Practice in Letting Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am a Forest Steward.

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Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: Shrub and Groundcover Planting Day 2017

Wednesday, November 15 was a big day, one I’ve been eagerly awaiting. On that day, a corporate group from DocuSign came to our restoration site to plant the 330 shrubs and ground covers Seattle Parks Department had given us. November 15 was DocuSign’s Global Impact Day. I looked up the philosophy behind Global Impact and found this:

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.

On that day, buses picked up the employees at their corporate headquarters and traveled to projects all over the city. I felt so grateful to have 42 of their volunteers helping us; and they were wonderful people to work with.

(Note: You might be wondering why we plant at this time of year. In the forest, planting starts after the fall rains begin. That way the plants have a chance to root before the summer comes. We’ve had almost no rain during the summer for a few years and there is no water source on this property. The plants have the best chance of survival if they have developed a healthy root system before the dry period.)

Prior to the work party, we prepared eight planting areas. Any remaining blackberry vines and rootballs, ivy and bindweed were removed and the areas were marked off with green and white, or yellow and black, tape. The University of Washington students who helped during our November 11 work party moved the potted shrubs and groundcovers to the areas where they would be planted.

The photo below is of the Dogwood Area, so named because it is near a large area of red twig dogwood and because a small patch of red twig dogwood came up within this planting area during the summer.

Another way we prepared for the work party was to create and distribute photo galleries of the plants that would go in each area. That way the workers could see the beauty they were helping to create.

I already mentioned that the DocuSign group was wonderful to work with. We had a dream staff too, consisting of Joanna Nelson de Flores, the director of Forterra’s Green Cities program,  Nichole Marcotte, Forterra’s Stewardship Coordinator, Anavadya Oravec a Master Gardener and GreenFriends member and me! The staff arrived an hour and a half early so I had a chance to show them around the site. We spent part of our November 15th pre-work party time placing each plant on the spot where the DocuSign employees would plant it.

When the participants arrived, I talked about the history of the project and gave information about safety relating to this particular site. Then the group was divided in half and walked to the part of the property where they would soon be planting. Joanna and Nichole each led a group. They talked about tool safety and then showed participants how to plant the shrubs and ground covers. I really appreciated having the opportunity to hear the experts teach! During the work party, all four of us supervised the work and helped as needed. (Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)

After each plant was planted, a blue and white tape was tied loosely on one of its branches, or on a stick that was placed next to it. Every year, Seattle Parks Department uses a different color of tape to tag the plants. So from here on out, whenever we see a blue and white tape in any of Seattle’s parks, we will know that the item was planted in 2017!

Once a shrub or groundcover was planted, four burlap bags were placed around it. When all of the planting in an area was complete and the burlap was down, the entire area was covered with wood chips. (The burlap and wood chips reduce weed growth, retain moisture, and prevent erosion. Both the burlap and the chips will decompose and enrich the soil.)

Below are photos of the completed planting areas. You can see the blue and white tape I mentioned throughout them.

And this is a photo of the empty pots!

I am so excited for Spring to arrive so I can see every bud, every flower, and every berry! I hope most (or better yet, all) of the plants survive the winter.

Found in the Greenbelt

In the year that we have been doing forest restoration work in Seattle’s Greenbelt, we have found many interesting types of trash. During one of the work parties last week, a participant brought a much dirtier version of this bottle to me.

I thought it might be a decanter. I only had a vague idea of what a decanter was, but that was the word that came to my mind. I looked on the internet for photos of decanters from various decades, but didn’t see any that looked like this one.

When I showed the bottle to a neighbor later in the week, he pointed out that the top part didn’t belong to the bottom part. He thought the top was a cologne bottle, pointing out that it had a screw-on plastic top.

I felt embarrassed. I had noticed that the orange part was plastic when I cleaned the bottles but hadn’t thought about the implication of that fact. I wonder if the two parts were together when the work party participant found it. I believe they were, but I have no way to know for sure. Without the top, the bottle looks like this:

(By the way, the cork has decomposed enough that it is hollow.)

Here is a closeup of the top part of the bottle:

It is probably just a wine bottle but I’ve never seen one shaped like this. Have you? Do any of you have any idea how old it is? It could be current or it could be as far back as the 50’s.

