Growing Old: Tales from an Urban Canopy


Episode Summary

Explore what the Northwest looked like pre-contact, with Native nutritionist and food sovereignty expert Valerie Segrest of the Muckleshoot Tribe. Walk through Schmitz Preserve Park where 50 acres of towering Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar still stand tall amid West Seattle’s urban community. Imagine what Seattle might look like in the year 2070, if it's to become a place where both trees and humans grow old.

Episode Notes

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This series was created in collaboration. 

Created by:
Lylianna Allala, Colleen Echohawk, and Tamara Power-Drutis

Produced by:
Katie Mosehauer

Written by:
Tamara Power-Drutis

Narrated by:
Zoey Echohawk-Hayashi, Lily Warrior, Collen Echohawk, Lylianna Allala, along with various members of the Growing Old team.

Music for the series by:
Black Stax, Glass Heart String Choir, Lacey Warrior, and Talaya Logan Marque Studios with engineering and mixing by Katie Mosehauer and Greg Fields and mixing and mastering by Pierre Ferguson.

Music in Episode 1 by:
Glass Heart String Choir, Kai Engel, and Tamara Power-Drutis.

Recording by:
Katie Mosehauer, Tamara Power-Drutis, and Katie Myers

In Partnership With:
Chief Seattle Club and Earth Day Northwest 2020

Promotion and Community Engagement by:
Katie Myers and The Vida Agency

Fiscal sponsorship provided by:
Earth Day Northwest 2020 and Forterra

Episode Transcription

You know, it's interesting because sometimes you walk into certain places and you feel like somebody's there with you.And then you walk into other places, you're like, oh, is this man made or, you know, however you want to look at it, humans made this.

When we walked into Schmitz, I thought that what was so interesting is that when we entered the park, I was looking for some type of barrier. And there was none, it was like, there was an openness to come in. There was an openness to experience it, there was an openness to, you know, not just walk inside, but actually look around and maybe even give you some insight to what it was like before you know I became so I don't want to call it corporate or industrialized, but so corporate or industrialized, you know.

It made me feel like we were being guided. It made me feel like there was someone there with us and guiding us and telling us it was okay to talk about, you know, our experience and our journey through the park that day.

It was very, it was very serene. It was very relaxing. You know, I came back and I talked to Felicia about it. I was like, we got to go visit these places. Like these are hidden gems in Seattle, and you know, and they're right around the corner from us a lot o f times. And it just, it just reminded me about the Emerald City, the jewels that are, you know, unspoken, unseen, untold, but are right here with us.

This is the kind of story that begins in a forest. On the traditional lands of the Duwamish and Coast Salish People, past and present. It’s a story about Seattle’s urban forest and the humans that live within it. It’s told with gratitude, to honor the trees who care for us, and those who care for this land. To learn, or to remember, the medicines that have been a part of this place since time immemorial.

We start in the year 2070, imagining what our City might look like if we planted the right seeds today. We follow the story of Chief Seattle Club, as they turn concrete into a Medicine Garden at Eagle Village. And we end each episode with you, and me, and how we might work together so that the humans and trees in our community can grow old.
This is Growing Old, from Seattle, Washington.

The Growing Old Project, for me is an opportunity for all of us to be thinking about the longevity of this planet, of the City and for our families. I'm Colleen Echohawk. I am a mom and a wife and I also get to lead the Chief Seattle Club. I'm a member of the Kithehaki Band of the Pawnee Nation and feel such solidarity and alliance with my People. On my Mom’s side, I am Upper Athabascan, I grew up in rural Alaska, very connected to the idea of subsistence.

My name is Lylianna Allala. I am a community member of White Center, in unincorporated Seattle, and an environmental justice advocate. My paid job is working for the City of Seattle's Office of Sustainability & Environment. And there I am the newly appointed climate justice director, which I'm really excited about.

My name is Tamara Power-Drutis, I was born and raised here in Washington State, and I’m a writer and the director of research and strategy at The Vida Agency.

I'm Lacey Warrior. I'm Dena’ina Athabascan also Aaniiih, which is Gros Ventre from Montana. So Native Alaskan and Plains Indian. I work at the Chief Seattle Club as the Native Works manager.

