Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Very Earthy Weekend

I am very pleased with my state and my county. I am happy with how my tax dollars were spent on a particular program. Right in the middle of trying to decide what to do about the back side of our property sliding down Big Gulch, flyers and advertisements were circulated in Mukilteo and Edmonds for a free workshop for bluff and waterfront landowners. The title of the workshop? "Is Your Yard Slip-Sliding Away?"

Well, as a matter of fact, yes. Wow! Was the Governor reading my blog? Needless to say, I signed up for the workshop which caused me to miss some Lenten activites at my church. Definitely, definitely, it was totally worth it. I learned all about the geology of landslides and the correlation with the number of days and amount of rain. Almost always in the Puget Sound area, if the conditions are ripe for landslides, it will be the month of January or February. I discovered ours on Feb. 2.

Most of the data gathered about our landslides has come from the railroad. The bluffs where our homes are located all along the water in Edmonds and Mukilteo rise above the railroad tracks. When landslides happen along this stretch, they threaten the railroad, people's lives, and commerce so the railroad people keep track. No pun intended--well, maybe. Our house is not perched right above the tracks on the bluff but we are perched on a steep slope along Big Gulch. Anywhere in the Puget Sound area where there is a steep slope which is most everywhere, there is a risk of landslide. Interestingly, it is mathematical and I can find a USGS chart online that predicts the likelihood of a mudslide in my back yard based on an equation. Throw an earthquake into the mix and whoa.....!

I had a chance to talk to geotech folks about retaining walls. Bottom line: retaining walls are astronomically expensive and they charge $2500 just to come and look without even a report. The geotech engineer told me if our house was not in danger, a wall was not an economical choice which corroborated the Mukilteo civil engineer's opinion about our property. We also heard from landscape experts about the value of native plants for stabilizing slopes and how bad invasive non-natives are. My blackberry bushes are non-native and are very very very bad. Rather than rooting deeply and holding things in place, they are shallow, top heavy and tend to tumble. Yikes! That is exactly what happened. Ivy is bad and so is English holly both of which have taken over the Northwest. Somehow, we need to get wild roses to grow in place of the blackberry bushes. When Vancouver or Cook or whatever English speaking person first sailed into Puget Sound, they named the Mukilteo area, Rosehill because the hillsides were covered with wild roses. The idea is to return to the natural state of things.

The workshop was followed up with a field trip this past weekend to the site of a huge landslide that happened in Edmonds in 1997--yes, in January of 1997. In the 1930's, a very rich Boeing executive built a mansion with a great view of the Olympics and Puget Sound on the bluffs above the railroad tracks in Edmonds. The mansion and its extensive gardens have been occupied for decades by Dominican Nuns and is a retreat center. After a wet and snowy few weeks at the end of 1996, the back part of this property collapsed sending trees, part of the tennis court, and mud down to the tracks below, knocking a freight train into Puget Sound.

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Rosary Heights, Edmonds, site of massive landslide in 1997

The culprit was the swimming pool located near the bluff over the water. Evidently, the massive concrete structure interfered with the natural movement of water and in a way, acted like a dam. The excess weight in combination with water then rushing around and underneath the concrete caused massive slope failure. The tennis courts and the swimming pool have been removed and they have been pushing growth of native plants along with meticulous water monitoring. Even so, more of the slope failed this year and we were able to see it. Actually, it made me feel not so bad about our own little mudslide.

On top of all of this wonderful information and trip to the gorgeous Edmonds retreat center, attendees will be provided with 11 free native plants in gallon containers to plant in our slope sensitive areas. I have already ordered my Nootka roses. They even showed us on the Edmonds property how to plant and where in relation to the slope. Of course, our blackberry bushes are so massive, we are not sure how all of this is going to work. Our back property may be a work in progress for years to come.

After our landslide education weekend, we took our daughter out to dinner to celebrate her 18th birthday. She has a shellfish allergy and has become disdainful of meat so we took her to a vegetarian restaurant called Carmelita in Seattle. It seemed fitting after learning how to deepen our lawn roots to great depths without using chemicals. Oh my gosh, it was terrific. Dave and Kaley had stuffed ravioli type of things. I had a sauted chick pea patty, lentils, and pastry encrusted winter vegetables. Everything had so much fresh flavor. And desserts in such places are to die for!

Finally, to all of my friends and relatives who received blackberry jam from us in past years....well....you may be opening rose-hip jam instead for your Christmas dinner.