Below are photos of some of the other trash we’ve found in the Greenbelt. We have also found more than 50 golf balls and three golf clubs! (Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)

You can learn more about this project by going to Greenbelt Restoration Project Update.

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: November 11, 2017

On Saturday, November 11, we held another large restoration work party. Two GreenFriends members (Theresa and me), my new roommate (Jamie), and a Forest Steward that normally works on a different site (Susan) led work teams. My neighbor John who has attended almost every work party we’ve offered, and has worked endless hours on his own, did the amazing work he does every time. Blackberry root balls have no chance when they meet his pick ax.

After an initial orientation, twenty-nine awesome students from a University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class picked the teams they wanted to join and the work began. Our main task for the day was to get our eight designated planting areas ready for the DocuSign corporate group that is coming on November 15. That group will be planting more than 300 shrubs and ground covers. “Getting the areas ready” entailed digging out any remaining root balls and removing the burlap bags that had been laid down when the area was originally cleared. The burlap helps decrease weed growth and prevents erosion. In one area, the bags were covered by a heavy layer of branches and blackberry debris so that had to be removed before we could pick up the burlap.

Normally by now, the burlap bags would have decomposed but since there was almost no rain this summer, most of the bags were still whole. In places there were three layers of burlap, which would make it impossible to dig holes for the plants. With the burlap gone, it will be easy for the DocuSign group to plant the shrubs and ground covers. Once the plants are in the ground, they will replace the burlap and then cover it with wood chips.

While three of the teams did the work described above, the fourth carried 500 cubic feet of new burlap from the street to our restoration site and placed it in two stacks on the property. Once they finished that job, they started distributing the pots of shrubs and ground covers to the appropriate planting areas.

Normally the weather during our work parties turns out to be better than the forecast, but this day was an exception. It rained on and off throughout the work party, more on than off. Taking a 15-minute snack break in the pouring rain was not at all inviting. We decided to carry everything out of the Greenbelt and stand under the deck of my house.

It was during the break that I realized I hadn’t taken a single photo. Taking a group photo under the deck seemed like a good place to start! I think the photo at the top of this post and the one below reflect this work party well; everyone was both wet and happy.

I also took photos that showed the work we had already done that day. In the first gallery you can see what it looked like to start with an area that was covered with burlap covered by branches. (That particular photo was taken in August right after the area was cleared.) The second photo shows many of the branches that were removed on November 11th and the third is the pile of burlap that was picked up. I was astounded when I saw how neat this team’s pile was. It is going to make it so much easier to use than the chaotic stacks we usually create. I will  to do their way in the future. The fourth photo is what the land looks like now… i.e. ready for planting! (Click on any gallery to enlarge the photos.)

This is one of the piles of new burlap that students carried in from the street.

The students found some carpet and a fold out bed in one of the planting areas. Work party participants have attempted to dig these  items out in the past, but this team was able to do it!  When I tried to push/pull the bed, it didn’t move at all. I hope Seattle Parks Department will send a crew to remove them from the site. They regularly carry out trash piles for us, but these items are very heavy and are located at the top of a hill; one where there is no easy way to get the garbage down, especially without damaging newly planted trees.

After the break, some students continued distributing the plants to the areas where they will be planted. Before long most of the potted shrubs and ground covers were gone from the holding area.

Other work party participants resumed clearing the land of branches, blackberry vines and blackberry root balls.

Almost everyone spent the last 45 minutes of the work party participating in a bucket brigade, moving wood chips from the street, down the stairs and into piles on the site.

Afterwards, we celebrated all that we had accomplished, cleaned the tools, brushed the mud out of our shoes and went on our individual ways. What an incredible three-hour work party it had been.

Greenbelt Restoration: Planting Time is A-Coming

On October 22, our GreenFriends group planted 37 trees in our Greenbelt Restoration site (Tree Planting Day). That was a major development in this project, and another one is coming soon. On November 15, a corporate group from DocuSign will be planting more than 330 shrubs and ground covers for us. We’ve been busy preparing for that day.

