A Weekend of Gifts

Last weekend, was quite a weekend. I felt like I received one gift after another. They weren’t life challenges that many of us often refer to as “another gift from the universe.” While I believe even those gifts are “for my own good” and should be respected, that phrase is often said with an eye roll and a bit of sarcasm. The gifts I’m talking about in this post are the “feel good” kind of gifts.

The weekend series started when I looked at my Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward’s handbook and discovered that all of our plants for the season were supposed to have been planted by March 1. I thought I had until sometime in April. That wasn’t the gift I am talking about either, although I am sure glad I found out about my error when I did.

The first “feel good” gifts came when I wrote my friends Sarva and Gopika and asked if they would help me plant the remainder of the plants… and they both said yes. Sarva was able to set a time for Saturday but Gopika couldn’t come until Sunday. It was my hope that Sarva and I would finish the planting on Saturday so Gopika and I could focus on the other work that needs to be completed before our upcoming March 17 work party.

On Saturday, Sarva and I planted 40 shrubs and 6 ground covers. We also placed burlap around most of the newly planted items. By the end, we were both exhausted, but we had finished the planting!

The next day, Gopika and I finished 1) writing the name of each plant on a popsicle stick and putting in the ground near the plant, 2) making sure a blue and white checkered tape and a flower that had been blessed during a ritual had been placed on or near every plant and 3) removing the pink flags that had marked the spot where the shrub or ground cover was to be planted. (The blue and white tape means that the item was planted during the 2017-2018 planting season.)

Our next step will be to cover all of the exposed burlap with wood chip mulch on March 17.

I received the second set of gifts when I kept an appointment with my auto mechanic. He was at the front counter talking with friends when I arrived. One of the friends had an interesting item in his hand. I asked if it was for a steering wheel and he said yes. A few minutes later he gave it to me, saying he would put it on the wheel. I wasn’t sure I wanted it, but it felt right to accept it, so I did. The friends had trouble stretching it onto the wheel but they finally got it on.

I had mixed feelings about the gift. It seemed gaudy and I don’t like drawing attention to myself. And as I drove with it on the wheel, I also became concerned that it added too much width to the steering wheel to be comfortable. During the days that followed, I discovered that the cover makes it easier to spot my car from a distance and it is so nice to not have to touch a cold wheel when I get into the car during freezing temperatures. I think I will get used to this new form of comfort.

After my mechanic replaced my brake light, he surprised me by saying there would be no charge.  And another auto problem I was having when I had made the appointment on Friday, resolved before I got there. From my perspective, both of those experiences were also gifts.

The third set of gifts started when my neighbor Jason notified me on Friday that a colleague of his had rescued a Douglas Fir tree from a rockery several years back; the tree was now eight-feet tall. She had asked him if he knew of a place where it could be planted. He asked if we could plant it in the Greenbelt restoration site.

We’ve planted so many trees this year that I wasn’t sure I would have a place for it. When I looked around though, I saw a spot in the middle of a grove of maple trees. Those trees are very old and we’ve been focusing on planting trees that will eventually replace them.

Jason said he would bring the tree to the site on Sunday. I considered asking another neighbor, John, to help plant it, but I didn’t do it. As I walked towards the Greenbelt to meet Jason, John walked out of his house. I asked if he would help with the planting and he said yes.

This weekend, I felt as if I had received gifts from Sarva, Gopika, Jason, Jason’s friend, John, my mechanic, the mechanics friends, as well as feel good gifts from “the universe”. My weekend had been both fulfilling and joyful.

(I’m laughing. Minutes after I finished writing this post, I received a notice that went out to the Forest Stewards saying that we can have extra plants if we want them! I’m taking that as another gift as well as an acknowledgement that it was not a problem that I didn’t have everything planted by March 1. Now I need to decide if I want to ask if more sword ferns are available. I believe we have enough of everything else for this planting season, but having more ferns might be nice.)


The Wonders of Nature

I love photographing decaying trees. This tree hasn’t fallen yet, but I suspect that will happen sometime this year.

Many years ago, I snapped a picture of a crow in this tree. I still remember how delighted I was when I saw how it turned out. I was even more fascinated, when I realized that I could see it as a photo of a crow, or as a photo of a person reaching for the sky, a person who has a crow perched on one hand.


