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.
I was very moved by this post by Linda Lee Lyberg. It is part of The Seekers Dungeon’s “From Darkness to Light” guest post event. Consider reading this post… and the other posts in the series. In fact, consider writing for the event yourself!
February 18,1994. 3AM. The phone beside my bed is ringing. Nothing good ever comes from a call at 3AM and this one is no different.
Forcing myself from slumber, I answer.
Screaming and yelling on the other end of the line.
“Get over here now! I need to talk with you immediately!”
My trembling voice, “I can’t, not this time. I have to work in the morning.”
“I don’t care I want you to come now.” Again, I say “I can’t, I told you I have to work in the morning. There’s nothing more to talk about. I have asked you over and over to get help, I can’t do this anymore. Get some sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow. I will always love you but you have to get help.” These are the last…
Last year, we had no water on our Greenbelt restoration site. There was almost no die off during the dry summer, but some plants struggled. The bare root plants had the most difficulty.
I asked to have a cistern installed this year so we could water the plants that needed it. It will be a temporary situation; the cistern will be removed once the trees, shrubs and ground covers are thoroughly established.
Even though I wanted the cistern, I wondered how we were going to be able to water the plants. I was under the impression that we would have to carry water by buckets for any plant that was out of the range of a hose. The thought of doing that with only a few volunteers was overwhelming.
I was surprised, and pleased, to discover that will not be the case. I was also astounded by the size of the cistern.
Members of the Seattle Parks Department Natural Area Crew (NAC) managed to install the cistern in a relatively small space without disturbing the three live stakes I had planted in that area.
After the cistern was placed, NAC rolled about 250 feet of tubing across the site — in areas where volunteers won’t be walking. NAC then installed spigots along the tubing every 50 feet or so.
We will be able to attach hoses to the spigots when we are ready to water the plants. The only plants we will need to water with buckets will be those located in areas that are higher than the cistern.
It was a fascinating process to watch unfold. I look forward to watering some plants after the cistern is filled with water!
From Spring of 2017 through Autumn of 2018, students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class worked in our restoration site. The students were required to do three hours of volunteer work during the quarter, so their needs and ours matched very well. In November of 2018, I was dismayed to learn that the instructor was retiring at the end of the quarter and the future of the course was uncertain. That class had been our primary source of volunteers.
Losing those volunteers has been a good chance to practice taking the attitude “What you need will be provided.” I also kept in mind a line adapted from the movie, Field of Dreams– “If you build it, he (they) will come.”
In mid November 2018, DocuSign, a corporate group did our fall planting. On Martin Luther King Day, we had a sizable work party. In February, my neighbor John and I worked together to rescue a shrub that a massive pine tree branch had fallen on. We also had two winter work parties where the participants consisted primarily, or exclusively of team leaders.
As Spring came, I began to get worried. Blackberry shoots, bindweed and other invasives were emerging from the ground. I started working in the site on my own and thoroughly enjoyed the work, but I knew I couldn’t do everything that needed to be done by myself. In addition to trusting that what I needed would be provided, it was an opportunity to practice staying focused on what I was doing in the moment rather than being distracted and/or brought down by obsessing about the enormity of the whole task.
One day in mid-March, Lillie, a woman whom I had seen on the Hanford Stairs numerous times, stopped and talked with me. I invited her to help with the restoration work and she was interested. The first time she came, we cut up debris from the fallen pine tree branch and scattered it on an area where I had removed a drying rack.
The second time we worked together, we cut up debris on another drying rack and took it to The Rack Zone, a place we are beginning to prepare as a planting area.
A week or so after Lillie started working with me, a young man walked up to me as I was working near the stairs. His name is Mycole and he wanted to work with me once or twice a week. The first time he came, we removed wood chips from around the plants in two planting areas. The next time, we started taking apart a large drying rack, cutting up the debris and taking it to the Rack Zone. The last time we finished clearing an area I will describe later in this post.
The debris pile in the photos below is the one that Mycole, Lillie and I worked to dismantle. I don’t have a photo of what it looked like when we started, but my guess is that it was about 14 ft (L) x 10 ft by 5 feet (H). The first photo shows what it looked like after Mycole and I worked on it. A that point it was around 8 x 8 x 2.5. The second photo shows what it looks like now. It is only 12-18 inches high. We will eliminate it fully in the near future.
I had also applied to be a community partner in the Carlson Center’s (University of Washington) service-learning. They help match students who need volunteer opportunities as part of their course work with community partners who need help. This program is very different than the Introduction to Environmental Science students we had worked with between Spring Quarter of 2017 and Autumn Quarter of 2018. As I mentioned earlier, those students had a three-hour volunteer requirement to meet. The service-learning students would work in our Greenbelt site for three-hours a week for seven weeks.
Our application was accepted. This quarter we have four service-learning students. They are part of an English Composition course that is focusing on the Environment. It is fun to work with them and nice to have the continuity from week to week. Shirley, one of our most active team leaders, and I lead their weekly work parties.
During their first two service-learning experiences, the students focused on clearing weeds and grass from an area that is near the entrance to the restoration site. They also moved a big pile of tree and ivy branches from that area to a different part of the site. As each patch of ground was cleared, it was covered with wood chips. The students also cut up a big branch that had fallen on top of a large shrub during a wind or snow storm.
Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.
When we started the project, the area looked like this:
The transformation in the land after the students worked on it for the two sessions was remarkable. Mycole and I finished that section two days after the second service-learning work party.
What a difference it makes to be greeted by this sight when walking towards the entrance to our Greenbelt site:
I’m thoroughly enjoying working with our new volunteers and with the volunteers who have been committed to this project for a long time. What we need is definitely being provided.
I’m excited. I’ve been watching two ferns beginning to awaken since one of our teams took all of the blackberry vines off of them in early March. They are so close together you can’t really tell that there are two of them. This is what they looked like today!
I created this image in 2014. My idea was to create a photo that showed that a seemingly endless number of toxic cigarette butts are tossed onto the ground as litter. To do that, I placed 1375 cigarette butts in a straight line on a sidewalk near my home. It worked!