“Oh No”s

I’ve had a lot of “Oh No” experiences lately; ones that relate to the new Greenbelt site we’ve agreed to help with. Our main site is south of the stairs that begin at the intersection of 25th Avenue S and S Hanford Street in Seattle. About three years ago, the Department of Transportation built a second set of Hanford Stairs across Cheasty Boulevard. They are lower on the side of Beacon Hill than our main site. There is Greenbelt property on both sides of the lower stairs.

When those stairs were built, the Department of Transportation planted native shrubs on both sides of the stairs and then covered the area with wood chips. It was beautiful. However, no one maintained the property and over time the land, including the new plants, became covered with bindweed vines. There were some blackberry vines too, but in that area the bindweed ruled. In fact, the bindweed completely covered most of the shrubs. Sometimes, there was no way to know there was even a shrub there; they just looked like mounds of bindweed.

Below are some photos of bindweed vines I took on our site two years ago. They show how bindweed strangles shrubs and ground covers.

One day in April, a Green Seattle Partnership staff member asked us to remove the bindweed from that area, if possible, meaning if we had time. We worked on it for the first time, on April 29. The photos below show what it looked like at that time. Seeing it when preparing for the work party was probably my first “Oh No” experience in this series. We removed bucket after bucket of bindweed that afternoon.

Our main site has a lot of bindweed, but it looks small in comparison to what is in this area. I’ve read that bindweed can go 32 feet into the earth. It is very fragile so breaks off easily so I had had no illusion that we could completely get rid of it. But we had at least started the process of reducing it.

When I checked the site three weeks later, I could barely tell we had worked there before. “Oh No.” We cleared bindweed from that area again on May 20. Afterwards, we covered the area where we had “removed” the bindweed with wood chips. Even though we weren’t able to clear the whole area, the part we had “finished” looked beautiful.

On June 27, I went back to the site to take a look. The first thing I noticed was how much bindweed had returned. “Oh No.” The second thing I noticed was that two thirds of the way down the stairs someone had dumped a couch, chairs and other garbage. “Oh No.” How had the dumpers even gotten this stuff down there?

Seattle has a Find It, Fix It app that residents can use to report problems that they want the city workers to fix. I reported the dump. As I was filling out the report on my phone, I noticed that there was new graffiti on the area where I was standing. “Oh No.” Once I completed the illegal dump report, I filed a graffiti report.

On July 1, I walked down the stairs to take some photos of the bindweed. I felt discouraged to see that the shrub near the phone pole was completely covered again. In fact, bindweed was coming up everywhere. “Oh No.” I was, however, pleased to see that the furniture and other items that had been dumped were already gone. That was fast!

On July 3, I walked down the stairs on my way to pick up my car from an auto repair shop. I noticed that the bindweed had continued to grow in the last few days. I also took a closer look at areas we hadn’t cleared yet. “Oh No.” When I saw my photo I was sorry to see that my finger had gotten in the way and showed up in the photo. “Oh No.” Luckily the picture still showed what I wanted it to show.

Then, I saw that more items had been dumped not far from the bottom of the stairs . “Oh No”. I couldn’t even tell what the stuff was. I could only see that they were big. This time the dump was in an area we hadn’t worked on before; one that is filled with blackberry vines as well as bindweed. Once again, I reported the dump through the Find It, Fix It app.

In writing this post, I can see from the photos that even though there is still lots of bindweed coming up in the areas we have cleared before, there is far less of it than when we started on April 29. And we kept it from flowering. The flowers would have caused it to spread even more. We are making a difference, one step at a time.

Bindweed flower from Pixabay.com

Our plans are for the 30 people who have registered for the July 7 work party to work in that area for the last part of the event. In the past, we have only worked there with five or six people. I look forward to discovering how much we accomplish at that time.

Cee’s Black and White Photography Challenge: Vanishing Point

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!

GreenFriends PNW Litter Project: Kick Butts Day 2019

February was the coldest month in Seattle since 1940. The weather was unstable with the forecast changing day to day and sometimes hour to hour. March started off cold too. I was delighted when the prediction for full sun on March 4 stayed steady.

