Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 7-10, 2019

Prasad Assist Seva

For the last few years, I have done a stage seva during darshan, in addition to my café seva. The stage seva I was originally asked to do was a prasad givers assist. That job had many components.

I sat near the door to the stage where Amma sits when she is giving darshan (hugs). I motioned to the prasad givers that were seated in a line in the auditorium when it was time to come up on the stage. I needed to be sure that there were always six prasad givers on the stage; one handing Amma the candy and ash she gives to those who come to her and five in line waiting to do the same. I also had to make sure the line below stayed full and trained anyone who hadn’t given prasad before.

That job also entailed running around looking for people to join the lower line and I knew I wasn’t up for that this year. When I said that, I was offered another prasad assist job and took it. On Sundays and Thursdays from 2-3, I am the person who practices giving prasad with each person as they come through the prasad giving line. I also make sure there are always three people in the prasad giving line closest to Amma. When one person finishes, I have to immediately send another person to join the line. That is easier said than done since the shifts may only be 1-2 minutes and there are plenty of people blocking my view.

The details of both of the prasad givers assist jobs change regularly. Sunday was the first day that I did the new one. In addition to practicing prasad giving with each volunteer, and sending people into the line close to Amma at 1 or 2 minute intervals, I had to ask each person if they were a renunciate or a karma yogi. If they said yes, then I gave them a token and explained that when they gave the token to the person timing, they would be given two-minute shifts instead of one minute. I also had to use a talley counter to count the number of prasad givers going through the line. There were even more components to the job, but I hope I have said enough to give you the impression that I was multitasking.

Changes I didn’t mention before:

  1. The swami rooms are now located in the building behind the auditorium.
  2. In the past, if you didn’t use an Indian SIM card for three months you had to order another one. It could take several days to get it. Vodafone has changed that now. I hadn’t used that SIM card since last January. I discovered that I could recharge my phone if I bought a 28-day package. For about $4, I was able to get 2.5 GB of data a day, as well as unlimited calls and texts in India.. There is no limit for the number of times I can recharge. I was able to get my phone recharged as soon as I got to the ashram and soon afterwards I was able to use my Personal Hot Spot to connect to the internet.

Sleeping

I’m still sleeping a lot. Hopefully I’m catching up from the months of exhaustion I’ve been experiencing.

Weather

It stopped raining three days after I arrived. It’s hot. I am so thankful for the fans.

Darshan

Saturday and Sunday were public darshan days. On those days it is common for groups of women to come for darshan together. They are often teachers at one of Amma’s schools. They are always very striking because they wear the same saris. On Saturday, there was a group that was in red and gold saris. They were beautiful.

Since they live at the ashram, Western visitors usually wait until the end of darshan before they go to Amma for a hug. I waited in a nonmoving line for three hours Saturday evening. Thankfully we were in chairs. It was long and I am not a patient person. But of course, I knew the wait was worth it. When I was in Amma’s arms, I was HOME.

As I thought of what I was going to say in this post I thought of a song I wrote many years ago. I wrote the words in English and then Meera translated them into Malayalam. I sang it for Amma in 1998 or 1999.

amma ende karangal ennum ninne sevikkatte
amma ende manass˘ mantrathāl nirayename
amma ende vākkukal ennum ninne pukazhthette
ende hridayam ānandam kond˘ nrittamādatte

ende sneham prakāshamāyi ennenum thilangatte
amma ende vishvāsam valarnnu kondirikkatte
ennenum ammayepole āyi varename
amma itinnu vendi mātram nyan prārthikkyunnu

Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra
May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy
May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow
Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray
Only for this I pray

I wrote about this song in a December 27, 2014 post. At that time I included a voice recording of the song. I decided to include it in this post as well. Please excuse my pronunciation errors.

Monkey

There was commotion in the back side of the café on Tuesday morning. There was a monkey sitting there. The building is open to the air so the monkey could have gone inside if it wanted to but it didn’t do that. It was blocking people from going up the outside stairs though.

I saw the monkey when I finished my shift an hour later. It looked so small and cute. I know that monkeys can turn aggressive in an instant, so I stayed away from it.

People were taking pictures of the monkey when I got my own food. I resisted the temptation to do the same, choosing to eat my breakfast instead.

Later, I told Chaitanya, who runs the Western kitchen, that if the monkey had wanted the food I was serving when I worked, I wasn’t going to get in its way. She supported that way of thinking!

