Interview by Maya Klem: “Forest Steward Spotlight- Karuna Poole”

What park do you work at?

Cheasty Greenspace on North Beacon Hill.

How long have you been involved with Green Seattle and why did you chose the park where you work?

This stretch of Seattle’s Greenbelt is behind my house. The land had been overrun by blackberry vines and ivy for about 30-50 years. By 2016, the densely packed blackberry vines were five to nine feet tall on most of the property. One day in August of that year, I decided I wasn’t willing to stand by and watch trees die anymore. I found my shears and started cutting the vines away from the trees. Then I had an idea. I belong to a group known as GreenFriends. Some of the GreenFriends members in our area agreed to take on this endeavor as one of their projects. Soon thereafter, we started working with the Green Seattle Partnership.

What keeps you volunteering with the Green Seattle Partnership?

I love the work. I love watching the land transform in front of my eyes. I love working with the Green Seattle Partnership staff. I love working with the volunteers. I love serving Mother Nature. I am so grateful for all the help I receive from Green Seattle Partnership. The Partnership provides classes and supervision that is invaluable. They also provide us with the supplies we use and the trees, shrubs and ground covers we plant.

Do you have a favorite memory from your involvement?

I remember a time when I was cutting through a mass of blackberry vines and saw what looked like a small section of a concrete block. Over the next few weeks, I saw more glimpses of concrete. I remember thinking the block was at least eight feet long. What could it be? How did it get here? In March 2017, Seattle Parks Department staff cut down blackberry canes throughout the site. It was at that time, we discovered that the concrete was part of the slab foundation of a house. We think it might have burned down in the 1950’s. We turned that foundation into a place we call “The Rack Zone.” The rack zone contains the racks where we dry most of the invasive debris we have removed from the site.

What is something funny or unusual that has happened at an event/while volunteering?

It may seem strange, but I am fascinated by the trash we have found during work parties. We have removed around a hundred golf balls, four golf clubs, stuffed animals, and much, much more. My favorite items have been toy dinosaurs, a plumber’s tool kit from the 50’s, metal handcuffs and a gold bracelet studded with 27 “diamonds.” I found the bracelet, about six inches underground, when I was digging out a blackberry root ball. I assumed it was costume jewelry but as days went by, I kept thinking, “What if it isn’t?” I took it to a jeweler who, after looking at it under a microscope, determined that it was “fun jewelry”.

What part of the work makes you feel that you are making a difference in your community through forest restoration?

During the last 27 months we’ve replaced invasive plants with 88 trees and 750 shrubs and ground covers. There is no question that we are making a difference in our community as we restore this part of the Greenbelt to a place that provides shelter and food for wildlife, enhances air quality, and provides beauty and tranquility for humans and other living beings.

Is there a specific time when you looked at your restoration and felt like you were finally making progress? If so, tell us about it. If you haven’t had that moment yet, what do you think will make you feel like you are finally making progress on the ground?

Soon after I started the project, I realized that it would become much bigger than the area behind my house. Still, I was stunned and overwhelmed when the Seattle Parks Department staff cut down the invasive vines on most of the site. How in the world would we manage this huge amount of work with such a small number of volunteers? After a sleepless night, it occurred to me that it was a good opportunity to practice staying in the moment by focusing on one task at a time. That day, I decided to clear blackberries and weeds from one small area. Three hours later, I was amazed by how much I had accomplished. Suddenly, the project seemed doable. We would do it one step at a time.

If you were plant species found at your restoration site (native or non-native) which would it be and why?

I don’t have a clue how I am like Roemer’s fescue but I do know that the plant fascinates me!

If you aren’t working in the park where would we most likely find you and what would you be doing?

You would probably find me inside, in front of my laptop. I coordinate the process of putting together a monthly GreenFriends online newsletter that is usually 30-35 pages long. I also write for my blog, “Living, Learning and Letting Go.”

Anything else you want us to know?

