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.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: Amrita Bala Kendra

On Sunday May 5, five children from the Seattle Amma Satsang’s Amrita Bala Kendra group, along with six of their adult family members held their second work party in our forest restoration site. (The group’s first visit to the site was a litter pick-up work party in February 2017.)

All of the small trees, shrubs and ground covers on the site have a ring of wood chips around them. The wood chips help the ground to retain water during the summer months. The area close to each of the plants is supposed to stay free of wood chips so that the plant will be able to take advantage of any rainfall. During this work party, the kids and their family members cleared away any wood chips that had fallen into the center of the rings.

They also poured wood chips around a new structure that had been built by the DocuSign team during the April 24 work party. It will be used as a “stage” for orientation, a place to sit during breaks and for group photos such as the one at the top of this post. The wood chips around the stage will become part of the system of paths on the property.

The group was blessed with a beautiful day, made a significant contribution to this future forest, and had a fun time together.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: April 24, 2019

On April 24, DocuSign, a Seattle corporate group, came to help with our restoration project– for the fourth time! They are such a fun group to work with and are so productive.

We completed many tasks during the work party. One group removed the blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines, as well as other weeds, that were emerging in the south-end planting areas. When other groups finished their assigned tasks, they joined this group.

(To enlarge the photos click on any of the galleries.)

A second group was building new drying racks. Drying racks are used to keep the invasive blackberry, bindweed and ivy vines off of the ground while they dry out. If the vines are left on the ground, there is a good chance they will re-root.

A third group disassembled a pile of branches. They used some of them as mulch and distributed the rest to groups who were building new drying racks. 

A fourth group built two drying racks and then stacked laurel branches on them to dry.  An important element in urban forest restoration is the removal of non-native and invasive species. (Laurel is considered an invasive species.) Treating the invasive and non-native plants onsite is effective because once the plant material is completely dried out, it is then used as mulch. 

A fifth group took an unsightly area that was filled with concrete slabs and broken cinder blocks and turned it into an area that not only looks nice but also has a structure we can use for orientation, breaks, group photos, etc. In fact, we used the new structure when we took the group photo at the top of this post!

Before

We accomplished so much during the work party thanks to the five team leaders and the DocuSign volunteers. Everyone seemed to enjoy the work. I was very excited when the DocuSign coordinator told me that they are planning to come back to our site in November. YAY! 

This is What the Dream Looks Like

Sreejit is in the process of writing a new song called This is What the Dream Looks Like. It is about his experience of living and working on Amma’s most recent North India Tour. The video below was taken when he shared the lyrics with a group in Amritapuri.

Lyrics:

Straw mat and a concrete floor, food in the corner from two days before, laundry hanging from a rope through the center of the room – this is what the dream looks like.

Callus hands but they weren’t always rough, sharp words but we weren’t always tough, one thing this life teaches is that, together, we are enough.

This is what the dream looks like, more than a struggle it’s a fight to be kind when you’re hungry and tired, ‘cause you don’t have any right to be tired

when people are coming to forget their problems, and maybe a little of your time could help solve them, maybe a kind word from you would absolve them of the feeling that they’re all alone – though sometimes we all feel that we are all alone – yeah this is what the dream looks like.

Beaten down by the work no one sees, ‘cause it’s always full-on behind the scenes to magnify the glitz and the lights – yeah this is what the dream looks like.

Getting home to see family at most once a year, and never bringing home the glam and the cheer – just wanting to hide in your bed, to watch tv just to get out of your head – yeah this is what the dream looks like.

Feet full of cracks and can barely walk, always falling asleep and so can barely talk, all eyes on you confused why you can’t form a sentence, let alone a thought,

always irritated by the smallest things, ‘cause that’s just what happens when you forget to eat, and that’s just what happens when you’re consumed with the work that you love – yeah it truly is a gift from above.

Straw mat and a concrete floor, kind of looks like the city before, but that place had water and this one you have to go next door,

but next door they have a kitchen and some home cooked food, and a friendly ear to pry out the blues if you choose to forget for a moment that you are not alone in the struggle – yeah this is what the dream looks like.

Tour photos:

We Freed the Shrub!

