Beauty in My Backyard-Spring 2020

Since I’m not working in the Greenbelt, I (hopefully) will be able to focus on my own yard again. I say hopefully because I’m not able to get up and down well at this point. Regardless of what the future holds, there is plenty of beauty there already.

When you feel like darkness has you bound…

My daughter Chaitanya and my son Sreejit (now Br. Sattvamrita Chaitanya) live at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram in Kerala, India. People from all religions come to Amma, and all religions are respected.

For ten years, my son and daughter were very instrumental in creating the Christmas play that was performed on Christmas Eve. My daughter wrote and directed the plays and Sattvamrita and his friends composed most of the tunes. The plays were performed in the style of Broadway musicals.

One of my favorite musicals was the one in December, 2012. It was titled God is Able. The setting was a Southern style Gospel church. Sattvamrita was the preacher! The story line included the stories of Moses leading the Jews to the promised land, Rachael being healed by touching Jesus’ garment, and a fictional account of the heart of an angry store keeper being healed.

I will never forget the moment in the play when the stage doors opened and the sparkling “Gospel Choir” became visible. It seemed like everyone in the auditorium did a collective gasp. Part of the reason I remember the gasp and the thunderous applause and shouts that followed the song so well is that I was part of the choir!!!

Choir

Two or three days ago, I noticed that someone had visited my blog and found a post I had written about that play. The post contained the song our choir had sung; it was titled Dear God. The tune was written by Sattvamrita and the lyrics by Chaitanya. 

I found the post and pressed the Dear God play button. As soon as the song began, I burst into tears; the deepest tears I have felt in many years. I think the tears were particularly sparked by hearing my son’s voice. It is stressful being on the other side of the world from my “kids” during the pandemic even though all of us are doing fine.

I’m still crying each time I play the song. In addition to hearing Sattvamrita’s voice, my tears may be from the message that the song holds, from the beauty of the music, and/or from reliving the memories of that magical night.

The mp3 recording and the lyrics are below.  I hope you enjoy it.

When you feel like darkness has you bound
And you can’t see any way to get out
There’s a power which surrounds us all
Through God anything is possible

Never fear
Never let your doubts draw near
With courage face all that comes
Put your trust into God’s arms
He’ll protect you from all harm
His love will carry you on through

Dear God, hold us tight never let us leave thy sight
Dear God, fill our soul with your love make us whole

Sattvamrita singing above the choir:

God is able to calm the wild storm
God is able to make the weak strong
God is able to bring change within
God is able to do all things

Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: February 26 and March 4, 2020

When we held the February 26 and March 4 work parties none of us knew that they would be the last work parties of the quarter. The remaining ones would be canceled due to the pandemic.

February 26

When I went outside to make last minute preparations for the work party, I got a big surprise. A big tree had fallen not far from our toolbox. I hadn’t been to that part of the site for several days, so I didn’t know when it fell but guessed it was during or soon after the big wind and rain storm that had occurred the previous weekend.

The tree had fallen from the top path, over the old house foundation that is on the property, and partially over the planting area that is below the foundation. I hadn’t realized how big the tree was until it fell; it must have been at least 80 feet tall. The photos in this post are primarily from the tree’s bottom and top so in no way do they show its magnitude. 

(To enlarge the photos click on any of the galleries.)

The side-lying rootball is about 8 feet long and 12 feet high! 

The tree fell between two drying racks. It touched both of the racks but didn’t damage either of them. Even though it had fallen over numerous planting areas, none of our native plants were significantly harmed; in fact only one branch on a bald hip rose shrub and one on a pacific ninebark shrub was damaged. Once again, against incredible odds, Mother Nature had protected the plants.

The tree had fallen from the top path, over the old house foundation that is on the property, and partially over the planting area that is below the foundation. We hadn’t realized how big the tree was until it fell; it must have been at least 80 feet tall. The photos in this post are primarily from the tree’s bottom and top so in no way do they show its full magnitude. 

Soon after I discovered the fallen tree, I called my supervisor at the Seattle Parks Department to inform him that the tree had fallen. He told me it would probably be left on the ground to provide habitat for birds and insects. 