We’ve offered around 40 work parties since we started this project. Some events have had three volunteers, our biggest had 47. I appreciate Shirley Rutherford, Claire Oravec, Haley Rutherford, and the other volunteers who have served as team leaders during our events. I appreciate Susan Zeaman, a Forest Steward from another Cheasty Greenspace park, who has been a mentor to me. I appreciate my neighbor John O’Brien who has attended almost every work party and has worked many hours on his own, or with me, in addition to the work parties. I appreciate the environmental science students, corporate groups and other volunteers who have supported this project through their enthusiasm and their labor.

To learn more about Karuna and her team’s work visit her blog by clicking here

Want to have your own chance to meet Karuna and to hear more about her time as a Forest Steward with Green Seattle? Then starting in the new year, you should attend one of the upcoming volunteer work parties at Cheasty Blvd. and help Karuna to continue her Forest Steward legacy!

~~~

Maya Klem

Stewardship Associate, Forterra

Maya was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and is thrilled to be part of a team dedicated to protecting the land she has always called home. Maya recently graduated Western Washington University where she studied Biology, Chemistry, and Spanish.   During her time in college, she discovered a passion for conservation and restoration work while studying in the jungles of Costa Rica and Peru. Aside from exploring tropical and temperate forests, Maya enjoys cooking, traveling, skiing, and smiling at dogs. Maya is serving a one year AmeriCorps term with Forterra.

Practice in Letting Go

This past summer, during Amma’s Chicago programs, ideas for how to design one of the planting areas in our Seattle forest restoration site started coming into my mind. The next day, I walked to the children’s program room, borrowed colored pencils and graph paper, and drew that design.

When I returned to Seattle, I transferred the design onto the ground as best as I could. It took hours and hours to accomplish that task as I was trying to lay it out perfectly. When I finally finished, I started laughing at myself. It had taken me that long to create placement for 12 plants. We had ordered more than 300 shrubs and ground covers. Clearly, that was not how I was going to maketo make planting plans for the whole site.

I enjoyed having “my area” though and dreamed of what it would look like in the future. This fall, I started noticing  how often branches from nearby trees fell into “my area”.  I also noticed that I was only seeing them in “my area”.

A few weeks ago we had a wind storm. In the photo below you can see some of the branches I took out of “my area” after the storm.

On November 15, we had the big planting work party. It was wonderful to finally have the native plants in “my area”. I day-dreamed about what the area would look like in the Spring.

Then I had a horrifying thought: “Those falling branches could kill ‘my plants’!” I’ve been resisting the apparent fact that in forestry 50% of what we plant may not survive. In fact, I haven’t dealt with it at all because I believe “our” plants will be different. And I hadn’t even considered the possibility that any of the plants in “my area” would die.”

At that point, I took a good look at the terrain surrounding “my area”.

The trees are really tall, they are old, and “my area” is closest to them.

As I reflected on this situation, I had many thoughts.

  • These plants, and all of the plants in the restoration site, are not “mine,” they belong to Mother Nature. I can be an instrument and do my best to take care of them, but what lives and what dies is not in my hands.
  • I knew that we would likely lose some plants in the summer since we now have long stretches with no rain, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some plants are likely to die during the winter.
  • I remembered the Tibetan monks who spend many hours making a sand mandala and then ritualistically take it apart as a way of acknowledging that life is transient, in a constant state of flux.
  • While I will not purposely dismantle the area I have been thinking of it as “my area”, I am clearly getting an opportunity to let go and surrender. My job is to put in the effort and let go of the results.
  • It is time for me to stop thinking about that area as “my area”. I am an instrument, I am not an owner. That area is no more important than any other area.

As I was writing this post, I thought about the title that the Green Seattle Partnership gave those of us whom they trained to lead forest restoration work parties. We are called Forest Stewards. I decided to look up steward to see exactly what the word means. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines steward as “a person hired to perform household or personal services.” It gives these words as synonyms: “domestic, flunky, lackey, menial, retainer, slavey, servant”.  That’s it. I am not an owner, I am a servant of the forest.

I am a Forest Steward.

No Forest Restoration vs Forest Restoration

These timelines profoundly affected me when I saw them at the Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward training that Ananya and I attended last March.

 

I choose to do whatever I can do to make the second timeline the reality.