In the early years, there were rarely or never monkeys around. However, after the 2004 tsunami Amma built a bridge between the ashram and the town across the backwaters so that people on the peninsula could evacuate easily. (See the photo of the bridge at the top of this post.) Monkeys can cross the bridge too, so they are on the ashram grounds from time to time.

Amma serves lunch

On Tuesday’s Amma comes for meditation and a question and answer session. Afterwards, she serves lunch to all of the residents and visitors. In the past, she handed each person their plate individually but there are now thousands of people. For the last few years, she has handed the plates of food to a brahmacharini at the beginning of a line and the plates are passed down a series of lines until everyone in the auditorium has one. No one eats until everyone has their meal. In fact, no one eats until Amma has had a spoonful of her own food.

I usually participate in one of the plate passing lines but I decided not to do it that day. Maybe I will make a different choice next Tuesday.

To read other posts in this series click here.

Greenbelt Restoration Project: Service Learning Session 7

November 19th was the last of this quarter’s service-learning sessions. We were lucky to have Dave, one of our regular team leaders, join us for the first time. Antje, another team leader, who has helped throughout the quarter, also attended.

Before I tell you about this work party, let me give you some backstory. In January 2019, we started taking apart the racks we used to dry the blackberry and ivy vines and weeds that we dig out. (Putting the invasive vines and weeds on racks prevents them from re-rooting.) We spread the dried debris that was on the racks inside the old house foundation that is on the site. Our goal was to eventually make that area a planting area. While some of the lower layers of debris has decomposed, most of it hasn’t.

That February, we planted one plant in the foundation as an experiment, to see what happened. That plant, an oceanspray shrub, is now 5 feet high!

We decided we would begin another foundation planting experiment during the November 19 service-learning session. We would plant 5 tall managrass and 4 Roemer’s fescue plants along the southern and western inside borders of the foundation’s walls.

There may be some of the debris that has composted enough to have become dirt, but if there is, it is far below the surface. Two of the students did the best they could do to create holes the debris and then added some dirt to the holes. Next, they planted the plants, continuing to add dirt in the space around the plants.

Once the students had planted the 9 plants, they reinforced a stretch of path by adding a 2-4 inch layer of wood chips to the existing path.

While those students were planting the grasses and reinforcing the path, other three students and two of the staff members started clearing blackberry and ivy vines, buttercup, grass and other weeds from an area near the entrance to the site. This is what that area looked like in April 2019, the first time we worked there.

Even though the area had been cleared before, the weeds had come back; and the shrubs had formed a thicket that hung across the sidewalk. By the time the first team finished their work, the clearing of this area was well underway.

The two teams joined together and cleared the rest of the weeds. While the students were digging out weeds, Dave cut down the dead laurel trunks that surrounded a pine tree. Then he and I pruned the shrubs. Once the invasive plants were gone, we all covered the area with wood chips.

This was one of those weeks that I got so involved in the work that I, for the most part, forgot to take photos. The photo below will have to represent all of the students and staff who were working in that area.

The transformation in the space was remarkable.

Click on the photo gallery to enlarge the pictures.

The shrubs need more pruning but they look so much better; and they are no longer hanging over the sidewalk.

This was the last session for these service-learning students. They each have made a significant contribution to this site and they all seemed to enjoy their time here. I feel so grateful for their presence and their help.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: DocuSign Planting Day November 13, 2019

On November 15, 2017, a corporate group from DocuSign came to work at our restoration site for the first time. The event was held on their Global IMPACT Day. At that time, I looked up the philosophy behind Impact Day and found this statement:

We believe character is defined through action. With DocuSign IMPACT, we are committed to putting this character into action by harnessing the power of DocuSign’s people, products, and profits to make a difference in the global communities in which our employees and customers live and work.

Employees from DocuSign also worked in our site in April 2018, November 2018, April 2019; and on November 13, 2019, they returned to do our fall planting.  DocuSign has become a valuable part of our restoration team.

Prior to the event, the spots where the trees, shrubs and ground covers would be planted were cleared and marked with green or pink flags. The pots containing the plants were put next to the flags a day or two before the work party

When the big day arrived, 21 DocuSign employees and 2 students from Seattle Central Community College participated. Our staff consisted of Claire, Shirley and me from GreenFriends; Susan, a Forest Steward from another Cheasty Greenspace site; John, who is a neighbor; and Antje, who is one of our team leaders.