The tree will continue to serve nature after it falls.  My friend Jayanand once told me:

Downed trees play an important role in maintaining the health and regeneration of forests. Not only do they provide nutrient pools for other plants during stand regeneration, they often even serve as “nurse logs” which support the germination and growth of other trees by providing substrate, moisture and nutrients to the seedlings and young saplings.  They also can act as carbon sinks by locking up carbon in the forest floor – instead of being released into the atmosphere by burning. Decaying wood provides habitat for a variety of plants and animals, adding to the diversity of life found in forested areas. Finally, downed woody material can also help prevent runoff and soil erosion.

I look forward to having this tree in my life for years to come.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: February 26, 2018 Planting Day

Monday, February 26 was an exciting day. On that day, 31 enthusiastic employees from Silver Creek Capital Management came to plant trees, shrubs and ground covers in our Greenbelt site. Our staff consisted of Nicole from Forterra, Claire a master gardener, and two Green Seattle Partnership Forest Stewards- Peter from Mt. Baker Park and me. Claire and I also belong to GreenFriends, the environmental arm of Embracing the World.

During the three-hour work party, we planted 17 trees, 75 shrubs and 77 ground covers! Every new plant is native to the Pacific Northwest. We spread two buckets of wood chip mulch around each plant to reduce weed growth and retain water. (The burlap we place on the ground after removing blackberries and ivy from the land also helps with weed reduction and water retention). At future work parties we will be covering any exposed burlap in the planting areas with wood chips.

(Click on the gallery above to enlarge the photos.)

Towards the end of the event, part of Nicole’s team cleared more land. They dug up some huge blackberry root balls.

A few days later I weighed the biggest one. It weighed almost 10 pounds!

When the work party was over, we cleaned and put away the tools and celebrated all we had done. I think everyone had enjoyed their experience.

Later, I took another look at what we had accomplished. Once again, I was awed by how much the land had been transformed by a single work party.

Photos by Laurel Webb, Nicole Marcotte and Karuna Poole


Kick Butts Day 2018

On March 4, members of the GreenFriends Pacific Northwest Litter Project held a cigarette butt pick up  in the International District of Seattle. The event was in honor of Kick Butts Day, a day of national activism sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. The actual day is later in the month, but since that day is mid-week we always hold our work party early. This is the seventh year we have supported Kick Butts Day in this way.

Twenty-one people participated in the butt pickup. We met at Hing Hay Park and then spread out throughout the District. Each person worked for 1-2 hours. At the end, we met back at the park to take a group photo.

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 will also keep them out of the landfill.

At the end of the work party, we put all of the butts we had collected into a bag. It was amazing to see how many we had picked up in such a short time.

When we weighed the bag later, we discovered that in two hours we had picked up 12.81 pounds of butts. That is approximately 12,810 cigarette filters. It had been another successful Kick Butts Day.


Thank you Ginny and Jyoti for taking photos.


Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: February 21, 22, and 23, 2018

Amma teaches us to “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.” She also teaches us that “What we need will be provided” and to “Put in the effort and let go of the results.” Taking those attitudes can help us to stay in the moment which in turn can decrease the tendency to worry about the future. The Greenbelt restoration work parties we held during the last half of February provided me with many opportunities to practice each of those attitudes.

Students who take the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science course are required to do three hours of volunteer work. I had scheduled a work party for February 17 because it was the weekend before their assignment was due. That is always our biggest work party of the quarter.

I was concerned about that work party though, because the people who usually lead teams at our events were going to be at a retreat in Oregon that weekend. I decided to “think outside the box” and started inviting neighbors and people in the Amma community who weren’t going to the retreat. None of them had worked on this project before, but I knew they would do a good job.  Pretty soon I had three volunteers. They all came to the site ahead of time for an orientation. We were ready!

I soon discovered more good news was in store. Someone who had planned to go to the retreat, decided not to go, and volunteered to help at the work party. She had lead teams many times so that was a real bonus. Then, the Forest Steward from Mt. Baker park wrote me and said he would help. Just before the work party, another neighbor volunteered to lead a team. I was excited. We had an abundance of staff. While all of this was coming together, 31 students registered for the work party. We were set. What a good example it had been of “What you need will be provided.”