So, after all of us spent some time looking at the exposed tree roots, we began the planned activities for the day. Most of the students started removing weeds, wood chips and leaves from around all of the trees, shrubs and ground covers we had planted on the site since 2017. Having bare ground around each plant helps water reach the plant roots when it rains. The UW Capstone interns were team leaders for the UW service-learning students during this work party.

An intern found some snail or slug eggs as she was working.

A student that loves to dig out invasive blue bell bulbs did that instead of clearing the areas around the plants. The photo of her shovel shows how wet the soil was that day.

While all of this activity was occurring, Antje, one of our regular team leaders, cut back bamboo shoots.

Later, one of the student teams removed some of the smaller fallen tree branches that were near the native plants.

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While those students removed branches, the other team finished clearing the areas around the plants on the site and then picked up litter. Sorry, no photos of that work!

March 4

During what turned out to be our last work party, the interns took the service-learning students back to the area along Cheasty Boulevard that they had started to clear several weeks before. Weeds were already growing through the wood chip mulch they had spread at that time. On March 4th, they dug out those weeds and cleared more of the area, and then spread more wood chips over all of the cleared area. I don’t have photos of the work but I do have photos of the results!

The fallen tree covered all but one of our Greenbelt paths. While the students worked, Antje identified and marked new ways to get around the lower part of the site without walking through the planted areas.

I feel so grateful to all of the students who chose to work on our site for their service-learning or internship this quarter. I also feel grateful for those who have worked here in the past or will work here in the future. Every volunteer leaves having made a significant contribution in creating “Another Future Healthy Forest”.

Only in America?

When I went to my blog’s stats page yesterday, I noticed that six people had read a post I had written in July of 2015. How had they found it? The “referrers” and “search engine terms” sections of the stats page didn’t give me a clue.

It was interesting for me to read the post again. In the last two weeks there have been many stories on the news about the run on toilet paper. Since then, the store shelves where the toilet paper once resided have been empty every time I’ve been to the grocery store. Some stores are putting a limit on how much toilet paper people can buy as a way to prevent the hoarding.

I’m thankful that I had bought some toilet paper just before the run on it began. I’m even more thankful for the 30+ years I’ve been going to India. Especially in the early years, there was generally no toilet paper available. I know I would survive even if I had to live without it.

It seems a fitting time for me to repost this 2015 article.

***

When I went to the supermarket yesterday, these displays caught my eye.

The three displays were next to each other and all were devoted to the sale of toilet paper!

A few minutes later I found another display directly across from the check out counter:

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Yes, it was more toilet paper!  I wonder if any other country in the world would devote this much supermarket space to toilet paper.  I doubt it.

This morning, I decided to go back to the store and take a look at the packaging.  I thought it might be interesting to read the advertising comments and it was! These words and phrases were used:

  • Clean Care
  • Ultra Soft
  • Mega Roll
  • A Soft Clean
  • Septic Safe
  • Ultra Strong
  • Cleans Better
  • More Absorbing
  • Plus Absorbent
  • Soft and Strong
  • Silky Comfort
  • Soft Layers
  • Strong and Absorbent
  • Gentle Care
  • Removes More
  • Angel Soft
  • Extra Soft
  • Quilting
  • Clean Stretch
  • Confident Clean
  • Softness and Strength
  • Long Lasting Value
  • 3x Stronger plus Resistant
  • Soft and Affordable
  • Soft on Nature, Soft on You
  • Soft and Absorbent

I have to wonder how toilet paper can have clean stretch or long lasting value!

I wish I had counted how many different types of toilet paper there were.  I know one company made three or four types, on a scale from Basic to Ultra!

I don’t know what kind of summary statement to make about this post.  I think I will let the information speak for itself and look forward to hearing your reactions.  Does toilet paper receive this much attention where you live?