We are Black Stax. My name is Felicia Loud. And Jace ECAJ is the MC of the group.

Yes indeed.

I'm Ian Williams.

And I'm Katie Mosehauer.

We are Glass Heart String Choir, a Baroque pop duo based in Seattle, Washington.

My name is Zoey Echohawk-Hayashi. I am a member of the Pawnee Nation and the Upper Ahtna Athabaskans. I am the daughter of Colleen Echohawk and Matthew Hayashi.

Together, we are Growing Old.
Our team came together as we approached the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, thinking about all that had changed over the past half century, and where we might go in the next five decades.
What would it look like, within the next 50 years, for Seattle to become a place where both trees and humans grow old?
This question took us through parks and reserves throughout our City, to the Chief Seattle Club’s Eagle Village, and into discussions with experts across fields and communities about what it would take to get us there.
We bring these stories to you now, across seven episodes of Growing Old.
We’ve been called a lot of different names here. The Emerald City. Rain City. The Evergreen State.
Much of our identity as a city, our sense of place, is connected to our ecosystem. Which isn’t a surprise.
When you look out your window, in Chicago, or New York City, or Los Angeles, chances are, you’re not seeing green. Here in Seattle though, 28% of our City is covered in trees.
That’s 4.35 million carbon sequestering, air cleansing, neighborhood beautifying, mostly evergreen trees. 6,000 of them are considered exceptional or old growth. Which may sound like a lot, but that’s nothing compared to what used to be growing here.
We spoke to Valerie Segrest, a member of the Muckleshoot Tribe and a Native nutritionist specializing in wild food and medicine, to get a sense for what the Seattle area would have looked like before colonization, and what trees and plant life would have been growing here.

I think about the Puget Sound area and our food systems and several landscapes or foodscapes as beginning at the top of the mountains, which are the homes of these large glaciers. Those glaciers feed these swift running rivers that exit into the Puget Sound.
Along the way there are all of these different layers of incredible cultural ecosystems. There are high mountain huckleberry meadows, which we know were maintained over 5000 years ago. And if you think about that for a minute, that means that my ancestors were in those meadows, burning logs, burning bushes, trailing wild strawberry up the base of huckleberries, receding when Wooly Mammoths we're walking through the land.
So often in our history lessons, we are looking at things like the Colosseum and the City of Pompeii, which were not even a thought in people's minds in comparison to how long my ancestors have been managing these Huckleberry meadows.
And then you would come through well managed forest lands that weren't logged as we see it in modern day times, but trees were fallen and wood was harvested, bark was harvested.
And then you would go into a layer of camas meadows that were so abundant you can walk through camas meadows from Canada into Northern California.
Then you would come to saltwater beaches that had an abundance of food options there. There were clams and oysters, crabs, seaweed, all kinds of sea life available. And they were also well managed and maintained ecosystems that were, that are now being coined as “clam gardens.”
And then of course, there's the Salmon People, who spawn in our river beds, go out to sea, have some sort of sea Odyssey for a couple of years, and then return to their ancestral rivers to spawn and give life for the next generation to come. And in that action, their mineral rich bodies feed our rivers which feed our land, which increase the nutrition and medicine value of all of the land and all the things that dwell on that landscape.
This is all really important to remember when we think about how colonists arrived here and had a completely different take on the landscape. That even Captain Vancouver himself, while he sailed into the Salish Sea, documented that he had never seen land so untouched by man before. And what he didn't know is that he was looking at very well maintained and manicured gardens, that it was nothing for people to maintain acres of stinging nettle. And not just by harvesting them, but by also fertilizing them.
And so I'm not the kind of person that likes to pick away at terms. But when I think about foraging, I think about somebody sort of bumbling through the forest picking things. And that's not how our ancestors did it. These were very well maintained gardens. Sure they didn't look like Mr. McGregor's garden, but they definitely were cared for and in harvesting with a rich tradition and knowledge base, it actually encouraged the growth of native foods here.
So in certain harvesting techniques, whether it's picking a berry or harvesting a wild green, those techniques actually encourage the plant to invigorate more growth. So you may get a better berry crop next year and you would get a better crop of nettles in the fall.
This to me is what happens when you are bound up in your land, the deep connection to land and water for tens of thousands of years. That there is incredible ecological knowledge that's handed down through generations.