Then “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig” took over. Days ahead of time, we heard that a big wind storm was coming on the same day as the work party. You can do forestry work in the rain, but you can’t do it in high winds; branches might break or trees might fall. On the 16th, it became obvious we couldn’t hold the work party. In fact, the Parks Department canceled work parties that day on a park by park basis. Ours was one that was canceled.

That left both me and the students in a dilemma. I needed to have the land prepared for a corporate group that was coming to plant trees, shrubs and ground covers on Monday, February 26. And the students needed their volunteer hours. I knew that most or all of the team leaders would be at work if I planned events during the week. I decided I would hold three small work parties on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and be prepared to lead them by myself.

The “Be like a bird” lesson continued as the weather forecasters talked about the possibility of breezy weather and snow. Would these work parties have to be canceled too? The first indication that what I needed would be provided was when I found out that two of the people who had been scheduled to lead teams on the 17th had the week off from work and would help with one of the work parties!

Wednesday, February 21

Wednesday arrived and all was well. In fact it was better than just “well.” A half hour before the work party began, Peter, the Forest Steward from Mt. Baker, emerged from the forest. Not only was he going to help with this work party, he was going to help with all three of them! What a surprise blessing he was. So we had two Forest Stewards and 7 students that day. We began to clear new areas of ivy and blackberries vines. We dug out some big blackberry roots!

(Click on the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Thursday, February 22

Knowing that Peter would be helping made it possible for me to accept more students than I had originally planned.  The work party grew to 23 students.

Maintaining the “Be like a bird” attitude was still important as the forecast was for snow and by Wednesday evening it was snowing, and sticking to the ground. Would I have to cancel the work party? I would decide in the morning.

Thursday’s work party had been scheduled to go from 2:30-5:30 to accommodate the students’ class schedule. The snow was very wet and was beginning to melt when I woke up that morning. Around 10 a.m. I decided to walk to the light rail and around the Greenbelt to see how much snow there was and whether we could work in it. I discovered the streets and sidewalks were clear and most of the Greenbelt was free of snow. What snow remained was melting. Even though the temperature was in the 30’s, it felt warmer than the day before because it was sunny.

My neighbor John also worked with us that day so we had three staff. We continued clearing the land that we had worked on the previous day.

After a snack break, we formed a bucket brigade and carried wood chips from the street into the site. The chips would be used as mulch during the February 26  planting work party.

While we were moving the wood chips, it started to snow lightly. When we finished, we cleaned and put away the tools and quickly headed back to our respective homes.

Friday, February 23

During the week’s third work party, we two Forest Stewards and three GreenFriends members served as staff. Twenty-one students participated. I experienced such a sense of abundance…. an abundance of staff and an abundance of students. Once again, what I had needed was provided.

About half of the students worked in the area we had been clearing during the previous work parties. We had cleared land that I hadn’t expected to clear until later this year! Peter, the Mt. Baker Forest Steward, worked with the students to create swale-like structures that will help prevent erosion. I appreciated learning new skills from him.

Another team worked in an area that has a big ivy mass. That team moved the big piles of ivy to the place on the site that has racks where ivy and blackberries can dry out rather than re-root.

A different group of students placed burlap around flags that were scattered through the site. Those flags marked the places we will be planting on the 26th.

After the break we formed another bucket brigade and finished moving the wood chips into the site.

After the remainder of the wood chips were onsite, we cleaned up and put away the tools, celebrated our accomplishments and went on our way.

What a week it had been. I was consistently challenged to stay in the moment, to let go, to trust what I need would be provided and to put in the effort and let go of the results.  And I had certainly felt like a bird perched on a dry twig. We accomplished so much during these three work parties. Grace had flowed.

Greenbelt Restoration Project: February 3, 2018

After every work party, I tell anyone who will listen that it was an amazing work party. And it always is. The transformation in the land that occurs during each three hour work party is mind-boggling, at least to my mind.

