I have found that our GreenFriends Greenbelt Restoration Project has provided me with seemly endless opportunities to practice life lessons and spiritual practices such as persistence, flexibility, being in the moment, surrender, impermanence, non-attachment, equanimity and letting go.
When I think of letting go, I think of the title of a book that I purchased in the mid-80’s, Life is Goodbye, Life is Hello: Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss. The title reminds me that loss is inevitable and it often, if not usually, leads to grief. I know that grief includes anger and fear as well as sadness.
I believe that every ending brings with it a new beginning and that it becomes easier for us to let go as our faith grows; e.g. faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in others. As I reflect on letting go, I also remember that I wrote 23 Affirmations for Letting Go in 1994 and shared them in this blog in March of 2014. To see those affirmations click here.
I knew early on that the reforestation work would give me many opportunities to practice letting go. In my initial Forest Steward training, the students were told that we should be prepared to lose 30% of the trees, shrubs and ground covers that we plant. The thought of so many plants dying was totally unacceptable to me, but I also realized that I have no control over the weather and very little control over disease.
A forest is not like a garden that you can keep well watered; the amount of water that the plants receive is determined by the weather. I did have some control over whether the plants were planted properly and stayed free of invasive blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines. And I could give them my attention and my love. My job would be to put in the effort and let go of the results.
Just before we did our first tree planting in November of 2017, our GreenFriends group performed rituals asking Mother Nature for permission to plant and requesting that she protect and nurture everything we planted. We didn’t lose anywhere near 30% of our initial planting. In fact, during this summer’s long drought, only one of the trees died and almost all of the shrubs and ground covers grew substantially.
While I have experienced lessons in letting go throughout the project, November 2018 seemed to bring more of them than ever before. Before I tell you about some of those events, I will share a bit of back story. In April of 2018, I decided we would clear some of the invasive vines on Cheasty Boulevard, the street on the east side of our site. As I walked down the road looking for a place to start, my eyes fell on some gigantic cottonwoods hidden among dense blackberry and ivy vines. I thought that was a perfect area for us to begin the new endeavor.
On April 27, a corporate group from DocuSign came to work on our site. We divided the participants into several groups with each group having a team leader. One group worked on freeing those cottonwood trees from the invasive vines.
In the months after the work party, I enjoyed walking down Cheasty Blvd. to visit the trees. They were so big and majestic. The photos above don’t accurately reflect their height or their width. Then, on November 5th, I received a notice from one of the Green Seattle Partnership staff saying that a number of cottonwood trees on Cheasty Blvd. were going to be cut down. Tests had been done that showed the trees were hollow and had significant decay in the lower part of the trees and roots. If they fell, they would be dangerous.
I had a sense that some of the trees that were to be removed were “my trees” so I walked down the Hanford stairs to look. Two of those trees had big R’s written in white chalk on the trunks which confirmed my fear. I was not surprised though. The trees were very old and one had a big fungus (Ganoderma) on it, which is also a sign of decay.
My lack of surprise was also because in July, a smaller cottonwood tree had fallen across the road. I say smaller but it was still very tall; tall enough that when it fell, it took down the power lines on the far side of the street. When I looked at at the remains of that tree later, I had seen that it was hollow. So even though I was sad that the big cottonwoods were going to be cut down, I understood the importance of the act. Safety was of primary importance. It was much easier for me to accept this situation and let go than it might have been in a different circumstance.
The trees that were to be removed were so big that the city had to hire a crane company to cut down the top part of the trees. I didn’t go anywhere near the work that day, but I did look at and take pictures of it from my back yard, which borders the site. I was shocked when I saw the size of the crane through the trees. My uneducated guess was that it was 250 feet high. (There is a steep drop off between the main part of our site and Cheasty Blvd. so the bottom quarter of the crane and tree trunks can not be seen in the photos below.)
(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
The person in the basket not only cut off the top portion of the tree, he/she also cut off most or all of the branches . At one point during the day, my whole house shook. I thought that must have been caused by one of the tops falling to the earth, or was it a whole tree?
I thought it was curious that several of the largest trees were left standing. I later found out that Seattle Parks Department will be finishing the job.
The next day, I walked into the Greenbelt, as I do most days. When I arrived at our eastern planting areas, I was horrified to see that the top of one of the trees was covering all of one planting area and part of another. I had never considered that as a possibility. There didn’t seem any chance that our plants could have survived such an event. I knew it was another letting go opportunity, but this one wasn’t going to be easy, I was way too attached.
When I looked closely, I could see one of the trees through the branches. I walked back to my house to get a pair of hand clippers and cut away some of the branches. I could tell that the tree was going to be okay.
We had a work party scheduled for the next day. It was obvious that we would need to let go of at least part of our plans for the work party. I didn’t know how we would manage to move the big branches but that wasn’t the task for the present, dealing with the smaller branches would be the first step.
I called Andrea, one of my Green Seattle Partnership supervisors. We talked about what had happened and she agreed we could remove some of the small branches but said we would need to be sure none of the ones that were holding the tree off the ground were cut. We didn’t want to chance anyone getting hurt.
Andrea mentioned that some Parks Department staff would be coming later that day and would take a look at the situation. When I walked down to that part of the site that evening, I was astounded by what I saw.
The Parks Department staff had indeed come. They had cut up all of the branches and had stacked them neatly out of the way. I soon discovered that not a single plant had been injured by the falling tree or by the staff’s work. In fact, the planting areas were neater than they had been before the event. The branches, and the trunk that had fallen outside of the planting area, would decrease the chance of erosion and would become a home for insects and other wildlife.
What an experience this had been. I felt like I had been on a roller coaster. I had been willing to let go, but not until I put in the effort to do what I could do to save the plants. I had also been willing to let go of the plans for the work party so we could do things that were more important.
In the end, the plants were fine and we were able to return to the original work party plan. My faith in the support that is available from Green Seattle Partnership and the Seattle Parks Department had grown.
As I reflected on the incident during the next few days, I remembered the rituals we had done asking Mother Nature to protect the plants. My faith in that process also grew.
One morning during the next week or two, as I was waking up, I was pondering how I would write this post. When I got out of bed and checked my email, I received another shock, and another letting go opportunity. Again, the challenge was related to the Greenbelt reforestation work.
But that is a story for another post!