Trees began appearing in what is now the City of Seattle around 300 million years ago. So they have about a two hundred, ninety-nine billion, nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety thousand year head start on us.
Sometime in the 6th Century, humans began living at what was once the mouth of the Duwamish River. 13 villages, each with a Cedar longhouse, tended to a thriving forest. Every person had a home. Every tree had a role.
And then, on November 13, 1851, Arthur Denny and a few dozen pioneers landed on Alki Beach. It’s said that Chief Sealth greeted them in person. What’s known for sure is that Arthur’s younger brother wrote a letter that September saying, "We have examined the valley of the Duwamish River and find it a fine country. There is plenty of room for one thousand settlers. Come at once."
“There is plenty of room for one thousand,” David said, “come at once.” And over seven hundred thousand people showed up.
In South Lake Union, there used to be a meadow. The same is true in Belltown, Sand Point Way, and the University District. Throughout West Seattle and across the city, there stood a contiguous climax forest, with trees up to two thousand years old and nearly 400 feet tall. The Black River still flowed from Lake Washington into the Duwamish. And Pioneer Square was an island in Elliot Bay.
It’s hard to imagine what our home looked like before 1851, even with the streets hollowed from Coronavirus. In fact, there’s nowhere left in the world you can see forests the size, biodiversity, and grandeur of what used to live here. But miraculously, there are still a few places you can go to see pockets of it for yourself.
Places we’ll take you to, so long as you agree to a few simple guidelines:
Stay on the trail and minimize impact.
Dispose of waste, whether it’s yours to begin with, or you encounter litter while walking through the park.
If you’re gathering food and medicine, harvest ethically, which we’ll explore in the coming episodes.
Be courteous to others, both human and wildlife.
Learn about wildlife through quiet observation.

Imagine that you’re standing in an old growth forest. Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar tower above you. The leaves on the Bigleaf Maples are starting to emerge.
Ferns are bobbing in the wind. The conversations of Pacific-slope Flycatchers and Common Ravens can be heard but not seen through the canopy layers.
A coolness washes over you. You zip up your rain jacket as you begin your way down the trail toward the sound of a creek. You slip a bit, on the mud, bracing yourself against the furrowed bark of the Western Hemlock that you couldn’t reach your arms around if you tried.
Can you see it? Can you breathe the clean air? That’s Schmitz Preserve Park.

Our project began in 2019, traveling together through some of Seattle’s most unlikely greenspaces.
We wanted to understand why life expectancy in our City can vary up to a decade depending on which neighborhood you live in, or whether or not you have enough large conifer trees nearby. We wanted to find out what Seattle really looks like underneath the concrete. And as we enter the 50th year of Earth Day, we wanted to reflect, and reevaluate.
What from the last 50 years can we take with us, to fuel the coming efforts?
And what is it time for us to leave behind?

Can I get wet?

No, I don't think it's a good idea. Okay? I mean, we have to walk back, you have, do you have any other pants?


Yeah, let’s not get wet.

I think the dominant frame of environmentalist, when we're talking about forests, there's reference to ecosystem services. There are inherent things that we as community and human beings gain from the existence of a healthy forest and healthy habitat and ecosystem.
We know that the existing systems and constructs have created these disparities and perpetuated a power imbalance. Is it worthwhile to continue to perpetuate a motivation that stemmed in a capitalist system that has actually done more harm than good?
It's interesting to think about it in terms of money, and commodify something that exists in a fierce way on its own just as well without us messing around in it.

I'm glad we have somebody to kind of balance out what the colonized philosophy is. I think a lot of times we look at things and we're like, oh, that's great what you saved, well, but you also got to think of what was destroyed. What was there before it? And how that affects the people who were the keepers, the nurturers of that space. That's why I think it's important to talk about the healing properties. And then how do we honor those that have been the nurturers of this space for so for so many thousands of years?