Four GreenFriends members, 3 neighbors and 21 students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class participated in the February 3rd event. Towards the beginning, we divided into 4 teams. The GreenFriends members, who were serving as team leaders, wore orange vests so that they could be spotted easily.

Team 1

During our last work party, volunteers had focused on removing ivy from an evergreen tree and from the ground in an area on the northwest part of the site. At this work party, Team 1 continued that work, this time clearing ivy and blackberry root balls from an ever widening area. All of the debris was taken to an area we call The Rack Zone where it is put on racks that keep it from re-rooting. Having the vines and rootballs on the racks also enhances air flow and the debris will decompose faster than if it was left on the ground.

At the beginning of the work party the area looked like this:

The volunteers worked diligently and had a good time in the process. Even though I don’t have a “before” photo, know that the shed and stone wall shown in the last photo in this section was completely covered with ivy. Until recently, I didn’t even know there was a shed there.

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

At the end of the work party, the space looked like this. There is still work to do in this area but so  much was accomplished during those three hours.

Team 2

The area where Team 2 worked is adjacent to Team 1’s section of the property. When English ivy grows unchecked and begins to flower, the leaves may change shape and become waxy. It may become a gigantic mass, developing thick stalks that may look more like a tree trunk than an ivy vine. One of the neighbors who has worked on this project from the beginning discovered such a mass in early January. Since then, he has been working to cut it down.

The first set of pictures below show what the area looked like at the beginning of the February 3rd work party. Notice the ivy mass in the background of the first photo. It is not nearly as big as it was originally but it is still huge. The second two photos show some of the piles we would be dealing with at this work party.

Here is a close up of different parts of that mass. It is SO dense.

The volunteers worked on the piles of debris, cutting the leaves and small branches of ivy away from the bigger branches. The leaves and small branches were moved to the rack zone to dry and the bigger branches either stayed in the area or were stacked near the rack zone.

The Rack Zone

By the end of this work party, the rack zone was almost completely full of ivy.

I wonder how long it will take for us to completely remove the mass. I suspect there will be many more work parties and many more piles before this task will be finished. But, at least, when the work party was over, the piles of debris that were there at the beginning were almost gone.

Team 3

On February 26, Silver Capital Management employees are coming to plant trees, shrubs and ground covers in this Greenbelt site. Team 3 helped prepare the ground for that planting work party.

In the days prior to the February 3rd work party, pink flags were placed around the site, marking where each plant will go. Written on each flag was the type of plant that will be planted there.

We’ve found that planting proceeds smoother and faster if the areas where things will be planted are prepared ahead of time.  Prior to the work party, I made two demonstration areas so that the volunteers could see what they would be doing. In one area, I used burlap that had been placed on the ground when we first cleared the land, and in the other I used new burlap.

Team 3 cleared weeds, if there were any, from around the flags and then placed burlap bags around them, leaving a place for the people who will be planting to dig a hole. Once the planting is finished the burlap will be adjusted, if necessary, and then covered with wood chips. Both the burlap and the wood chips will decompose and enrich the soil.

This team prepared spaces for about 70 plants. In the photos below, you can see the burlap that is now scattered throughout the site.

Team 4

The fourth team cleared an area that our volunteers had not tackled before. Seattle Parks Department staff had done an initial cutting of the blackberry vines in that area in March 2017 and then cut them back again during the summer. At the February 3rd work party, the volunteers dug out blackberry root balls and removed ivy.

This is how that land looked at the beginning of the work party. (I think this would be a particularly good gallery for you to click on!)

After instruction on how to clear the land, the team “rolled up their sleeves” and went to work.

The students dug up many blackberry root balls. These are photos of the biggest one they found!

The transformation that took place was remarkable. By the end, this section was clear of invasive plants and covered by burlap bags (the bags help prevent weed growth).

While the students were working, my neighbor John started removing blackberry vines in a nearby area, one where the blackberries are even denser. A team will work in that section during our next work party.

On February 26, these newly restored areas will become home to seven Douglas Fir trees as well as a variety of shrubs and ground covers.

By 12:50 p.m., the tools we used had been cleaned and put away. We then gathered on the Hanford Stairs, which are on the north border of this site, to take a group photo and celebrate the completion of a very successful work party.