Illustrated Thank You Cards from View Ridge Students
Nature deficit disorder did not happen for 90 View Ridge Elementary 5th-graders for three consecutive days in April. Starting with a one-mile walk from their school in Seattle to the Burke-Gilman Trail and green belt, these kids were outdoors for several hours in often cold and rainy conditions. They were walking to partake in two hours of landscape restoration and bird watching.
You might assume that today’s kids would not want to walk a mile in bad weather, dig holes in rocky, muddy earth to plant the likes of Yarrow, Piggy-back Plants, Bleeding Hearts and then, search for birds. You would be wrong.
Over the three-day period, these students planted 350 native plants and tallied 26 species of birds. They saw nesting Cooper’s Hawks, and had close-up views of Anna’s Hummingbirds, Downy Woodpeckers and even a Red Crossbill. Best of all, they enjoyed it. How do I know? Listen to what they had to say:
“Can we do it longer…much longer?” (After spending five minutes of silence counting birds)
“The bird watching was SOOOOOO fun!!”
“I really enjoyed watching the birds.”
“I never knew that there were so many different types of birds”
“The experience was amazing.”
“It was really fun. I might even want to do it again some time.”
“I loved the bird watch.”
“I hope to do it again. Can you come to our school?”
“Some people said that they spotted 30 birds! I think that is pretty cool.”
Public schools like View Ridge Elementary are often strapped for funds, short-staffed and unable to offer bus transit for field trips. This school and its resourceful staff found a way, by walking, to provide this experience to its students. According to materials sent to me by one of the teachers, the content of the experience fit well into the State’s essential academic learning requirements in science.
None of this would have happened were it not for Margaret Thoules, chair of the Friends of Burke-Gilman Sandpoint (FOBGS), who successfully garnered a $500 grant to cover the costs of plants, educational materials and me. Bonnie Miller, vice chair of FOBGS, brought tools and taught the students how to use them to plant native plants along the trail. She then supervised them while they did it.
This model of stewardship and bird appreciation can and should be replicated elsewhere. Students will be stewards of the earth long after the rest of us older folk are gone. We owe it to them to teach these lessons of responsible living on earth. As Lisa Kadobayashi, their teacher said:
“It was a wonderful experience and a unique opportunity to consider our local birds and their habitats.”
Me and my mom's tree, Ravenna Park, Seattle
Back in 2007, when I was program director for the Seattle Parks Foundation, we launched a new tree donation program. To help kick start the program, my family and I donated the first tree. It was a Mt. Fuji Cherry Prunus seruulata memorial tree for my mother Frances, who had recently passed away. She loved trees, gardens and flowers, so this was a fitting memory of her. We visit it often and watch it change with the seasons. Of course, the highlight is each spring when it is in full bloom with a view of Mt. Rainier behind it. Whenever we see this tree, which is often, we are reminded of my mom and the things she cherished.
The tree donation program is still going strong at the Parks Foundation. As Mother’s Day approaches, perhaps you have a mom or another loved one you would like to honor. Trees are marvelous living legacies for our loved ones. They honor the past and brighten the future. If you are interested, go to Seattle Parks Foundation’s website: http://seattleparksfoundation.org/current-projects-donate-a-tree/
Trees are generally planted in the fall and winter, and there are also more affordable options available such as adopting a tree or sponsoring one. Many other cities have tree donation programs as well.
My family and I also donated a tree to mom at the Chicago Botanic Garden. We love visiting both trees and both places…the kinds of places my mom liked too. Consider a living legacy for one of your loved ones. You won't regret it!
Loaded bike and goods
In this competition-obsessed country, there are winners and losers, but mostly losers. Trophies, championships and accolades go to the relative few. Oddly, our athletic events seem divorced from our daily lives. Aside from those who commute to work by bicycle, on foot or transit, we don't seem to integrate exercise well into our routines.
Here is an "event" that anyone in reasonable health can enjoy. Each time you participate in it, both you and the Earth win. This is how it works: The next time you need to run errands within two miles from your home, do them on foot or by bicycle instead of by car. If you run three errands, you just completed a Tri-errand-athlon.
I can already hear the litany of excuses:
· I’m too old for this (I’m 61)
· Our weather is often bad (ours is usually bad)
· We have hills (so do we, big time)
· I’ve got bad knees (I could enter a bad knee competition and have had three surgeries! Note the product I bought in the photo for joint problems)
· I don’t have time (It is often just as fast to walk or bike when you factor in traffic and parking)
· The businesses where I run errands are too far away (ok, this is valid if you are talking MILES away)
Excuses aside, here's how it works. Several days ago, I got on my bike, rode one mile on a cloudy, drizzly 40-degree day. My first errand was to drop off our tax return with an accountant. Then I rode to the drug store and bought a few items to stow in my bike panniers (bags). The third errand was to the grocery store where I bought quite a few items, which combined with the others, added up to 40 pounds total. The items included a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a bag of apples, a bunch of bananas, two containers of berries and two loaves of bread. They all fit in my two bike panniers and one small back pack, and they all made it home intact.
This was my athletic “feat” of the day – a successful Tri-errand-athalon completed in one hour’s time. And I ride slowly.