We truly, in order to see environmental justice happen in the right way, we have to be thinking about this in relationship to community and relationship to our relationships with plants and animals.
Hey, Zoey!

She had to go far away to get wet so you wouldn't see.

So what would you guess the age of this thing to be just ballpark?

I think these live up to 1000 years if I'm not mistaken. I brought my tree, my plant, and my mushroom book.

We walked together through a number of Seattle parks as part of Growing Old. Schmitz Preserve, the West Duwamish Greenbelt, Kubota Garden, and Be’er Shiva Park, to name a few. We meandered along forested streets, meeting neighbors like “Burl,” a gnarly street tree growing old along Felicia’s path home from work.
We spent time with restoration crews and volunteers planting ferns and digging up blackberry roots. And we spent time in isolation during COVID 19, contributing to the project from the safe distance of our homes.
On the day before we began interviews for Growing Old, the U.S. and Washington State had our first confirmed case of Coronavirus, in nearby Snohomish County.
By the time we began editing the season, our home town had become the epicenter of COVID 19 in the United States.
And as of our final days of recording, there had been a total of 8,384 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington State, with 220 deaths here in King County.

Throughout this crisis the Chief Seattle Club remains open, serving 250 meals a day, providing COVID-19 testing and caring for our beloved relatives.

Dear listeners, we hope you and your loved ones are well and are finding strength from within and from each other. Whether we’re in the quiet before the storm or the tension before a sigh of relief, it seems clear that we, and likely much of our City, will be changed by this.

We were already changing, anyway. Our series goes live on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, in a rapidly developing, rapidly gentrifying, rapidly growing City. That things are changing is a given, but what will they change into? That’s still up in the air.

As part of this project, we ask you to imagine the year 2070. As distant to us now as 1970 feels today.
Imagine that here, in the City of Seattle, we’ve been able to achieve a community where both trees and humans grow old.
Oh my gosh, ok best case scenario?
What does it look like?
What do you see when you walk down the street?
Is there a street? Or are there trails?
What does it sound like?
How are people getting to work?
Is there space for both affordable housing and a contiguous forest?
Who feels like they belong here?
Here’s what we heard.

We would have healthy, abundant Orca relatives in the Salish Sea. To me, that would just be everything. You know, I'm not Coast Salish, but I have spent a lot of time learning from my Coast Salish relatives out here. And they talk about that when we see the health of our salmon, and we see the health of the orcas who rely on that salmon, then we see health in our communities.
And so, I think that to me, if we saw hundreds of orcas thriving, which means that we see millions of salmon thriving, that would be like the epitome of a healthy community that's thriving here in Seattle. And we would see healthy animals, healthy humans, healthy trees, and it would just be, it would be amazing.
And I think that we have the right kind of community to get there. It will take a lot of sacrifice. It will take a lot of courage. This is the city that that can see that can make that happen.

The public deserves to be amongst something beautiful that provides health benefits. I think about affordable multifamily homes in proximity to beautiful trees and green space. I picture forests that are devoid of litter.
Folks find a way to see the connection between their individual choice in their actions and the wellbeing and health of the collective. And that includes our plant and animal neighbors too. And so, I picture forests that don't become dumping grounds or trash sites.
I picture forests with a lot of different kinds of understory and ground covers, and mushrooms popping up. And all the kinds of birds that you know live here or stop through, coming through the forest, and different kinds of creatures to.
I feel pretty strongly that the forests and the earth were for animals, and we are guests here. And we need to adapt ourselves versus expecting animals to adapt. And so I think about, you know, in the best case scenario, we're not shooting, you know, coyotes or wolves or doing stuff like that. Maybe this is overly idealistic, but like, this is kind of finding a way to coexist together.

High density, zero carbon emissions, green buildings, green rooftops, vast green spaces, clean water, free flowing water, public spaces that have all of those elements within them.