Following an initial orientation, everyone divided into four teams and got to work. After each plant was planted, the volunteers put a ring of wood chips around it. The wood chip rings help in retaining moisture and reducing weed growth.

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

Once the teams finished planting their areas, they did other restoration work. Two of the four groups added wood chips to rings around previously-planted trees and shrubs. The third group cleared invasive vines from the land on the sides of the Hanford Stairs. The fourth group finished clearing an area along Cheasty Boulevard and then planted some shrubs and ground covers in that area. This was the first time we had planted in that part of the site.

One hundred and sixty-seven trees, shrubs, and ground covers were planted that day. The gallery below shows some of the species we planted.

[The plants from the November 2019 planting will all be tagged with light blue flagging tape. You can see it in most of the photos. Flagging stakes, such as the one in the first photo, still need to be added to some of the smaller plants. The flagging tape allows us to know when a particular plant was planted. This blue tape will be used for the November 2019-March 2020 planting season.]

And here are some photos of the newly planted Cheasty Boulevard area.

The DocuSign employees, students, neighbor and team leaders did amazing work and I think everyone had a good time. Rumor has it that DocuSign may come back again in April. I sure hope that is the case!

I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated in our November 2019 planting day and to those who helped prepare for it. Each person made a significant and important contribution to the goal of returning this stretch of Seattle’s Greenbelt to a healthy forest.

Greenbelt Restoration Project: Service-Learning Sessions 1-3

This quarter, we have students from the University of Washington’s Service-Learning program (Carlson Center) helping on our site. The Carlson Center’s service opportunities are tied to academic courses. Two of the students are from an introductory level course in the College of the Environment and four are from an English composition course that is focusing on social issues.

The service-learning students will work in our forest restoration site every week for seven weeks. Each session will last three hours.

Session 1: October 8

Our forest restoration project gives everyone who participates the opportunity to practice flexibility, especially the leaders. That was certainly true of the day the students came to our site for their first session.

In the week that led up to the first session, the weather forecast changed many times; in fact, sometimes it changed several times a day. (We can work in the rain, but we have to cancel if it is windy since many of the trees on the site are old and it is not unusual for branches to fall during wind storms. And we didn’t like the idea of the students’ first experience being in heavy rain.) Often the weather during our work parties is better than the forecast, so we hoped Mother Nature would support us in that way again.

On the day of the event, the weather changed even more often. An hour or two before the work party there was some lightning. (We wouldn’t work in lightning either.) As I was doing the final setup for the work party, the rain was pouring.

Shirley, who co-leads these sessions with me, and I had decided to hold the orientation in my house and to make it much more comprehensive than normal. When the students arrived, it was still raining, but the rain wasn’t as heavy as it had been earlier. After the orientation, Shirley and I took them on a tour of the site. By then, the rain had changed to a light shower. And, by the time we were ready to do the restoration work, the sun was shining!

We had reviewed the plan for what work we would do during the first work party numerous times over the preceding week. As we took the tour of the site, we decided the five students and two leaders would break into two teams; we would cut back the blackberry vines that were shooting into the site from the blackberry barrier that goes along the southern border, separating our site from the neighbor’s land.

Click on any of the photo galleries below to enlarge the photos.

In the two photos above, you can see some of the many piles of blackberry vines that were removed during that first session. The cuttings were carried on tarps to drying racks in other parts of the site. In the photos below, you can see what two of the border areas looked like when we finished that day

Session 2: October 15

Six students attended the second service-learning session. Antje, one of our other team leaders, also participated. We worked together near the red twig dogwood area, an area that is very near wetlands. That land is full of horsetails, a native plant that is older than the dinosaurs. It also contained invasive bindwood, blackberry and ivy vines, as well as nightshade and other weeds. We removed the invasive vines and weeds, but left the horsetails alone.

You can see before and after pictures of the area the students worked in that day below. The invasive vines are gone and the native plants are more visible.

After a break, the students removed a big pile of dried cuttings from another area, and took them to a different part of the site where they will break down even further. We will be able to plant shrubs in the space where the large pile of debris the students moved that day once stood.

Session 3: October 22

During this session, five students and the three leaders tackled an area that had been worked on twice during summer work parties. There was still plenty of clearing that needed to be done.

