of the site) is a solid wall of greenery—you can’t even make out individual trees among the tall tangle of blackberries, miscellaneous vines, and other invasive plants. It’s a telling indication of what the greenbelt volunteers had to deal with when they began the cleanup!
To the left of the stairs—the south side of the site—is an open slope dotted with ferns and tiny new plantings below the maples, cedars, cherry, and alder trees that now stand in the open, free of their former strangulation by ivy and blackberry vines.
My photos don’t do any better justice to the project than those before them—but I can’t resist trying to give a sense of the work that’s being done.
Watching the students’ bucket brigade reminded me of a line of ants as they carried wood chips from a giant pile at the foot of the stairs, across the road, up the stairs, and handed them off to other workers lined up along the trail. The trail ants ferried buckets to an area where they were being emptied around some new plantings to form a trail. Then the ants headed back down the stairs and started over. I was transfixed by all that youthful energy and willing teamwork.
Karuna unobtrusively walked a circular loop that went up and down the stairs and back and forth on the trail as she conferred with coordinators spotted around at strategic points to direct the volunteers. Clearly, she loves this place. If she stood still long enough, she might grow roots right in the middle of a cluster of ferns.