A Time of Letting Go

As I mentioned in my posts from India, I have been having trouble with balance. It started about two years ago but has been getting worse. With my doctor’s support, I had dealt with it by working with a personal trainer at a gym and doing physical therapy. Both have been valuable, but it was while I was coping with uneven ground in India that I realized how much worse my balance had gotten in the last year. And I also noticed that the balance problem was often accompanied by a sense of wooziness and exhaustion. The India heat and jet lag made those symptoms even worse. It was towards the end of the trip that it first occurred to me that I should stop leading work parties in the Greenbelt. I let that thought percolate in the back of my mind.

Seeing that the symptoms were getting worse, and that strength building at the gym and physical therapy weren’t sufficient for dealing with the physical problems, once I returned to Seattle, I started getting medical tests to rule out underlying causes. (Some of those tests have been delayed because of the pandemic.)

Around the same time, it occurred to me that my physical problems might also be due to overthinking, overdoing and letting myself get overly stressed. After all, from the time I started working in the Greenbelt, I had thought and even dreamed about the restoration work incessantly.

Overthinking, overdoing and letting myself get overly stressed and exhausted have been life patterns for me. There were times in my life when I felt as if my mind was like a computer that was about to explode. My present-day physical symptoms were eerily similar to those experiences. My old pattern was to keep doing all of those behaviors until I got so sick that I couldn’t do the work anymore. I believe that was why I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the mid 80’s and in the 2000’s developed high blood pressure.

Having these insights felt very helpful, but what was to be done with them? Since August of 2016, my life had been primarily focused on the Greenbelt restoration project. I had loved working on the land as well as working with the team leaders and the many hundreds of volunteers who had helped. I had treasured watching the land transform from space overrun with blackberries, ivy and bindweed to land filled with native trees, shrubs and ground covers. But the joy had been accompanied by hardship. The ground is sloped and uneven and I had tripped and fallen many times, once even breaking my wrist. It had taken a tremendous amount of effort to find volunteers to help with the work parties. All of the planning and administrative work had practically turned into a full- time job.  And everything had gotten more difficult for me to do as the balance problems and wooziness worsened.

I realized that almost all of my overthinking, overdoing and stress was related to my Greenbelt restoration work. I knew myself well enough to know that cutting back was not an option; I wouldn’t be able to stop the overthinking with that approach. I knew I needed to stop doing the restoration work as soon as possible. In addition, I needed to accept the fact that I am 71 years old now and have limitations that go with aging.

But I would not make the change immediately. If at all possible, it was important to me to finish Winter Quarter activities since I had University of Washington Service-Learning students as well as Capstone interns from the UW School of the Environment. Even though it was difficult, I was able to complete that commitment!

I have never questioned my decision to stop my involvement in the restoration project, but I knew that I would feel devastated if the land reverted to its 2016 state. I felt relieved when the Green Seattle Partnership staff told me that they were committed to finding another Forest Steward to continue the project.

Several friends and family members told me that my replacement would be revealed. One day, our newest team leader came into my mind. She knows so much and has so much energy. And she had participated in almost all of the student work parties this quarter. I contacted her and asked if she had ever thought about becoming a Forest Steward. I was astounded when she told me she already was one, she had taken the Forest Steward training in 2014. And she was interested in the position!

She prefers to work in a team, so hopefully one or more of our other team leaders will take the training when it is offered in October. But the fact that she is already a Forest Steward means the project can continue now. The saying “what you need will be provided” has certainly come true.

I will miss leading the project but know that I can potentially help in the future. And since the site borders my property, I can still watch the new plants grow and take nature photos. What I am primarily experiencing is a sense of relief.

Just before I sat down to write this post, the title of a book I used to recommend came to mind.

Life is Goodbye,
Life is Hello
Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss

I know I am saying both goodbye and hello in my life and realize that I may experience a myriad of feelings as I continue this process of living, learning and letting go.

***

I’m not the only one letting go. While I am feeling a lot of relief about my decision about my own life, I’m much more excited about another person’s transformation. Have any of you wondered why you no longer can find my son’s blog, The Seeker’s Dungeon?

Sreejit deleted The Seeker’s Dungeon when he found out he was going to receive the yellow robes of a brahmachari. (To learn more about brahmacharis and brahmacharya click here.)