My hope for 2070 is that people will still have access to our traditional foods and medicines. And access in all the terms, not just that they're thriving on the land, but that the knowledge system that comes with those beautiful teachers is embedded into everyday life.
That is not some separate topic or subject of social studies or literature, but that it's science and technology and engineering and math and nutrition and health, that it's embodied in all of the things that we do as a society. Because that's where it belongs.
Historically, our foods and our medicines were more than just simply resources. They were our relatives and our teachers. And they brought to us a healthy balance of emotional mental and physical medicine. And that's why for the Coast Salish people, we are advocates, and relentless advocates. Because we look at the Salmon People and their relentless ability to return to their ancestral rivers and be big medicine. We think to ourselves how we might be like that.
So in 2070, I hope that salmon are still returning to these rivers, I hope to see the revitalization of camas prairies. I hope that my daughters are practicing medicine the way I'm teaching them to, and fishing and hunting the way their father is teaching them to. And that they are also working on passing on those knowledge systems to my grandchildren and great grandchildren as well. Because that’s all we can do in this lifetime.

When I think about the year 2070, I go back to Schmitz Preserve, where we started this story. The way it looks, the way it feels, the biodiversity, the wildlife, the huge, old trees, that’s how all of this area used to look. Schmitz Preserve is a reminder of what was lost, what was taken, so that I could be here, so that so many thousands of us could be here.
I picture Schmitz Preserve everywhere. When I cross the West Seattle Bridge on my way to work, I look out over the straightened body of the West Duwamish River, with industry booming all around it. And I benefit from that boom, and I rely on that boom in many ways, many of us do in port cities.
But yet when I cross that bridge, what I picture is, what if this still looked like Schmitz Preserve? And that feels like a loaded question, full of politics and jurisdictions and feasibility studies, which is why, it’s maybe easier, to think 50 or 100 years ahead, so that I can take my self-interest out of the equation.
But we live in a Native City, what if by the year 2070 it looked more like Indigenous land?

Octavia Butler when she was living here, she talked about Washington State in particular being a utopia for where the world would come to get natural resources. Which was a trip.
There, there is no competition. There should be no hunger in Washington State. I walk around and I pick blackberries, I walk around and I picked some herbs. I walked around, I pick some apples and some pears. And no one was no one was responding to me as if I was stealing from them. I didn't take more than what was needed. And if there were some that were already on the ground, then I would take those, there's no worry. At least you don't see the sorrowfulness of hunger.
Go on. It's a beautiful place. I lived it. I saw it.

The beautiful city of Seattle, Washington, huh? In 2070. Aight. Aight.

What’d you see?

I see about that. I pray that the trees are still allowed to survive in this area. I pray that people are still able to experience the things that, some of the things that we get to experience today, like going out and walking up to the water and, you know, being able to see the green of the city.
You know, in 50 years, 2070, I just pray that the environment is still intact so that the young people can experience the greatness that comes with it.

At this moment, right? Every place in which we walk is someplace that someone else has built a foundation for what they felt the future was going to be.

The City we live in today was decided by those alive in the past. But we get to determine what we become as a community moving forward.

Will our region become host to healthy, abundant orcas in the Salish Sea? Will we restore a system of streams and habitats to provide for millions of thriving salmon? Will affordable multifamily homes be built in proximity to beautiful trees?

In 50 years, will our city be carbon neutral? Will our forests be contiguous? Will the native foods and medicines grow into a beautiful edible landscape? You get to decide.

We’ll be back in episode 2 to explore how we might begin working together toward these visions for Seattle’s future. We’ll also take you into the heart of Rainier Beach neighborhood to Kubota Garden, where an immigrant family and thousands of volunteers turned 20 acres into a cherished cultural greenspace.

And we’d like to hear from you! What do you want Seattle to look like in the year 2070?

Share your vision with us on Instagram at Growing Old Project, and join us in Episode Two to begin exploring how we can grow this future together.
Learn more at Growing Old Project dot com.


This series was developed in collaboration.

It was co-created by Colleen Echohawk, Lylilanna Allala, and Tamara Power-Drutis.

It was produced by Katie Mosehauer.

Music for the series was created by Lacey Warrior, Glass Heart String Choir, and Black Stax.

Promotion and marketing was provided by Katie Myers and The Vida Agency.
Support for this project is provided by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and Arts in the Parks, a partnership between the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and Seattle Parks and Recreation.

This is Growing Old.