Last week, I heard that a Greenbelt tree had fallen onto the Hanford Stairs. When I walked through the snow to that area, I could see that branches had fallen, but they didn’t cover the stairs. I didn’t feel safe walking any closer to the stairs than I was; the snow was too deep and slippery.

On Friday, February 15, the sidewalks were clear, for the most part, so I headed back to that area to take a closer look at the fallen branches.

The tree was one that had been cut away from power lines numerous times in the past. I soon discovered it wasn’t just a few small branches that had broken off, it was a BIG one.

I also noticed that the branch had fallen on top of a Pacific Ninebark shrub; one that had been planted by a neighborhood work group many years ago.

I called John, the neighbor who has helped with our reforestation project from the beginning, and asked him to come take a look.

Before long, he was sawing part of the big branch and I was using a lopper to remove smaller branches

Once John had sawed through the branch, we discovered it was too heavy for him to move alone and I couldn’t be of much help. At that moment, another neighbor walked up to us and offered to help. She and John were able to remove the branch, free the shrub, and carry the branch to the other side of the stairs. They put it on top of a pile I had created for the smaller branches.

There was still much more of the fallen tree branch to deal with but that could wait until another day. At least the shrub was free and safe!

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: Martin Luther King Day of Service

On January 21, twenty-two eager volunteers met to do forest restoration work in our North Beacon Hill Greenbelt site. Four of the volunteers were veterans of this project and served as team leaders. Most of the other volunteers found out about the work party from Green Seattle Partnership listings; two found out about it from one of the local or regional Amma newsletters. Three children between 6 and 8, a pre-teen (12 years) and a teenager (13 years) participated.

This work party was held on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. When that holiday was being created his wife, Coretta Scott King, said it should be substantive as well as symbolic. Since his was a life of service, the holiday became a National Day of Service.

While I knew of Martin Luther King’s role in civil rights, I didn’t know that he inspired the environmental justice movement, a movement that believes everyone has the right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as a right to live in safe and healthy communities.

After receiving an initial orientation, the volunteers divided into four groups.

Group 1

One of the team leaders and three of the other volunteers started the process of taking down the racks in The Rack Zone. When we clear land of blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines, all of the cuttings and root balls are put onto racks so that they don’t touch the ground before they dry out. If the vines touch the ground, they may re-root. I refer to the invasive plants we have cut down or dug out as “debris”.

The racks are made from logs and branches. This is a photo of one of the racks we built early on.

In most parks, racks are scattered throughout a site, but since we had a house foundation on the property, we decided to put most of the racks there. The concrete slab that was under the foundation would also prevent re-rooting. We named that area The Rack Zone.

Our plan was to let all of invasive plant cuttings dry out and decompose. In that way good dirt would build up and we could plant beautiful flowering shrubs in that area.

This was what The Rack Zone looked like in July of 2017, several months after we started using it. You can see that under the new cuttings there is a lot of debris that is becoming dry. There are at least two racks in the photo that have been used yet.

In January of 2018, we took most of the racks apart but didn’t spread the debris; we just built new racks on top it. During 2018, the new racks became filled and overflowing. We would start the process of taking them down completely at this work party.

I thought that would be a long process since what taking them apart the previous year had taken a long time. I thought that these volunteers would disassemble one to three racks during the first portion of the work party. That process would include separating the dried debris from the debris that was still living, taking out any logs or branches that were too big to readily decompose, and spread the debris that was dry.

When I checked on the group later, I was astounded by what they had already accomplished.

By the end of that segment of the work party, they had finished taking apart all but three of the racks!

We still have to figure out what to do with all the branches and logs that were too big to spread in this future planting area. Right now they are stacked on the north and south sides of The Rack Zone. In addition, there was a lot of broken concrete under the racks. Those are stacked on the ledge of the foundation and will also need to be moved to some yet unknown location.

Groups 2 and 3

Two groups worked in the planting areas, clearing out leaves and wood chips from around each plant. We refer that area as a donut hole. In addition, some members of those groups cleared branches that had fallen onto the paths during the winter winds and/or carried buckets of leaves to the newly cleared areas of The Rack Zone. Once there, they will decompose and become part of the composted soil.

The groups cleared the donut holes in most of the site. Each area looked so nice when they finished.

Group 4

Another team leader and a volunteer began to clear an area that was full of blackberry vines and ivy.