Our fall plant order was submitted to the Seattle Parks Department in early May.  The plants would be delivered the end of October or early November. Prior to then we  needed to decide where to plant each of the plants. I identified eight planting sites and marked them with green and white or yellow and black tape. Then Ananya and I created a planting plan.

In June, I had taken a plant identification course. During the course, the instructor mentioned that when the plants were delivered, they would not be marked. I panicked. How would I be able to identify 360 plants when I only knew a few of them? To make matters worse, by that time we received them many would be in their winter state and might not even have leaves. I calmed myself down by reminding myself that we had been required to order everything in groups of 10 so I only had 26 different plants to identify. I didn’t know how I would do that either, but it definitely seemed more doable than 360. I also knew I could ask for help if I needed it.

As the date drew closer, I made a label for each plant, writing the name of the plant and how big it will get on each of the sticks.

It was possible that our plants wouldn’t be delivered until the second week in November. Since our planting day was scheduled for November 15, I was nervous about how I would do all that needed to be done to identify and mark the plants before that date. I was ecstatic when I looked out my window late in October and saw a Seattle Parks Department truck in front of my house. The plants had arrived!

As I had been forewarned, the plants were unmarked. To further complicate things, they were carried into the Greenbelt by hand and/or in a wheelbarrow. Some remained in their groupings but many were placed on the ground randomly. When the delivery crew left, I started to sort them. I discovered that I was able to identify quite a few of the plants. When I knew what the plant was, I placed the appropriate stick in the pot.

I doubted some of my identifications. Jayanand, a friend who lives on the Olympic Peninsula, came to mind.  I knew Jayanand had worked for 18 years as a botanist and ecologist for the National Park Service. I sent photos of the plants I was concerned about to him. He was able to correct some of my mistakes as well as identify some that I hadn’t been able to figure out. With his help, it wasn’t long before all of the plants were labeled.

Today (November 11)  we had a big work party to finish preparing the land for the November 15 planting. It was a wonderful work party, one that I will tell you about in my next post!

Green Seattle Day: November 4, 2017

On Green Seattle Day, Green Seattle Partnership sponsors three hour work parties in parklands all over Seattle.  This year Sarva and I agreed to help lead a team at Mountain View, a park that is a few miles south of our Greenbelt restoration site. Susan Zeman, a forest steward who often helps at our work parties, coordinated the Mountain View work party as well as one at View Point park which is located across the street from Mountain View. Susan had gathered enough forest stewards that Sarva and I were able to plant trees as well as being leads. Visala, Haley and Bob, who like Sarva and me are part of Amma’s GreenFriends group, also participated in this event.

This experience was particularly meaningful to me because ten years ago this park was completely covered with blackberries and ivy. Today it is a beautiful, healthy forest. It was inspiring for me to witness a living example what reforestation work can do. Someday our Greenbelt restoration site will look like this one.

Below are several photos from the Mountain View work party.

Here are some photos I found on the Green Seattle Partnership Facebook page. They are from other Green Seattle Day work parties.

On the same Facebook page, I found a synopsis of the work that was done that day. What a testament it is to what can be accomplished when we come together in support of Mother Nature.

A few days later, I returned to Mountain View park. I loved walking through the leaves and gazing at all of the trees we had planted. I felt renewed and excited to continue the restoration work at our Cheasty Greenbelt site.

A Surprise Gift

On Friday, I spent time working in our Greenbelt restoration site. As I turned to go back home, I heard a loud sound. It took a moment for me to figure out what it was. When I looked ahead of me, I saw a woodpecker pecking at a dead tree. It was unlike any woodpecker I’ve ever seen. One of the remarkable things about it was that it looked huge.

I used the burst setting on my phone camera and was able to capture a shot of it in the action of pecking.

I wish I had thought to take a video so you could hear the loud sound it made when it was pecking.

Later, I learned that it was a Pileated woodpecker. which is similar in size to a crow. One of their most notable features is their bright red crest. The males have a red streak on their cheek, so the one I saw must have been a female.

These birds are often found around dead trees, foraging for carpenter ants. They are known for the triangle shape holes they create in trees, holes that become habitat to “swifts, owls, ducks, bats, and pine martens.”

Pileated woodpeckers  apparently have bright white underwings. I hope that someday I have the opportunity to see one in flight!

