On this year’s Green Seattle Day in November, I got to facilitate volunteer work by 50 teens from the Boys and Girls Club. The windstorms the previous week had blown down several mature big leaf maple trees and as I walked through the forest to meet the teens I worried they wouldn’t be prepared for the kind of hiking that would bring them up to the work party. There would have to be good deal of scrambling over downed trees and I didn’t expect many of these kids have much experience in that category or the right kind of shoes for this rugged terrain.
The surprised murmuring began as soon as we left the sidewalk, but the real marvel was when we reached the first obstacle. Students laughed in disbelief as they clutched their binders and helped each other over two trees that blocked the path. By the time we arrived at the work site, it was clear that this was going to be a volunteer experience unlike any they’d ever had before.
The teens were energized by their challenging trek, and we had several hundred native plants to put in, but so many eager volunteers had shown up that we ran out of tools for the job! Leaders scrambled to organize an ad hoc tool-sharing system while volunteers spread out to start getting those baby plants into the ground.
Right away, teenagers started to notice that immediately below the surface, the ground here on the plateau as solid gray clay! Surprise and confusion rippled through the crowd and gave us an opportunity to talk about the inland sea that had covered this area many millions of years ago, and the subsequent uplifting that raised that clay on the hillside and inhibited accumulation of the organic sediments that were subsequently pushed in during periods of glaciation.
Did you know that Seattle was once covered by ice more than a mile high? The teenagers from the Boys and Girls Club didn’t come here to learn about glaciers or soil deposits, but their intimate experience with the ground here today made this kind of earth science just a little bit more relevant.
As the teens settled in with plants and shovels, a Girl Scout troop arrived and gathered eagerly around a Forest Steward for instructions. Though this is the first time they’ve ever come in these woods, most of them have lived near it their entire lives. After planting for a while, one small girl made an amazing discovery. A downed tree on the plateau was decomposing into the soil! Immediately the girls became energized by the idea of nurse logs, and they coordinated their planting efforts along the trunk. If you go to Cheasty Main today, you’ll see a carefully planted nurse log emerging along the plateau, thanks to this group of engaged local children.
Rounding on the teens still working in groups with the limited shovel supply, I find one carefully patting a tree into a hole in the ground when I notice the tree is still in its plastic nursery pot! The teen is surprised to learn that the roots need to be freed from the pot to become established in the soil and listens carefully as I talk about root development. Together we spread out the roots of the tender young plant and tuck it into the hole of loosened soil.
Continuing to round among the group of busy workers I find two middle-schoolers hovering excitedly over something. While digging a hole for a tree they have found a small mass of creamy gelatinous white spheres and are theorizing about what they could be. Later one of them emails me the results of their research:
The eggs are about 1 or 2 millimeters and are whitish-yellowish-clear balls. They are smooth and squishy. When we found them, they were between burlap and clay and they were very slimy and stuck together. They come in all different shapes and sizes: some perfectly round, some oval shaped and some flat on the bottom and round on the top. The day after we found them, one of the eggs looked like something had hatched out of it. Today (24 hours later) we searched worm eggs on the internet, but they looked different from what we found. Then, we looked up slug eggs, and they looked very similar to what we found, so we think that they are slug eggs, and we will watch them to see if they hatch into slugs. Later today, we will make a habitat just the way that we found the eggs, so they will be in the right environment to hatch. We will write you again if any major changes occur. –Rowen S.M.
Much like the teen group and the Girl Scout troop, these two girls had come to this work party to plant some trees and do some service in their community, but wound up with a hands-on science project in their local ecology. I, too, came to this work as a community and forest steward, but my inner teacher’s heart thrills as I watch these connections being made, especially by the younger generations we’re going to have to count on to nurture this forest in the years to come.