This is part of what that area looked like by the time the work party ended.

The work party had begun at 10 a.m. At 11:30 a.m. we took a short snack break. Before we went back to work, we gathered for a group photo. While we took some serious photos, the one that I loved most was a funny one.

The parents with young children planned to go home early, and did. Most of the remaining volunteers moved to the Greenbelt site that is on the north side of the Hanford Stairs; our main site is south of the stairs. I have been eager to start restoration work in that area.

This is what that that land looked like in December 2018.

January 21, 2019 work party photos:

This photo was taken after we finished that day.

The volunteers had removed a lot of trash and ivy.

It always amazes me how much can be accomplished during a three-hour work party. The land always looks substantially different when the volunteers leave, after having given freely of their time and their energy. Together we are helping this part of Seattle’s Greenbelt to once again become a healthy forest.

If you live in the Seattle area and would like to help with a future work party, write hanfordstairsgreenbelt@gmail.com.

Practice in Letting Go: November 2018

I have found that our GreenFriends Greenbelt Restoration Project has provided me with seemly endless opportunities to practice life lessons and spiritual practices such as persistence, flexibility, being in the moment, surrender, impermanence, non-attachment, equanimity and letting go.

When I think of letting go, I think of the title of a book that I purchased in the mid-80’s, Life is Goodbye, Life is Hello: Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss. The title reminds me that loss is inevitable and it often, if not usually, leads to grief. I know that grief includes anger and fear as well as sadness.

I believe that every ending brings with it a new beginning and that it becomes easier for us to let go as our faith grows; e.g. faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in others. As I reflect on letting go, I also remember that I wrote 23 Affirmations for Letting Go in 1994 and shared them in this blog in March of 2014. To see those affirmations click here.

I knew early on that the reforestation work would give me many opportunities to practice letting go. In my initial Forest Steward training, the students were told that we should be prepared to lose 30% of the trees, shrubs and ground covers that we plant. The thought of so many plants dying was totally unacceptable to me, but I also realized that I have no control over the weather and very little control over disease.

A forest is not like a garden that you can keep well watered; the amount of water that the plants receive is determined by the weather. I did have some control over whether the plants were planted properly and stayed free of invasive blackberry, ivy and bindweed vines. And I could give them my attention and my love. My job would be to put in the effort and let go of the results.

Just before we did our first tree planting in November of 2017, our GreenFriends group performed rituals asking Mother Nature for permission to plant and requesting that she protect and nurture everything we planted. We didn’t lose anywhere near 30% of our initial planting. In fact, during this summer’s long drought, only one of the trees died and almost all of the shrubs and ground covers grew substantially.

While I have experienced lessons in letting go throughout the project, November 2018 seemed to bring more of them than ever before. Before I tell you about some of those events, I will share a bit of back story. In April of 2018, I decided we would clear some of the invasive vines on Cheasty Boulevard, the street on the east side of our site. As I walked down the road looking for a place to start, my eyes fell on some gigantic cottonwoods hidden among dense blackberry and ivy vines. I thought that was a perfect area for us to begin the new endeavor.

On April 27, a corporate group from DocuSign came to work on our site. We divided the participants into several groups with each group having a team leader. One group worked on freeing those cottonwood trees from the invasive vines.

In the months after the work party, I enjoyed walking down Cheasty Blvd. to visit the trees. They were so big and majestic. The photos above don’t accurately reflect their height or their width. Then, on November 5th, I received a notice from one of the Green Seattle Partnership staff saying that a number of cottonwood trees on Cheasty Blvd. were going to be cut down. Tests had been done that showed the trees were hollow and had significant decay in the lower part of the trees and roots. If they fell, they would be dangerous.

I had a sense that some of the trees that were to be removed were “my trees” so I walked down the Hanford stairs to look. Two of those trees had big R’s written in white chalk on the trunks which confirmed my fear. I was not surprised though. The trees were very old and one had a big fungus (Ganoderma) on it, which is also a sign of decay.

My lack of surprise was also because in July, a smaller cottonwood tree had fallen across the road. I say smaller but it was still very tall; tall enough that when it fell, it took down the power lines on the far side of the street. When I looked at at the remains of that tree later, I had seen that it was hollow. So even though I was sad that the big cottonwoods were going to be cut down, I understood the importance of the act. Safety was of primary importance. It was much easier for me to accept this situation and let go than it might have been in a different circumstance.