This was the 8th year that the GreenFriends PNW Litter Project held a cigarette butt pick-up work party in support of Kick Butts Day, a day of activism sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Their vision:

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is a leading force in the fight to reduce tobacco use and its deadly toll in the United States and around the world. Our vision: A future free of the death and disease caused by tobacco. We work to save lives by advocating for public policies that prevent kids from smoking, help smokers quit and protect everyone from secondhand smoke.

The actual Kick Butts Day is on Wednesday March 20 but we had picked Sunday March 4 as our day to support their vision. Fifteen eager volunteers gathered in the International District at 10 a.m.

After signing in, the participants picked up gloves, bags to put their cigarette butts in, and litter grabbers if they wanted one. Once the volunteers were ready, they spread throughout the area.

Sign in

Cigarette filters are NOT made of cotton, they are made of cellulose acetate tow, which is a form of plastic, and they can take decades to degrade. Investigators in a past San Diego State University study discovered that if you put fathead minnows and a single cigarette butt in a liter of water, half of the fish will die.

We take the attitude that every cigarette we pick up is one less that could end up being swallowed by a fish, bird or other form of wildlife. By sending them to TerraCycle to be recycled into plastic pallets, we also keep them out of the landfill.

Some years there are more butts on the ground than others. This year, in some areas, there were more butts than I have ever seen. The photos below were taken in front of a building that was a block from where we we had gathered.

Every member of the group worked diligently.

Just before noon, everyone came back to the park. Once there, we each added the cigarette butts we had collected to the main bag.

We waited for everyone to return…..

… and then took the group photo that is at the top of this post.

It had been another fun and productive cigarette butt pick-up work party. We won’t know how many butts we removed until they get to TerraCycle but we knew each one that was in our bag was one that didn’t end up in the landfill, waterways, or stomach of birds, fish or other creatures.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: A New Beginning- December 10, 2018

In August of 2016, if you had stood on the property that borders the western section of our GreenFriends Greenbelt Restoration Project, you would have seen land covered by blackberry, bindweed and ivy vines.

If you viewed the Greenbelt from that same place today, you would see an expanse of cleared land. The invasive plants have been replaced by more than 800 native trees, shrubs and ground covers.

While there will always be more work to do on this site… lots more… it also seemed like it was time for us to begin to focus on the adjacent Greenbelt site, the one to the north of the Hanford Stairs. I have been eager to begin that work in earnest for some time.

On December 10, we held a tiny work party. Four of the five people who registered for the event were individuals who have served as team leaders at previous work parties.  Most of them have been involved with this project from the beginning. (The fifth person was a neighbor we had not met before. She and her daughter came for the last hour of the work party and dove right in; helping wherever they were needed. I look forward to working with the two of them in the future.)

This small group was an ideal way to begin our new focus. The photos below show what the area looked like when we began to work that morning.

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

Before the work party:

Three of the participants worked in areas along the Hanford Stairs; one worked towards the top of the stairs, one in the middle and one towards the bottom. I cleaned up an old trash dump that was about 20 feet into the site. When I needed a break from trash, I pulled out ivy in the surrounding area.

This work party was interesting for a variety of reasons. It was the first time in years that we were working as individuals instead of leading teams of volunteers. Also, since we were each working in a different area, there was almost no interaction between us. From time to time, it was so quiet that I wondered if everyone had gone home. Soon after having that unlikely thought, I would see or hear the rustling of a branch and know I wasn’t alone. Working in the silence felt very sacred to me.

We accomplished so much during that three-hour period. The transformation was remarkable.

After the work party:

This land seems very different than our original site. There are fewer blackberry vines and more ivy. There are a lot of sword ferns and Oregon Grape shrubs. It will be interesting to see what other native plants are present when as everything begins to bloom in the Spring.

We’ve barely begun to explore this site, but we only need to look beyond the Hanford Stairs to see what our next steps will be.