Chapter 1. The Challenge
Solving shared problems together on behalf of a shared place is the essence of democracy. [Kemmis 2001]
At the base of my property, next to Victory Creek, there is a hollowed-out cedar stump, which still bears the notches loggers cut about 100 years ago for their springboards, where they stood while cutting the tree down. Back then, my neighborhood in north Seattle was covered in old-growth forest. Not the massive old growth found in the rain-drenched foothills of the mountains; this cedar was 12 feet around where the loggers stood—sizable but not enormous, meaning that the tree was probably less than 200 years old at the time it was cut. The absence of much larger stumps in our neighborhood indicates that a big fire or windstorm probably swept through north Seattle before this tree was born, clearing much of the forest.
The loggers harvested all of the timber worth cutting. After World War II, the majority of the trees they spared or that grew up later in our neighborhood were cut to prepare for our subdivision. However, the builders left a good number of trees standing, especially along Victory and Thornton creeks. The presence of many large conifers was part of what attracted my wife and me to the neighborhood. We love the views to the west and south of our house, which are mostly of trees. The surrounding Douglas-firs Pseudotsuga menziesii, cedars, hemlocks, alders, maples, and cottonwoods are home to a wide variety of birds, including Pileated woodpeckers Dryocopus pileatus and Downy woodpeckers Picoides pubescens, Anna’s hummingbirds Calypte anna, an occasional passing eagle or heron (once even a Peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus!), and the usual assortment of songbirds, sparrows, finches, and, of course, crows and starlings. I love the 30-foot-tall hemlock whose roots snake down the side of the cedar stump, the red huckleberry Vaccinium parvifolium growing out of the stump’s side, and the Indian plum Oemleria cerasiformis, salmonberry Rubus spectabilis, Oregon grape Mahonia aquifolium, trailing blackberry R. ursinus, and other native plants that survived the onslaught of ivy and Himalayan blackberry R. armeniacus, before I began to restore the backyard.