The trees that were to be removed were so big that the city had to hire a crane company to cut down the top part of the trees. I didn’t go anywhere near the work that day, but I did look at and take pictures of it from my back yard, which borders the site. I was shocked when I saw the size of the crane through the trees. My uneducated guess was that it was 250 feet high. (There is a steep drop off between the main part of our site and Cheasty Blvd. so the bottom quarter of the crane and tree trunks can not be seen in the photos below.)

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

The person in the basket not only cut off the top portion of the tree, he/she also cut off most or all of the branches . At one point during the day, my whole house shook. I thought that must have been caused by one of the tops falling to the earth, or was it a whole tree?

I thought it was curious that several of the largest trees were left standing. I later found out that Seattle Parks Department will be finishing the job.

The next day, I walked into the Greenbelt, as I do most days. When I arrived at our eastern planting areas, I was horrified to see that the top of one of the trees was covering all of one planting area and part of another. I had never considered that as a possibility. There didn’t seem any chance that our plants could have survived such an event. I knew it was another letting go opportunity, but this one wasn’t going to be easy, I was way too attached.

 

 

When I looked closely, I could see one of the trees through the branches. I walked back to my house to get a pair of hand clippers and cut away some of the branches. I could tell that the tree was going to be okay.

We had a work party scheduled for the next day. It was obvious that we would need to let go of at least part of our plans for the work party. I didn’t know how we would manage to move the big branches but that wasn’t the task for the present, dealing with the smaller branches would be the first step.

I called Andrea, one of my Green Seattle Partnership supervisors. We talked about what had happened and she agreed we could remove some of the small branches but said we would need to be sure none of the ones that were holding the tree off the ground were cut. We didn’t want to chance anyone getting hurt.

Andrea mentioned that some Parks Department staff would be coming later that day and would take a look at the situation. When I walked down to that part of the site that evening, I was astounded by what I saw.

The Parks Department staff had indeed come. They had cut up all of the branches and had stacked them neatly out of the way. I soon discovered that not a single plant had been injured by the falling tree or by the staff’s work. In fact, the planting areas were neater than they had been before the event. The branches, and the trunk that had fallen outside of the planting area, would decrease the chance of erosion and would become a home for insects and other wildlife.

 

 

What an experience this had been. I felt like I had been on a roller coaster. I had been willing to let go, but not until I put in the effort to do what I could do to save the plants. I had also been willing to let go of the plans for the work party so we could do things that were more important.

In the end, the plants were fine and we were able to return to the original work party plan. My faith in the support that is available from Green Seattle Partnership and the Seattle Parks Department had grown.

As I reflected on the incident during the next few days, I remembered the rituals we had done asking Mother Nature to protect the plants. My faith in that process also grew.

One morning during the next week or two, as I was waking up, I was pondering how I would write this post. When I got out of bed and checked my email, I received another shock, and another letting go opportunity. Again, the challenge was related to the Greenbelt reforestation work.

But that is a story for another post!

Guest Post: A Morning With The Greenbelt Crew by Lin Rose

Lin

“I’m looking for Karuna,” a tall young man said as he descended the first tier of the Hanford Stairs to the Greenbelt work party.

He was the last of 20 volunteers from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class that turned up on a cold, foggy morning in Seattle to volunteer their labor. Below us, the silver cars of the Light Rail Transit system rattled across the horizon, headed for SeaTac. Tall maples showing fall colors formed a canopy overhead, and ferns filled the understory.

“Just sign your name here on the roster,” I said, offering my clipboard. “Then follow the blue flags along the trail to find Karuna and the others and get some work gloves.”

He strode off enthusiastically into the greenery, leaving me free to walk around the work site and take pictures. I had been afraid the footing would be too uneven for me to handle, but the expertly built wood-chip trails were cushy and sturdy. I just followed the dozens of little blue flags marking the way.

Seeing what the crews have accomplished during this year’s and last year’s work seasons blew me away. The photographs over the months have simply not done the scene justice! For one thing, the drying piles of blackberry and ivy debris are bigger than they look, and areas that have been re-planted with native trees and plants have a more complex flagging and labeling system than can be captured in photos.

