I am recently retired psychotherapist who now spends much of my time working as a forest and habitat restoration volunteer.
For decades, I have focused much of my attention on watching for and learning the lessons life sends my way. I share my stories and reflections, both past and present, in my blog Living, Learning and Letting Go.
On Sunday May 5, five children from the Seattle Amma Satsang’s Amrita Bala Kendra group, along with six of their adult family members held their second work party in our forest restoration site. (The group’s first visit to the site was a litter pick-up work party in February 2017.)
All of the small trees, shrubs and ground covers on the site have a ring
of wood chips around them. The wood chips help the ground to retain water
during the summer months. The area close to each of the plants is supposed to
stay free of wood chips so that the plant will be able to take advantage of any
rainfall. During this work party, the kids and their family members cleared
away any wood chips that had fallen into the center of the rings.
They also poured wood chips around a new structure that had been built by the DocuSign team during the April 24 work party. It will be used as a “stage” for orientation, a place to sit during breaks and for group photos such as the one at the top of this post. The wood chips around the stage will become part of the system of paths on the property.
The group was blessed with a beautiful
day, made a significant contribution to this future forest, and had a fun time
I expected our May 4 work party would be the biggest event we would hold in May. It might even be our biggest work party of the spring. After all, it was one of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce’s Bridge to Beach cleanup weekend events. In addition, shortly before the event, we were notified that the work party would be advertised in the Green Seattle Partnership Facebook Page and on their blog.
We had a group of five team leaders, which included me, ready to lead the flood of volunteers who might decide to participate. A neighbor who has worked on this project from the beginning would also be coming. Much to my surprise, the time before and during the work party, ended up being an opportunity for me to practice trusting that the volunteers we’d need would be provided. All of the team leaders also had the opportunity to practice flexibility, persistence, letting go, accepting what is, doing whatever it takes, equanimity and Amma’s teaching that we should be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.
For example, a week before the event only two volunteers had pre-registered. Around that time, I received a phone call from a man who had seen our event on the Bridge to Beach listing. He wanted me to know that he and his wife were going to attend our work party. But two days before the event, he called back to say they had found an event closer to their home, so they would not be coming to ours. On the same day they canceled, a young man from a University of Washington fraternity asked if he could bring a group from his fraternity. He believed he could bring 10 volunteers. I, of course, responded with an enthusiastic “Yes.” By then one of the two people who had pre-registered early on canceled.
On the day of the event, the team leaders were assembled and ready. The first person to arrive was a high school student who had worked with us before. She hadn’t pre-registered, but I was delighted to see her. The other person who had originally signed up didn’t show up, nor did any of the fraternity brothers who had pre-registered the day before.
The team leaders “rolled up their sleeves” and started the first task of the day: carrying wood chips from the wood chip pile on 25th Avenue South to the southern planting areas 300+ feet away. Once we reached the planting area, we poured the wood chips in a ring around each of the plants. We then removed chips that had fallen around the stem of the plants, creating an inner circle that was 6-12 inches in diameter. The chips were to help keep the ground moist during the summer months, and the open space was to allow any raindrops direct access to the ground.
Forty-five minutes into the work party, a welcome surprise arrived in the form of six members of the fraternity. I was excited to see them. I had the young men sign up and join the rest of our group in carrying the wood chips and building the rings.
Shortly after the students’ arrival, we broke into three small groups; each led by a team leader. One group removed the weeds in an area we had planted on March 17. We had cleared the invasive weeds from that area prior to the planting work party, but they were returning with a vengeance; the periwinkle vines were especially persistent.
A second group started to clear an area that hadn’t been cleared before, one that bordered our southern planting area. Dense blackberry vines and other weeds were impinging on, or had actually begun to cover, some of our shrubs and ground covers. The third group removed weeds from the north side of the Hanford Stairs.
At 11:30 we stopped for a snack break and a group photo.
After the break, the first and second group went back to work in their respective areas and the third group joined the second group. During this time, Shirley and I helped the other team leaders as needed and also took a few photos.
Clearing the area south of the southern planting area:
Clearing the area on the north side of the Hanford Stairs:
Neither Shirley nor I had taken any photos of the group that had cleared weeds in the planting area near the wood chip pile earlier in the work party but I did get one of what the area looked like after it was cleared. Imagine the area in the photo below with 100+ invasive vines emerging from the ground and you will get a sense of what it looked like at the beginning of the work party.
