The Vespula Veterans arrived at the Connelly Creek service site ready to continue their relationship with the landscape. The Explorers roamed the creek comparing and contrasting it from last season. The group found a piece of metal that would bridge the creek gap and placing it down sent one Explorer to test its stability. As soon as he got to the center, the bridge bent sending him waste deep into the creek. I commend him for having fast enough reflexes to catch a tree branch on his way down; as it kept him dry from the torso up. That was certainly one effective way of testing out the bridge. Finnegan, our volunteer Mentor for the day, graciously offered an extra pair of wool socks to the Explorer saving him from the agony of a cold and wet service day. Circling up Adrian presented an unidentified skull to the group. The group looked in bewilderment trying to decipher what it was. After each of us took our best guess, Adrian told us that it was the skull of a Sea Turtle. The group marveled at the large eye sockets and nasal cavity, it was apparent that these were the turtle’s dominant senses. There are endless mysteries in our wildlands and following them keeps our sense of wonder and exploration alive. This joy and exuberance for life keeps us young and can rejuvenate our spirits all the years of our lives.
Holding the circle, the Mentors took a moment to discuss what had been accomplished at this service site since we were last here. Not only had seven other groups served at the site during this season, but another project taking place nearby. The Padden Creek Alliance was formed in 1997. This alliance includes: the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bellingham Parks Department, and local citizen groups. The Padden Creek Alliance is currently working on restoration at Padden Creek. Their goals include improving flood control and creating space for more salmon to move more freely through the creek. In 1997, a tunnel running about 2,300 feet from 17th to 22nd street (underneath Old Fairhaven Parkway) was identified as a major roadblock for salmon. In the past, fish have been stacked at the end of the narrow tunnel while attempting to return to their spawning grounds. This summer the city began the Padden Creek Daylight Project, to remove the tunnel and build a bridge under old Fairhaven Parkway in order to restore the natural flow of Padden Creek. For more information on the project, please see the link at the bottom of the blog.
Mentors informed the group that locals in the neighborhood had seen salmon running in the creek just a few weeks ago. It is important to let the boys know that they have allies who support and join with them in this work. This brought us to a great conversation about tools. The Mentors informed the group that we were borrowing tools from both Bellingham Parks Department and the NSEA and that we need to use them correctly and with care. We went around the circle and each Explorer identified a tool that they love to use and one they would like to become more proficient at using. This was great feedback for the Mentors to collect and will aid in planning the Vespula’s spring season.
At this point, the group was saturated with talking and was eager to get to work. Therefore, we picked up our tools and lugged them over to the service site. The group was delighted to find that Bellingham Parks Department left us a huge pile of mulch to spread. As a group, we brainstormed the best possible use of the resource. This season, groups of Explorers devoted time to digging out Himalayan Blackberry roots in preparation for spreading mulch over a portion of the site. Last Season we took out the blackberries but did not get the roots. This season we learned Slow Is Fast And Fast Is Slow when it comes to these invasives. The group decided to use a portion of the mulch to mound some young willows and the remainder to patch up a little of the old section from last season and a good piece of the new section from this season. It was excellent to see the boys working together: scooping, carrying and spreading, as a one cohesive unit. The best part about spreading mulch is that it gives the worker a sense of instant gratification; like tending a giant Japanese Sand Garden. After the mulch was spread, the boys focused on the next section of land that needed to be freed from Blackberries. Using shears, loppers, machetes, hatchets, and rakes the Explorers cleared another large section of Blackberries while minding the park boundary sign. Next to our service sight resides a neighbor who would like us to keep a section of Blackberry that grows on her property. The Vespula Veterans seemed frustrated by the fact that we could not remove all of them. However, this was a great talking point about what it means to be in a community with others who have needs that differ from ours. As members of the community, our group’s role includes both the work we had planned and also greeting this individual with open arms. If we respect her point of view and recognize her requests, we earn a hearing with this member of our community. This increases the chance that, by observing our work and attitudes, she may eventually understand what we are doing and the reasons for it. This can eventually lead to both of us working for the same goals in caring for the land.
Watching the Explorers use machetes is always an edge for Mentors. This tool takes skill to use properly and demands responsibility. After great modeling of machete form and skill from Marcus, our EMA volunteer, the boys were ready. As a group we talked about the intention we were bringing into our use of machetes. If we swing with intention and focus with the care, we respect our community’s well-being while restoring balance to the landscape. If we swing with anger and intention to kill, we create violence and compromise our community’s safety as well as our own. The boys modeled some excellent behavior really cultivating their technique and increasing their efficiency. As the boys clipped away the brambles, they continued to find more garbage. The boys removed: a kiddy pool, car door, chicken wire, three purses, a bicycle, tons of bottles, plastic and countless other items. It felt like a burden was being lifted off our shoulders as we freed the soil once again.
After a few hours of work, the group was ready for some lunch and a Sit Spot. Greg encouraged the Explorers to spread out and find a spot where they could sit and listen to the land. The more we know about Connelly Creek, the better we are at discerning how to serve it. Our service here is not only about restoring balance to this area, but also involves engaging in an active relationship with the landscape that grows and strengthens over time. Once we define our connection to it, and realize that our health is tied directly to its health, we then begin to develop an ethic for its preservation. A man by the name of Aldo Leopold summed up this relationship quite eloquently in his book, A Sand County Almanac. In the book he writes, “Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”
After our Sit Spot, we came back together for the last closing meeting of our fall season. We revisited and gave thanks for all the outing and memories we had shared this season: a blustery Fire By Friction skills outing at Fairhaven Park, being Earth Keepers on our traverse up Whatcom Creek, meeting for a showdown with the Daredevil’s Club and countless volunteer mentors at Galby Lane and a chance to get to serve and connect with a community much larger than ourselves at Connelly Creek. The Mentors are very humbled and grateful for the opportunity to explore with the Vespula Veterans this season and for all of the wildlife we have seen and heard moving through this patch of land. These boys are growing into mature adults with a growing sense of their role and responsibilities to this community. This summer they will be going through a transformation on the Explorers Mentor Apprenticeship training backpack. They are the eldest group in the Explorers Club and will soon pass their culture, care and skills down to the next generation of Explorers. The mentors would like to thank all the parents, volunteers, Explorers, and staff for all their support this season.
Please check out more pictures from the outing at the photo gallery. We look forward to seeing you at the Winter Solstice Gathering on December 14th and at the winter outings we are offering for the first time ever!
Click here for more information from the City of Bellingham. Once you have clicked the link and are on the COB webpage click on Presentation of 60% design for a presentation and slideshow about the Padden Creek Daylight Project.