I could tell the layout has been carefully thought out and executed. The site will become a lovely forest as everything begins to take hold and mature.

Another way to tell what has been accomplished is to compare the left side of the Hanford Stairs to the right side.

To the right of the stairs (see the photo below—the north side of the site) is a solid wall of greenery—you can’t even make out individual trees among the tall tangle of blackberries, miscellaneous vines, and other invasive plants. It’s a telling indication of what the greenbelt volunteers had to deal with when they began the cleanup!

To the left of the stairs—the south side of the site—is an open slope dotted with ferns and tiny new plantings below the maples, cedars, cherry, and alder trees that now stand in the open, free of their former strangulation by ivy and blackberry vines.

 

My photos don’t do any better justice to the project than those before them—but I can’t resist trying to give a sense of the work that’s being done.

Watching the students’ bucket brigade reminded me of a line of ants as they carried wood chips from a giant pile at the foot of the stairs, across the road, up the stairs, and handed them off to other workers lined up along the trail. The trail ants ferried buckets to an area where they were being emptied around some new plantings to form a trail. Then the ants headed back down the stairs and started over. I was transfixed by all that youthful energy and willing teamwork.

 

Karuna unobtrusively walked a circular loop that went up and down the stairs and back and forth on the trail as she conferred with coordinators spotted around at strategic points to direct the volunteers. Clearly, she loves this place. If she stood still long enough, she might grow roots right in the middle of a cluster of ferns.

Greenbelt Restoration Site: We Are Almost Ready!

We’ve been preparing for our first 2018-19 season planting day for months. We’ve done that by 1) putting a three inch layer of wood chips on the paths that run throughout the site, 2)clearing new planting areas, and 3) weeding the existing planting areas.

In mid October, I started making “plant signs” by writing the name of each plant we had ordered from the Seattle Parks Department on a Popsicle stick. The “signs” would be put into each of the pots once we received the plants. After each tree, shrub or ground cover has been planted, the volunteer who does the planting will push the sign into the ground next to the plant.

Each year, flagging tape is used to tag the plants so we know what year each of them was planted. Blue and white checkered tape was used throughout the 2017-18 planting season. During the 2018-19 season, the tape will be red with black polka dots. This year’s flagging tape was chosen by a group of children!

The normal practice is to tag each plant after it is planted. This year, we are going to put the tape on the plants before the planting day. That will ensure that each plant is tagged and will allow the us to tag the plants in a more leisurely manner.

Small plants are often not able to be tagged in the same way as the larger ones, since they may have fragile or tiny stems. In the past, we have picked up a dried branch from the ground and put the flagging tape on one end and then pushed the branch into the ground near the newly planted plant. This year, I decided to prepare the flagging sticks ahead of time too. It occurred to me this was also a way to put the small but sturdy branches that are in our debris piles to good use.

I gathered several branches from the site and brought them into my house where I could prepare the sticks in comfort. From these few branches, I was able to make 65 flagging sticks! I needed to make more, but this was a good start. (Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

A fellow student in my Tai Chi class gave our restoration site three cedar trees he had raised. Those were the first trees I tagged.

Our plants arrived on October 30. When they were delivered, they had no labels and were not sorted.

It was a lot easier for me to sort the plants this year than last, since I was more familiar with the plants. I sent photos of the varieties that I wasn’t sure about to Jayanand, a plant ecologist friend who lives in Pt. Angeles. Soon, all of the plants were sorted and ready to be tagged.

After our October 21st work party, Sarva, Anavadya and I picked out locations for the 33 trees we will be planting. Sarva and I also met on November 4th to decide where most of the shrubs and ground covers will go.

The other thing that happened on November 4th was that Kavita performed a puja asking Mother Nature for her blessing, to protect and help the new plants to grow.

We already have 37 volunteers registered for our November 10th work party. On that day, we will finish preparing the site for planting. After that work party, Sarva and I will put the plants on the spots where they are to be planted; and on the 12th or 13th, Anavadya and I will distribute the 95 plants that don’t have a designated space yet.

Then, on November 15th, most or all of the trees, shrubs and ground covers will be planted by DocuSign employees, a corporate group. This is such an exciting time of the year.