Dried blackberry canes and branches covered the ground, as well as live ivy, blackberry vines and other invasive plants. Under the dried debris, we found layers and layers of ivy vines. They criss-crossed so much that they seemed woven. It is possible that these layers represented 50 years of ivy growth. The students carried many loads of invasive vines to drying racks that day.

This is what the space looked like at the end of the session. It is another area where native trees and shrubs will be planted in November.

This group has accomplished so much during their first three service-learning sessions. I am always amazed by how much the land transforms during each work party.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: Expedia Day of Caring

Friday, September 6 was Expedia’s Day of Caring. Twenty of their employees chose to work in our Greenbelt site on that special day. It was wonderful to have them. Many of the volunteers had previous experience doing forest restoration work; their experience was an added bonus.

After an initial orientation, the group divided into four teams. One or two of our team leaders guided the work of each team.

Team 1: Shirley’s team removed weeds and other invasive plants in an area we had begun to clear during a previous work party. While it will take numerous groups to completely clear this section of the Greenbelt, the Expedia team made tremendous progress.

Team 2: Susan’s team started clearing an area along Cheasty Boulevard, which borders the eastern portion of the site.

There were some native shrubs in this area, but when we started it was hard to see them since they were mixed with weeds and invasive plants. The next two photos are before and after photos of a section like that.

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

Laurels, hawthorne, and holly are invasive shrubs. The first photo below shows one of the patches of hawthorne and holly prior to the work party. The second photo shows what the area looked like after the weeds were cleared and the lower limbs of the shrubs were removed so that the Parks Department staff can easily find them when they come to treat invasive shrubs/trees.

This team also disassembled a pile of dried debris that had been created from invasive plant cuttings during earlier work parties. After they took the pile apart, they spread the dried debris along the ground. Next they made a new drying rack to hold the blackberry and ivy vines, as well as other weeds, they removed on that day.

Team 3: Haley’s team removed invasive bindweed that had invaded two planting areas. In many cases, the bindweed traveled through and over horsetails. (Horsetails are native plants that were around before the dinosaurs so we leave them alone.) This team also removed the blackberry vines that were entering planting areas from the other side of the border. The border of that planting area is on a very steep slope so removing the blackberry root balls is not an option; the best we can do is to continue to cut them back when they enter the planting area.

The first photo below shows the bindweed in this area before the July 24 work party. I’m using this photo even though there wasn’t this much bindweed on September 6th because it shows the bindweed clearer than photos I took before this work party. I say no visible bindweed in the second photo because the roots can go 32 feet down!

The next photos are of the area where the blackberry vines were cut back. Seattle Parks Department cut up a tree that had fallen into our planting areas earlier in the year and used the pieces to create a border for us.

Team 4: John and I led a team that weeded a part of the site where many blackberry, ivy and periwinkle vines were emerging from the ground. We had planted the area in March of this year and had pulled out weeds and invasive vines many times since then. This time we focused on digging out the blackberry root balls as well as removing grass and other weeds.

This work party lasted 4 1/2 hours rather than the normal 3 hours. After a lunch break, we created a bucket brigade to bring wood chips from our wood chip pile on 25th Avenue S into the Greenbelt site. The first thing we did with the wood chip was to spread them along a 125 foot path.

Once the path was completed, we focused on creating piles of wood chips on the site. These wood chip piles will make it easier for volunteers to construct 4-inch-high wood chip rings around each new tree, shrub and ground-cover we plant in mid-November.

By the end of this segment of the work party, we had moved nearly 8 cubic yards of wood chips into the site! Afterwards, we picked up and put away the tools and supplies and then met for a closing to celebrate all that we had accomplished that day.

I feel so grateful for all of the Expedia volunteers who participated in this work party as well as 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”.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: August 3, 2019

The August 3 work party was the biggest we’ve had in a long time. Volunteers included six team leaders, 19 students from the UW’s Introduction to Environmental Science class, a friend of one of the students, two people who found us on the Green Seattle Partnership Event Page, and a neighbor who comes to almost all of our work parties.

The event started with an orientation that included a welcome, staff introduction, information about project history, safety tips, schedule of the day and more. We planned to have two work sessions, with a snack break in the middle.

After the orientation we divided into six teams and started to work.

Team 1

Shirley’s team focused on watering the plants in the southern planting areas. Any plant that showed any sign of distress received two gallons of water. The team watered 90 plants! The photos below show this team at work. (In the background of the fourth and fifth photos below, you can also see neighbor John removing blackberry vines and blackberry root balls.)