 

Reference:

Pileated Woodpecker

 

Creating Light in the Darkness

My contribution to Sreejit’s new event was posted today. I called it Creating Light in the Darkness. You can find it at:

Rage Against the Machine Day 3 by Karuna Poole

I thought the first two articles in his series were excellent.

Rage Against the Machine Day 1 by Rudran

Rage Against the Machine Day 2 by Levantine

I hope you will go to The Seeker’s Dungeon and read my post… and consider reading all three of them… and maybe even those that he posts throughout the month of November!

Some of you may want to write and submit a post of your own. You are welcome to do that. Here is part of the event description:

Your post doesn’t have to be about the United States or even politics, but should be about what is keeping our world in darkness and your own solutions for shedding light. Talk about where your own passions lie, your own causes, and the glass ceilings you are trying to break on through. Your essay should be between 800 and 5000 words.

You can learn more about the event Here. 

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: October 1, 2017

On October 1, we held our first forest restoration work party since the end of July. Participants included five members of our GreenFriends group, twelve students from the Introduction to Environmental Science class at the University of Washington, a neighbor, a high school student, a Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward and two other Seattle residents.

In less than three hours, we …

removed blackberry, bindweed and ivy vines and dug out blackberry root balls from 2050 sq ft of property that had previously been cleared…

cleared 750 sq ft of land for the first time… Continue reading “Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: October 1, 2017”

Greenbelt Restoration Work Parties: July 16 and 23

I had scheduled four work parties for the month of July. I reported on the July 2nd and 9th events in earlier posts. When I broke my wrist on July 13th, it was obvious that I could not lead the last two, but other Green Seattle Partnership Forest Stewards stepped into that role. Ananya, a GreenFriends member and my fellow Forest Steward on this restoration project, led the first one. Ananya was not available on the 23rd so Susan, a Forest Steward who has been doing this work for more than a decade, led that one.

Even though I was not able to do the physical work, I was happy to discover that I could still contribute. I completed the pre-and-post work party administrative work, gave the initial orientation to the participants at the beginning of the events and helped with the snack breaks. As a result, I continued to feel like a part of the team.

July 16th

Five GreenFriends members, two students, and a neighbor participated in the work party on the 16th of July. They focused on picking up trash and dismantling the piles of debris that had been raked up during previous work parties. The debris was placed on burlap bags that had been spread earlier in July. They moved any blackberry root balls they found in the piles to the rack zone to dry. They also spread burlap bags over land that had been cleared in the past.

Trash

It is always interesting to see what kind of trash we find. At this work party, a student found a tube of lotion that had an expiration date of 1989. That student was born in 1997!

Sarva found this treasure:

Moving rootballs to the rack zone

Spreading debris on burlap (click on gallery to enlarge photos)

One of the highlights of this work party was that we turned in the certificate for the prize we had won at Rainier Chamber of Commerce’s Bridge2Beach Seattle clean up event in March. The certificate was for $50 of Full Tilt ice cream. Needless to say, we enjoyed that part of the work party.

July 23

The July work parties were scheduled in a way that would support the University of Washington Environmental Science students. Their volunteer hours and reports were due on July 27th so the July 23rd work party was in high demand. Twenty-one students and two of their friends, a neighbor and three GreenFriends members participated in this work party.

The participants were divided into various groups. One group carried burlap bags from an area near the street to our Greenbelt site. Other groups looked for and removed bindweed, i.e. morning glory vines; removed ivy; or dug out blackberry root balls. As various jobs were completed, participants continued the ongoing work of laying down burlap and covering it with debris.

Attendees of this work party had the opportunity to eat the rest of the Full Tilt ice cream!

It is amazing how much we accomplished during the month of July. Every work party was a confirmation of the saying, “Many hands make light work.”  And besides that, it was fun to work together.

These photos show some of the trash that was picked up during the four July work parties. I wonder if we will ever get to the end of it.

Everything we do takes us a step closer to planting trees, shrubs and groundcovers this fall. It also moves us towards restoring this land to the beautiful forest it was meant to be; one that will provide homes to birds, butterflies, bees and many other forms of wildlife.