Many of our driving trips are one mile or less in distance -- an eminently walk-able/bike-able distance. Americans need more, not less exercise. Stated bluntly, we need to get off our collective arses and move our bodies! And we need to incorporate exercise into our daily routines, not just episodically at gyms, classes and athletic events. We would also benefit by burning less gasoline and by spending less on its purchase (not to mention car maintenance costs).
I challenge you to complete a tri-errand-athlon of your own. You can easily surpass my accomplishments of three stops, 40 pounds of goods and two miles completed in one hour. Regardless of whether or not you top my marks, you win every time you get on a bike or walk instead of getting in a car. Why? You get exercise, you experience the great outdoors, you save on money and gas, and you have fun.
Good luck on your Tri-errand-athlon! I'm off on another one right now.
What a Concept: Raking leaves by hand!
Sadly, the yard and garden rake might be going the way of the broom and the push mower. What’s wrong with the rake? Actually nothing; a lot is right with it. Rakes are great tools for a variety of yard work tasks, and as side benefits, their rhythmic sound is gentle, they do not require fossil fuels or electricity; they do not emit air pollution other than a little dust, and you get exercise while using them. Studies and overwhelming visual evidence suggest that Americans need more, not less, exercise.
To counter the pro-rake crowd, of which I am one, I suppose pro-leaf blowers would say that rakes require too much effort, and do not get as much done as quickly. Interestingly, I have noticed that yard services using leaf blowers on yards comparable in size to mine and with a similar amount of leaves falling upon them run their blowers even longer than it takes me to rake our yard quite thoroughly.
But alas, it seems that most are going to the leaf blower. Progress in our culture often means burning fuels and running a motor. Anything to avoid running our human motor!
Recently, I heard a well-known naturalist and writer refer to leaf blowers as “satanic devices.” I agree. No thanks to leaf blowers, nearly every neighborhood in America, including ours, is dominated by their din, often for hours a day. Presumably leaf blowers do a service of tidying up, removing leaves and other yard debris. But actually, they often blow the debris somewhere else… into the street or into the yard of an adjacent business or neighbor. The two-stroke engine that many of them have is more polluting than most vehicles on the road today. The dust gets blown into the air, polluting our atmosphere. And the noise, the dreadful droning sound of leaf blowers, has made it thoroughly unpleasant to go outside. As if we needed yet another reason NOT to enjoy the outdoors! Leaf blowers cause more problems than they solve.
There is another factor at play, namely sense of community. If you want to drive your neighbors away and turn off a conversation with them, turn on a leaf blower. If you would like to visit with them, use a hand rake. I have found that every time I rake leaves in our yard, I have a conversation with a neighbor or a random passer-by, which is nice.
The Unfortunate Rake was an English folk song about a young soldier who faced a variety of maladies. Now things aren’t looking so good for garden rakes. Here’s hoping we keep our garden rakes, and enjoy the relative peace and quiet, fresh air, and exercise that accompany their use.
Top: Extensive restored wetlands; middle: signage points to multiple uses; bottom: Northern Shovelers winter in park's restored ponds
Sometimes this crazy, dysfunctional city gets it right. Due to its endless process and debate many Seattle civic projects have languished. An exasperated council member once referred to Seattle as a “can’t do” city. Once in a while, though, a winner emerges from Seattle’s process-heavy approach. Magnuson Park is a case in point.
Named after the late Washington State Senator Warren Magnuson, a former naval officer and advocate for protection of marine areas and Puget Sound, this park was an active naval base until 1991. Now the 350-acre park, Seattle’s second largest after Discovery Park, has an intriguing mix of ball fields, off-leash dog runs, re-purposed military buildings, low-income housing, and restored natural wetlands. True to form, there were massive arguments and still are, about how all of these uses should or should not be accommodated. I would argue that the multiple uses are on balance working well.
Apparently many others agree with me, because they are voting with their feet. Magnuson has become one of the city’s most popular parks. One of the most exciting features of Magnuson Park’s development is the restored wetland area. An interpretive sign sits on a hillside overlooking this area, which comprises 43-acres, a dozen ponds, and extensive plantings of native vegetation and even the placement of more than 20 “snags” or wildlife trees that were removed as hazard trees in other parks. This wetland complex has become one of Seattle’s premier natural areas.
Trails wind through these wetlands, and along with the many people who enjoy them, birds and wildlife are moving back into them. In the two years since the wetlands were completed, at least six new species of birds have been found there and numbers of native Western Chorus Frogs have increased dramatically. The repopulation of birds and wildlife is even more remarkable when you consider what the area was three decades ago: a military airport with large buildings. The transformation has been spectacular and serves as a reminder that nature can be restored from a heavily built environment.
In addition, miles of new trails have been created for walkers, joggers and bicyclists. Magnuson is a work in progress; the best is yet to come. Of course, this park faces issues like vandalism, graffiti, more and better signage, and invasive species, but these problems exist in almost every city park, and not just in Seattle.
To the Seattle Parks Department and all who worked on this park, congratulations. Magnuson Park is a marvelous public resource that will be enjoyed by thousands, if not millions, for years to come.