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

Team 2

Claire’s team worked in the Rack Zone, an area that used to be filled with drying racks. We put all of the invasive blackberry vines, ivy and other weeds on drying racks so that they don’t re-root. Earlier this year, we took down most of those racks and spread the dried debris around the Rack Zone. After the debris has had more time to break down and become soil, the Rack Zone will become another planting area.

During the August 3 work party, the volunteers removed weeds that were growing in the Rack Zone; spread dried debris that had been brought there from other racks on the site; and took apart the rest of the original Rack Zone racks.

On January 22, 2019, I had been surprised to see a shovel lying against the Rack Zone wall. On January 23, I was even more surprised to see an unpotted plant in the same place. The plant was tagged with blue and white checkered flagging tape which meant that it had been planted during the November 2017-March 2018 planting season… but I never found an empty hole on our site. Where had it come from?

I had no idea if the plant was dead or alive, but since I couldn’t think of a rational reason for these occurrences, I decided it was “supposed” to be the first shrub we planted in the Rack Zone even though I had planned to wait another year before planting that area. So I planted the mystery plant.

It took months before it became obvious the shrub was alive, and longer still before we determined it was an oceanspray shrub. That plant not only survived, it thrived. This is what the once possibly dead plant looks like now!

Team 3

My team completed jobs in three different parts of the site. They learned how to build a drying rack and then built one, cut dead branches from an old vine maple shrub, and removed two patches of invasive ivy. (The first photo is of the new rack; the photo under it is the group removing the dead branches of the shrub, the vertical photo and the fourth one are of the team removing ivy and the last photo shows one of areas after they cleared ivy from it.)

Team 4

Dave’s team worked in the southeast part of the site. That area had never been completely cleared and had been covered by tall weeds for some time. Recently, long blackberry vines had also invaded the area.

This is what that section of the site looked like at the beginning of the work party.

It was really hot in that section of the site, so at one point during the morning, we decided to move the group to a cooler area. Three of the five members of the group preferred to work in the sun so they stayed put.

The photo below is of Subgroup A working.

And this is what that area looked like at the end of the first work session.

Clearly there is much more clearing to do here but the group made tremendous progress.

Subgroup B removed blackberry root balls in an area where volunteers had cut down blackberry vines during the July 29 work party. Prior to that work party the blackberry vines had been so dense that you couldn’t walk through them. The next set of photos are of Subgroup B working.

Team 5 Antje

During the July 28 work party Antje led a group who removed weeds from both sides of the Hanford Stairs. Her August 3 team continued that work. In many places along the stairs, native fringe cup plants were covered by a layer of an invasive buttercup plants. The team’s challenge was to remove the buttercup plants without removing the fringe cup.

This is what one of those areas looked like on July 27.

And this is what some of the areas looked like when we took our break on August 3.

Team 6

Christine’s team worked in an area that is on the far side of the Hanford Stairs. At the beginning of the work party, there were many blackberry shoots, grass and other weeds in this section. By break time most of the invasive plants were gone and the native plants were much more visible.

The work party had begun at 10 am. At 11:30 we took a 20 minute snack break. We decided to use the second work session to spread wood chips on one of the paths in the site. We did that by creating a wood chip bucket brigade that went from a wood chip pile on Cheasty Boulevard, up the Hanford Stairs, into the Greenbelt and to the end of the lower path. Buckets were filled at the wood pile and then passed up the line until they reached the people who were pouring the wood chips onto the path. Once the buckets were empty, they were passed down the line until they again reached the wood chip pile. There, they were refilled and the whole process started once again.

Remember, you can click on the photo gallery to enlarge the photos.

In 45 minutes, we had created the bucket brigade and spread wood chips over a path that is about 250 feet long! When we finished that job, we put away the tools and supplies and gathered for a closing.

The August 3 event was another very successful work party. I’m always astounded by how much volunteers can accomplish in three hours time. The old adage, “many hands make light work” is true!

***

I feel so grateful for all of the volunteers who participated in this work party as well as 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”.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: July 7, 2019

On Sunday July 7, we held our second work party of the summer. Twenty-two students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class participated in the event, as did a volunteer who found us on the Green Seattle Partnership Event Page and a neighbor. One of our team leaders was unable to come that day, so Claire and I led the work party by ourselves. That ended up working fine since most of the work we did that day was done together.