The decision to delete his blog was part of letting go of his Sreejit identity as he moves into the next stage of his life.

His name is now Brahmachari (Br.) Sattvamrita Chaitanya. Chaitanya is like a last name for all brahmacharis so would only be said in a formal setting. Most of the time he will be called Sattvamrita. The phonetic spelling is sut VAAM ri tu.  The u’s are like the short u in hut, the aa is long like the a in psalm or alms, and the i is like the i in knit. The capitalized letters are for the syllable that is emphasized. 

I have loved seeing him so excited and happy.

Here are a few photos of Sattvamrita. Cutting off his hair and beard was part of the initiation process.

His sister is so happy for him too. (BTW The sleeves on Sattvamrita’s shirt will be hemmed at a later time! 😁)

A person standing in front of a store

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You’re Being Called…..

My daughter sent me a quote a few days ago that made me laugh, but it also made me think. I have found it helpful and so have some of the people to whom I have sent it. I tried to track down the author but have been unsuccessful in that endeavor.

I’ve also noticed that the quote comes in several forms. I have decided to share it even though I don’t know who wrote it…. because of the importance of the message. I am using the form that I was sent and that I like the best.

Your grandparents were called to war.

You’re being called to sit on your couch.

You can do this.

A Helping Hand

I’ve had a post I’ve wanted to write since my last days in India. Today is the day to finish it!

My plane was scheduled to leave India at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 9th. That meant I had to be at the airport at 1:30 a.m. that morning. I have found that it works best for me to stay at a hotel in the vicinity of the airport the day before to make sure I get some sleep before starting the journey back to Seattle.

I decided to leave the ashram on the evening of January 7 and take a taxi to Kovalam. I arrived at the hotel at 10 p.m.

If you read my posts throughout the visit, you might remember that I had stayed at hotel in Kovalam when I arrived in India. At that time, I discovered there was road construction between the hotel and the restaurants. There was no way to get food without walking through the construction area. That is common in India, but it meant that at times I was walking through hot tar and gravel. Needless to say, the soles of my shoes were a mess.

When I walked to the restaurants on January 8, however, the roads had been finished. I was able to walk down a street that was free of potholes and hot tar!

There are many restaurants that border the beach. I decided to go to one called a German Bakery and get scrambled eggs, shrimp and cucumbers. Afterwards I went to the gelato shop and got chocolate gelato. The food in both restaurants were works of art.

Then I decided to walk down to the beach.

When I was standing on the balcony of my hotel room, later in the day, I noticed that I could see a different beach.

View from my balcony

It occurred to me that the hotel might have an exit that opened up to a path that led to that beach. I asked at the front desk and learned that was indeed true, if I walked down another flight of stairs, I would find the exit.

After leaving the hotel, I started walking down the path. One of the first things I saw was this beautiful shrub.

Then I walked through a short tunnel. I thought this rock was interesting.

Along the way I had to make some choices. When I saw this turn on the path, I thought “I don’t think so” and continued on.

This choice seemed much more likely to lead to my destination.

Soon I was near the beach; but I ran into an obstacle. To get to the beach I would have to go down many stairs, and there were no handrails. I had my cane, but I was having balance problems and didn’t feel stable enough to do that. I would have to be content with just looking at the beach from afar.

At that point, a young man who was with a group of his friends saw my dilemma, walked up to me, and offered his hand. He then walked me down all of the stairs! I felt so grateful.

I enjoyed being at the beach but soon realized it was nearing sundown. It gets dark quickly in India, so I knew I needed to head back to the hotel. I looked at all of the stairs ahead of me.

I had no doubt I could climb the stairs with the help of the cane as I am more stable going up stairs than going down them. So I started walking back to the hotel

I hadn’t taken many photos as I walked down to the beach, so as I returned to the hotel, I took some pictures looking backwards, so I would have them when I wrote this post. I’m not sure, because of the placement of the rocks, where in my journey these last two photos belong. Since I really like them, I decided to end the post with them!

Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: February 7- 21, 2020

This quarter, we have two UW Capstone interns and three UW service-learning students working on the site. All five of the students work for 2 1/2 hours on Wednesday afternoons and the interns come back most Fridays.

There were five work parties between the 7th and 21st of February. I attended all of the work parties; Antje, who has been helping on the site for more than a year was at two of them; and Shirley, who is one of our long term team leaders, participated in one.

February 7

The interns are responsible for clearing one section of the site. They had worked on “their” section on January 17th and 29th. On February 7th, they put wood chip mulch on areas that they had cleared the previous week… because there had been so much rain that the ground had become muddy. They also removed more invasive vines and weeds and put a wood chip ring around a mock orange shrub we had planted in March of 2019.

February 12

Only one intern and one service-learning student attended the February 12th work party. They spent most of the session scouring the site looking at the flagging tape that had been put on when we planted trees, shrubs and ground covers between November 2017 and March 2019.

The color and design of the tape allows us to know when the plant was planted. As the plant grows, the flagging tape may get too tight and need to be loosened; or cut off and replaced. The shrub in the photo below was one where the tape was so tight that they had to cut it off and put on looser tape. This shrub was planted in November 2017.

While they were doing that, Antje and I were weeding.

Towards the end of the work party, the intern noticed that someone had dumped trash down the Hanford stairs and on one of our planting areas . We spent the last part of the work party picking up the trash.

February 14

As is usually the case, the Capstone interns came to work on their section of the site on Friday. This week was different in that a service-learning student came to do a makeup session.

The interns started clearing the area on the western side of their section. They also pruned some shrubs that had been planted sometime before we started working here in 2016.

Later in the work party, they planted two snowberry shrubs. It may be difficult to see the shrubs in the photos below because they were still in winter twig form.

While the interns were working in their section, the service learning student, Antje and I “cleaned up” the drying racks where we place the invasive vines and weeds we have removed. We did this clean-up by removing big branches from the pile, cutting long branches into smaller pieces and making sure none of the invasive vines were touching the ground. Making these changes allows the debris to compost faster and not re-root.

At one point, the service-learning student noticed a hole in the ground not far from the drying rack where she was working. When she looked into the hole, she found item after item of trash that had been thrown into the Greenbelt and over decades had been covered by soil. The most remarkable litter she found was a BIG teddy bear.

After she had removed the trash, and filled the hole, she returned to working on the racks. Towards the end of the work party Antje and she replaced flagging tape on plants that had been tagged incorrectly. (We had run out of this year’s flagging tape and had to use something else to mark some of the plants when we did the November 2019 planting.)

February 19

One of the interns had wanted to experience leading teams during the quarter. She had been assigned a team several times but since there weren’t many students this quarter her “team” at times consisted of only one other person.

On February 19, all of the student-learners and interns were present so she had the opportunity to be team leader for all of the students. They cleared an area along Cheasty Blvd. After the land was cleared, they covered it with wood chip mulch to help retard weed growth and reduce erosion.

Shirley, one of our regular team leaders, and I watched over the process giving guidance as necessary. Shirley also put wood chips on some of the areas we had cleared in a previous work party

I didn’t take photos during February 19th work party, but I took some the next day. The first two photos below show uncleared areas that border the section the students worked on that day. If I had taken “before” photos, they would have looked very much like these. Ivy, buttercup, grasses and blackberry vines were the most common invasive plants.

And this is what that section looked like at the end of the work party.

We spent the last part of the session doing a task that was less strenuous, clearing leaves and wood chips from around previously planted trees, shrubs and ground covers in two of the planting areas on the north west part of the site.

February 21

There was another interns work party on February 21. On that day, they continued clearing the western part of their section, snapped off suckers coming from a large tree, put wood chip rings around the snowberry shrubs they had planted the previous week … as well as around a rhododendron shrub we had planted in March of 2019… and spread wood chips on cleared areas that were muddy.

The shrubs in this section will be able to thrive now that they are free of the invasive vines.

I am always amazed by what a small group of enthusiastic volunteers can accomplish during a 2 1/2 hour work party. By the end of each session, there is always a tangible difference in the site.