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.

Dalai Lama Quote

“To remain indifferent to the challenges we face is indefensible. If the goal is noble, whether or not it is realized within our lifetime is largely irrelevant. What we must do therefore is to strive and persevere and never give up.”

― Dalai Lama XIV

Freedom to Thrive

I love to watch how plants return to their glory when they are freed from invasive blackberry vines. Our site is has so many sword ferns; very few of them were planted by us. Most were barely visible when we first removed the blackberry vines.

This fern was freed on March 11 of last year. The photos below show what has happened since that time.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: January 22 – February 5, 2020

There were three Wednesday work parties during this time period. UW Carlson Center Service-Learning students and UW Capstone interns participated in each event. Antje and I were team leaders at all three of the work parties. Haley, one of our long term team leaders joined us during the January 29th work party.

January 22

Three Service-Learning students and one Capstone intern participated in the January 22nd work party. The students did a variety of jobs. Two of them disassembled one of the drying racks and moved the dried blackberry, ivy and periwinkle vines as well as other dried weeds to another part of the site where they will continue to decompose.

This past fall, the 5 cu ft pile of wood chips that was in the part of our site that borders 25th Ave S was taken. Earlier in the year, we had a problem with yard waste being dumped in the same area. Since most of the yard waste was sorted by size, bundled and banded, we suspected it was being dumped by a company rather than individuals These were irritating annoyances and we pondered ways to prevent them from happening again.

In the past, we have moved wood chips from that place into smaller piles in the main site to make them more accessible to volunteers. Would moving them there make it less likely that the wood chips would be taken? Since our main site is very sloped, it certainly would make it a lot harder for outsiders to remove them.

The Seattle Park Department delivered 8 cu ft of wood chips the week before our January 20 MLK National Day of Service work party. During that event, the volunteers had formed a bucket brigade and moved most of the wood chip pile from the 25th Ave S area into the main site.

One of our team leaders had suggested we use the remaining wood chips in the 25th Ave S area to build a barrier along the front border of that area. The barrier wouldn’t be high enough to prevent people from taking wood chips or discarding yard waste but maybe it would be a deterrent.

At the beginning of the January 22 work party, two students and one staff member started building the barrier. Once the other students finished taking down the drying rack, they also worked on the barrier. Together, they did a great job of creating the new structure.

( Click on any of the photo galleries to enlarge the photos.)

So many of the things we do in this work are experimental. That is definitely true of this barrier.

At this point, there are more questions than answers. Will it deter people from taking the wood chips when another pile is delivered? Will it discourage companies and individuals from dumping their yard waste in the Greenbelt? Will we have to take part of the barrier down in order to get a new wood chip pile or will the delivery truck be able to dump them over the barrier? Only time will tell.

Once we finished building the barrier, we weeded in three different areas of the site. I was weeding too so have no photos of that part of the work party but here are some of the results!

January 29

Three Service-Learning students and one Capstone intern participated in this work party.

It had rained a lot since January 22. One of the areas we had started to weed at that work party looked like this a day or two later.

It was clear we needed to cover the area with wood chips when we weeded there to make it less muddy and to prevent erosion.

As I mentioned earlier, Haley was one of our team leaders on January 29. She led a team of two students in this area. Her husband also joined that group partway through the work party. The group continued the weeding that had been started the previous week, and then covered the cleared land with wood chips.

Here is an “after” photo! There are no more puddles of water anywhere in that area.

The other students and staff weeded additional areas we had begun weeding on January 22. These students also added a layer of wood chips to part of a path that had become muddy.

These are two “after” photos from one of the areas the second team weeded that day.

February 5

Two staff, two Capstone interns and three Service-Learning students participated in this work party.

Every work party during January the weather forecast had been for rain. We had lucked out in that the weather was always better than the forecast. There may have been light rain showers, but there was never heavy rain. Our luck ran out on the first Wednesday in February. That day, the rain poured throughout the 2 1/2 hour work party.

We spent most of our time working on our newest planting area which is in the southeast corner of the site. I don’t remember when we started to clear that area but when we worked on it towards the beginning of August 2019, it had looked like this:

By November 2019, a large part of the area had been cleared and was ready for planting.

It seemed like a good place for the whole group to work on February 5. Because of all the rain, the ground was muddy and, in some places, slippery. The first thing we did was to build a wood chip path from the beginning of the area to the new hemlock tree at the far end. We also put a new layer of wood chips on the path leading to that planting area.

We then weeded that section of the site and in nearby areas.

After weeding in the rain for most of the work party, we switched to putting wood chips on pre-existing paths that were getting muddy.

This is one of the paths we “renewed” that day:

One of the students created two novel ways of filling the buckets with wood chips during the January 22 – February 5 time frame. 1) Stand behind the pile and push the chips into a bucket with her hands and 2) Sit in the remainder of the pile and push chips into the buckets with her feet. She got dirty but her methods were effective and she enjoyed doing it!

These three work parties were fun and very productive. It looks like there is the possibility of sun for the Wednesday February 12 work party! I sure hope that forecast is right.

(The February 7, 9, 12 and 14 work parties will be reported in a future post.)