After the orientation, the first task for the day was to add or reinforce wood chip rings around many of the trees, shrubs and ground covers we have planted since fall of 2017. The rings help hold in moisture during the dry summer months. During the work party, volunteers would also be watering some of the plants. After a snack break, we planned to remove bindweed from a Greenbelt site across Cheasty Blvd.

The area where we would start building the wood chip rings was on the far side of the site, far away from the wood chip pile. First of all, everyone filled buckets with wood chips. Afterwards, some of the students stayed at the wood chip pile and refilled the empty buckets as they were returned to the pile.

Most of the students formed a long line between the wood chip pile and the area where the chips would be placed around the plants. Buckets full of wood chips were passed from one person to another down the “bucket brigade” line. After the buckets were emptied, they were returned to the wood chip pile in the same manner. (I’m aware that my photos of the line only show empty buckets. Be assured that MANY filled buckets were passed as well!)

At the far end of the line, other volunteers created or reinforced the wood chip rings. They completed the rings in the far planting area much faster than I expected and then moved on to other parts of the site. They ended up making functional wood chip rings on about half of the site.

When I surveyed the work the next day, I was amazed to discover that the volunteers had completed 123 wood chip rings!

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

About 45 minutes into the work party, a small group was pulled from the bucket brigade line to start the watering. I have been watering some of the Greenbelt plants since the cistern was installed on the site, but this was the first time we’ve done it at a work party. The cistern is located near the top of the Hanford Stairs. The water system operates solely by gravity, so if we are working in a high area, which we were, the water pressure can be very low.

I was filling the buckets near the bottom of the highest planting area. Even so, the water came through the hose slowly. We have been asked by the Seattle Parks Department staff to give two gallons of water to each plant that needs it. I had a hard time filling buckets fast enough keep up with the volunteers who were pouring the water on the plants. Eventually, we started filling the buckets even lower on the site. That meant the volunteers had to carry the buckets further, but moving to the lower area really increased the water flow.

I’m sorry I didn’t get more photos of the water team; I was too busy figuring out how to get them water. Due to our persistence, 33 plants received two gallons of water during the work party!

An hour-and-a-half into the event, we took a break. Since the snack that day was ice cream, and because we had so few team leaders, I decided to hold the break on the back deck of my house; my house is adjacent to the Greenbelt. When the snack was ready, I looked down into the site and saw Claire leading a long line of volunteers towards my house. It was an amazing sight. After enjoying the ice cream, we took a group photo.

After the break, we walked down the Hanford Stairs and crossed Cheasty Blvd. Once there, we started digging out bindweed. (Last week, I wrote about some experiences in that site. That post was called “Oh No’s”.)

This is what the area looked like when we stopped at the end of the work party. We had filled six or seven bags with bindweed.

Since the bindweed in this site has been growing back so fast, I am doubtful that the area we cleared will stay clear. I wrote my Green Seattle Partnership supervisors today and asked for direction.

We had a wonderful work party. I feel so grateful for all of the volunteers who participated in the July 7th work party as well as 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”.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: June 29, 2019

From Spring Quarter of 2017 through Autumn Quarter of 2018, students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class helped with the forest restoration work on our site. In fact, they were our major source of volunteers!

I was very disappointed when the teacher retired at the end of 2018; disappointed for me, not for him. I had been told that he would probably teach the class again Summer Quarter of 2019. And he is! Students from the class attended our June 29 event, our first work party of the summer.

Shirley, Claire, Dave and I served as team leaders. Sixteen students from the Introduction to Environmental Science class, friends of two of the students, and John, a neighbor who has attended almost all of our work parties participated. Two other neighbors helped for a while; one signed in participants as they arrived and another took many of the photographs.

After an orientation, the participants were divided into four groups.

There were several places on the site where our native trees, shrubs and ground covers were being overtaken by blackberry and bindweed vines as well as other weeds. This was particularly a problem on the borders of the property. Shirley’s group cleared away the invasive plants on one of the planting areas that borders the east side of the site.

Click on any of the photo galleries to enlarge the photos!

***

Dave’s group worked on the upper south planting areas. There the blackberries had completely covered a debris pile that had been created when we first cleared blackberry and ivy vines from that portion of the land. Only a tiny bit of the dried debris was visible.