While we hadn’t had the “flood” of volunteers I’d hoped for, using the experience to trust that what we needed would be provided and taking the reduced numbers as an opportunity to practice flexibility, persistence, letting go, accepting what is, doing whatever it takes, equanimity, and being like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice, meant we’d avoided getting stressed out and had even ended up accomplishing most of the day’s goals. The Bonus: together, we were a mix of people who worked well together and contributed to a satisfying and productive day.
Seattle, WA: June 6-7 San Ramon, CA: June 9-14 Los Angeles, CA: June 16-18 Santa Fe, NM: June 20-23 Dallas, TX: June 25-26 Atlanta, GA: June 28-29 Washington, DC: July 1-2 New York, NY: July 4-6 Boston, MA: July 8-9 Chicago, IL: July 11-13 Toronto, ON: July, 15-18
In April of 2017, I took a live stake workshop. The participants cut branches from a variety of shrubs, took them home and planted them in containers. The stakes rooted throughout the summer and early fall. In November of 2017, I planted the ones that had in our forest restoration site.
Three of the Pacific Ninebark stakes not only survived, they thrived. When I was walking through the restoration site today, I noticed that there were many buds on the shrub. One of the flowers had partially bloomed. I think it is SO beautiful.
There are many flowers like this one on the shrub. The photo below shows about a third of the plant’s flowers-to-be.
This shrub will be so beautiful when all of these buds open. At this point, it is still a fairly small plant. I can only imagine what it will look like years from now when it is fully grown.
We’ve had three more service-learning work parties since I wrote about the first two. Since the group is small, Shirley and I usually work alongside the students so I often forget about taking photos. Luckily, Shirley took a few during the April 22 work party and I remembered during the May 6 one.
April 22 was the first work party this year where it was wet and muddy. We spent most of the time digging out bindweed and blackberry vines in of the eastern planting areas and then moved on to weeding the north side of the Hanford Stairs.
On April 29, the students spent the first part of the work party building a ring of wood chips around some the plants. The wood chips act as mulch, reducing weed growth and keeping the soil near the plants moist during the summer. Once the rings (often referred to as a donut) are built, the donut hole is cleaned out. That way rain water will get to the plant easier.
During the second part of thae work party, two of the students removed invasive plants along the north side of the stairs again and spread wood chips in areas that they cleared.
Shirley (team leader) and the other two students worked in an area near the second set of Hanford Stairs; across Cheasty Boulevard. It was the first time we have worked on that site, but it won’t be the last.
The Seattle Transportation Department had planted native plants in that area at the time they built the stairs. Since then, bindweed had taken over; most of those plants and the nearby land was covered with bindweed at the time of the work party.
After a break, all of us worked in that area. We freed a snowberry shrub, a bald hip rose shrub and two salal plants.
We dug up a lot of bindweed and other invasive vines, but there is plenty more to be done in that area.
On May 6, the students came for their fifth service-learning experience. This time they weeded four planting areas and put wood chip rings around 90 trees, shrubs and ground covers!
There are only two service-learning work parties left in this series. It has been fun to have the same students each week for seven weeks.
Next week we will be putting the wood chip rings around plants in three or four more planting areas, and during the last week we plan to go back to the bindweed area across Cheasty Boulevard.
On April 24, DocuSign, a Seattle corporate group, came to help with our restoration project– for the fourth time! They are such a fun group to work with and are so productive.
We completed many tasks during the work party. One group removed the blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines, as well as other weeds, that were emerging in the south-end planting areas. When other groups finished their assigned tasks, they joined this group.
(To enlarge the photos click on any of the galleries.)
A second group was building new drying racks. Drying racks are used to keep the invasive blackberry, bindweed and ivy vines off of the ground while they dry out. If the vines are left on the ground, there is a good chance they will re-root.
A third group disassembled a pile of branches. They used some of them as mulch and distributed the rest to groups who were building new drying racks.
A fourth group built two drying racks and then stacked laurel branches on them to dry. An important element in urban forest restoration is the removal of non-native and invasive species. (Laurel is considered an invasive species.) Treating the invasive and non-native plants onsite is effective because once the plant material is completely dried out, it is then used as mulch.
A fifth group took an unsightly area that was filled with concrete slabs and broken cinder blocks and turned it into an area that not only looks nice but also has a structure we can use for orientation, breaks, group photos, etc. In fact, we used the new structure when we took the group photo at the top of this post!
We accomplished so much during the work party thanks to the five team leaders and the DocuSign volunteers. Everyone seemed to enjoy the work. I was very excited when the DocuSign coordinator told me that they are planning to come back to our site in November. YAY!