A beautiful day…

Huckleberry bush growing from a dead stump

This huckleberry bush exemplifies why humans need to let nature take its course whenever possible. What appears to be a useless dead stump is actually a perfect breeding ground for this native plant.

Last Saturday several classmates, my husband Donovan and I volunteered at the Northwest Stream Center in Everett WA as part of a community engagement experience in my Environmental Studies course at UW Bothell. It was a chilly Saturday morning. We had a sturdy breakfast of leftover egg foo young and coffee. We dressed warmly and were excited to greet the day. We met Marian Hansen, our host who struggled to get the lock off of the building due to the light frost of the morning. Marian is a volunteer at the site responsible for the vegetation aspect of the project. This chapter of Adopt a Stream is building a walkway through this wetland to allow people to commune with and respect nature. The project is a partnership with Snohomish County Parks. Adopt a Stream has many exciting projects you can read about here: http://www.streamkeeper.org/aasf/Welcome.html but for this post I will focus on our experience with Marian.


I love the curvy way a cedar grows. Next time you are in a forest – take a close look at how this tree bends and seeks the sun.


I failed to capture the magic of this fallen tree. It was a cross between a big, scary alien and intricate lace.


Marian’s design – like something out of Tolkien.


Fallen trees have a place in nature – the project tries to leave trees where they fall whenever possible.

Marian is a UW Bothell Alum who volunteers 20 to 40 hours a week at the NW Stream Center. Her passion for this project is evidenced by the way she looks at each and every twig in the wetland. Marian has names for tree stumps and other areas the same way we have names for pets. Even though she had four willing and able volunteers, she first spent a great deal of time getting to know us and asking about our educational goals. Before she put us to work – she gave us a tour of the project pointing out various aspects of the project explaining that fallen trees and brush piles provide important habitat for small animals; and how a small water area near a dead tree might provide a good habitat for frogs.


Frog habitat within a dead majestic stump.

Marian is not just an environmentalist – she is an artist. I was amused how she explained that her son was a professional artist – Marian – so are you 🙂 She more than once – looked at a piece of timber – and then chucked it ‘just so’ because she “thought it needed to be there.”

Almost apologetically – she finally put us to work. We helped move a large brush and wood pile that had inadvertently been plopped upon some small plantings including a baby cedar and some ferns. It was indeed an honor to be permitted to wander around in her forest. For every single plant is dear. What may look like a pile of earth or soil might actually be some native plants she has staged for a future planting. The highlight of the day was when we got to the bottom of the pile and found one of her babies (a small cedar sapling) that was alive and well.

A team from the U.S. Navy helped Marian remove invasive Himalayan blackberry bushes - what a job!

A team from the U.S. Navy helped Marian remove invasive Himalayan blackberry bushes – what a job!

I dare anyone to spend a few hours with Marian and not come out of the experience wanting to help her in any way to create a space where humans and nature can convene. Marian explained how the project is interdisciplinary and how the engineer, the ecologist, and the landscape architects  all have different points of view that in the end, provide meaningful insight into the project.

I am looking forward to a time in my life when I have the availability to volunteer and really get involved in conservation projects such as this. My time at the Northwest Stream Center was way too short and – I will be back.


3 thoughts on “A beautiful day…

  1. Margaret Howard

    Thanks for sharing this, Katie! I admire your spunk in getting involved with this project even though you have a very busy life right now. I’m glad you achieve such joy from communing with nature. When your Dad & I were kids, we spent a lot of time camping in the woods or picnicking or hiking. That was always our vacation or weekend fun. Thanks to you & other volunteers, these areas will be available in the future, too.

    Love & XXXOOo

    Aunt Maggie

  2. Donovan

    For me this was super interesting. Most of my life I have experienced a very different environment, with almost opposite challenges. The Western Cape of South Africa does indeed have wetlands but for the most part the challenges of that environment are centered around fire risk due to dry conditions. It’s mountain / coastal vynbos vegetation has adapted to burn every 7 years or so because dry windy conditions will do that. The human contribution is more fires, more often. How interesting to learn about, new to me, natural vegetation in this North West climate where fire is not a crucial aspect. I find it unusual and intereting that this small wetland is in a forest of evergreens. I enjoyed looking at the little micro ecosystems, with pools of gently flowing water, ferns and frogs. The western Cape shares that, in that it has micro ecosystems in it’s steep mountain river canyons, where you will find the the red disa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disa_%28orchid%29). It also shares habitat loss due to human invasion and pollution, also from humans.


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