The group cut the blackberry vines away from the debris pile and in nearby areas and then took many loads of the dried debris to another part of the site. They carried the live cuttings to drying racks located elsewhere on the property.

John also worked in that area. With his trusty pickaxe, he cleared many blackberry vines and weeds from the southwest corner of the site.

***

Generally, I focus on coordinating the event rather than leading a team. At this work party though, I lead a small team of three students. They worked on two projects. They did such a good job, even though I was only with them from time to time.

When there is a dead tree on the site, it is generally not cut down. As the tree decays, and even after it falls, it nourishes birds, animals and insects either by providing shelter or food. There was a dead shrub on this property that had grown as big as a small tree. Its branches were dropping into some of our new trees and shrubs. The first job this group did was to cut back those low hanging branches so they didn’t interfere with the growth of the new native plants.

When the students finished that project, they started clearing the blackberry vines that were growing into the planting areas along the lower part of the southern border of the site.

Claire’s group cleared bindweed and other invasive plants from an area that was also covered with native bracken ferns. Those ferns had surprised me when they emerged from the ground last year since I didn’t know they were there. They covered a lot of the native plants we had planted.

It was tricky to remove the invasive bindweed without hurting the bracken ferns or other native plants but the students did a good job of doing it. Towards the end of the work party they also removed the suckers that were coming out of two maple trees.

The work party had begun at 10:00 a.m. At 11:30 we stopped for a snack break and to take a group photo.

After the break, all of the groups continued their work. At 12:40 participants began the final tasks. They put the remainder of the invasive plants they had removed on drying racks, gathered the tools and took them to the tool box, put all the supplies away and joined together for a closing. During the closing, we celebrated all that they had accomplished during the three hour work party.

I think everyone had a good time. I sure did!

Service-Learning Work Parties: May 6, 13 and 20, 2019

On May 6, the UW students came for their fifth service-learning experience. Most weeks Shirley, one of our team leaders, and I both work with the students. This week Shirley was not available. The rest of us weeded four planting areas (2050 sq. ft.) and put wood chip rings around 90 trees, shrubs and ground covers in the eastern part of the site. The wood chip rings hold in moisture thereby increasing the chance the plants will survive during a dry summer.

On May 13, Shirley was back. Once again, we weeded and put wood chip rings around plants, this time in the northwest part of the site. These areas had many more weeds than the places where we had worked on May 6. At this work party, we weeded 3705 sq. ft. and built 116 wood chip rings. I’m sorry I didn’t take photos that day; but am glad that Shirley took a few.

However, the next day I did snap photos of some of the planting areas where we had worked. I thought they looked so beautiful.

May 20 was the last service-learning session. Shirley and I decided the group would spend the whole time working on the new site across Cheasty Boulevard. We had begun to clear bindweed and other invasive vines from that area on April 29. This was what the land looked like before and during the April 29 work party.

(You can enlarge the photos in any of the galleries by clicking on the gallery.)

We had done so much clearing on April 29. I was shocked when I visited that site two days before the May 20 work party. While some of our previous work was still visible, the bindweed was already on shrubs we had rescued at the earlier work party, and the bindweed we hadn’t pulled then had grown at an unbelievable rate.

I knew there was no way we would be able to remove all of the bindweed, ever; I’ve read that the roots can go down 32 feet! But we would clear away as much of it as we could.

I was surprised to see that many of the bindweed roots were woven together like a lattice. However, since the group that had planted the shrubs, years ago when the lower part of the Hanford Stairs were built, had covered the area with wood chips, the roots were more surface than I’ve ever seen before. To see what I mean by long roots, be sure to take a look at the last photo in the gallery below!

We filled bucket after bucket with the vines. Once the buckets were full, we emptied them on the drying racks along Cheasty Blvd that we had built last summer. (I took the photo of the drying rack four days later than the work party, so the bindweed was already wilting.)

We spent the last hour of the work party spreading wood chips on the part of the site we had cleared.

I have no illusion that the bindweed is gone but there is sure a lot less of it and the land we cleared looks wonderful. We had removed the bindweed from the area around three salal shrubs and two snowberry shrubs and circled them with wood chip rings. A few days later, I saw mushrooms had emerged from the ground a little lower on the site.

What a wonderful and productive last service-learning session we had. I feel very grateful to the students for all they have done during the last seven weeks. Because of their work, our Greenbelt restoration site is so much more prepared for the dry summer months.