Meet five native Seattle trees and plants through the eyes of humans that care for them: The Western Red Cedar, Dougfir, Madrone, White Pine, and Fern. Gain identification skills to help you find them in your urban forest. Learn how you can help them become climate resilient. Visit the Washington Park Arboretum, and meet the champion Pacific Crabapple growing old there. Learn what it would take to see more native trees growing along Seattle's streets. Hear the premiere of Until the Break of Dawn, the new single from Black Stax written for Season 1 of Growing Old.
Learn more at GrowingOldProject.com.
Subscribe on your favorite streaming platform, and follow the Growing Old Project on Instagram.
This series was created in collaboration.
Lylianna Allala, Colleen Echohawk, and Tamara Power-Drutis
Zoey Echohawk-Hayashi, Collen Echohawk, Lylianna Allala, Tamara Power-Drutis 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 6 by:
Black Stax, Talaya Logan Marque Studios, C. Scott, Chris Zabriskie, and Tamara Power-Drutis.
Katie Mosehauer, Tamara Power-Drutis, and Katie Myers
In Partnership With:
Chief Seattle Club and Earth Day Northwest 2020
This is the kind of story that begins in a forest, on the traditional lands of the Duwamish, Suquamish, Muckleshoot, 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. 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.
In this episode, you’ll continue to hear from the Growing Old Project team:
Felicia V. Loud
Thanks for being part of the Growing Old Project.
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Learn more at GrowingOldProject.com.
In the last episode, Lylianna said It really is as simple as a person and a tree. A tree, sequestering carbon, cleaning the air and water, providing for a person’s mental and physical health, and inspiring reciprocity. A person, removing invasive species, creating space below and above ground for a tree to grow, tending to their needs, their mulch, their water, and defending a tree against pests.
Today, we explore five Seattle trees and plants through the eyes of humans that care for them. And we talk about how you can help care for trees in your neighborhood.
As part of the Growing Old Project, Felicia and Jace wrote a song inspired by Seattle’s trees. In it, they write that it comes down to how we respect the land and water.
Respect. Reciprocity. These words keep coming up, wherever we turn for stories and answers. As such, for each of the trees and plants we feature in this episode, we share how we can show respect to our resident trees, and reciprocate for the enduring care they provide to us.
Until the Break of Dawn – SONG EXCERPT
You can download this new track from Black Stax, which was written by Jace and Felicia as part of the Growing Old Project. Download the new single on iTunes, Spotify, or for free on Bandcamp. You’ll also find a link to it on our website at GrowingOldProject.com.
SONYA AND THE DOUGLASFIR
Throughout the Growing Old project, we asked humans about their favorite trees. We heard about dozens of species from around the globe, but more than any others, we heard about the Pacific Madrone, the Douglasfir, and the Western Red Cedar. These three are, by our estimation, Seattle’s favorite trees.
On MLK Junior Day this year, we spoke with Sonya, a volunteer helping remove blackberries at Kubota Garden, and asked her which tree is her favorite.
You know, I would say the Douglasfir. There's something very stoic about them in a very rugged way. Think of a real tree, not a little wispy plant, not a little shrub, like think of an imposing big tree, that sometimes you won't even be able to put both arms around most of the times, if it's given the grace of growing up where it was meant to be.
So I didn't grow up around here. I actually, I grew up a half a world away in India. So, this kind of our temperate kind of forest is very different from me. Grew up in the tropics, right? Leaves don't dump their leaves all at one time of the year and then put them back on there just green all year long. It's like living in Hawaii all your life. So it's very different and, kind of appreciate it in a different way.
In their guide to Northwest trees, Stephen Arno and Ramona Hammerly describe the Douglasfir as “nature’s all-purpose tree.” In fact, they’re not really a fir at all, which is why some refer to them as the common douglas, or their botanical name: Pseudotsuga menziesii.
The common douglas is central to our Northwest culture. It provides medicine and food for those who would harvest it, it’s the cornerstone in our timber industry, and we dress it up in our living rooms during the holidays.
Douglasfir is the predominant conifer throughout residential neighborhoods, parks, and wild spaces.
If you’re walking through the forest of Seattle, and you encounter an enormous, behemoth sized tree, it’s all but guaranteed to be either a Douglas Fir or a Western Red Cedar. You can tell them apart in a number of ways, including by their bark, needles, and cones.
In older, larger trees, if the bark is tan and cork-like with massive fissures, it’s a Douglasfir. If it’s bark is reddish with vertical, string-like strips, it’s a Western Red Cedar.
If you can get a good look at the needles, perhaps most closely examined on fallen branches, you can also see the distinction there. Douglasfir leaves are shaped like needles, but are soft to the touch and grow on all sides of the twigs.
Whereas Western Red Cedar needles grow in flat, fern-like sprays.
One of the most commonly used methods of identifying which tree you’re looking at, is to examine it’s cones. While Western Red Cedars can grow to an extraordinary size over the course of their 1000-year lifespan, their tiny, rose-bud shaped cones are comically small at about ½ inch in length. Douglasfirs, on the other hand, produce 1-4 inch cones with three-pronged bracts poking out from between the scales.
When it’s given the space and time to grow slowly, Douglasfir can reach 500 years old, sometimes over 1000. But Seattle owes much of our early success and economy to the Douglasfir, as our “all-purpose tree,” so only a handful of ancient Douglasfirs exist in our canopy today. Still, second-growth stands exist across our City, with Douglasfirs reaching up to 200 feet tall.
Sonya was one of hundreds of volunteers taking part in restoration projects across our City on MLK Day this year, hosted by organizations like Earth Corps and the Green Seattle Partnership. We asked her, what was it about Kubota Garden that brought her there to volunteer:
It is truly a refuge. And, you know, I feel like you come here and you realize how special places like these have become, in the urban environments that we live in, and how really important it is to preserve them.
LYLIANNA AND THE MADRONA
The Pacific Madrone is one of Seattle’s most distinctive trees. It’s orange peeling bark and broad leaves stand out amongst the other Northwest evergreens. Eye catching, they lean out from steep hills and cliffsides.
They’re a salt water tree, preferring to live within views of extensive blue. And their range is limited to about 100 miles, from southern B.C. to Monterey, California. Madronas enjoy the company of Dougfirs and Tanoak, and can grow as old as 400 years in the right conditions.
They rarely find those “right” conditions in the city. Still, three neighborhoods in Seattle are named after the species: Madrona, Magnolia, and Laurelhurst, and you can still find groves of them growing in a number of unexpected places.
Near my home there is a park. A ravine, in the South end of West Seattle. And this park has a beautiful grove of Madrona. And these Madrona overlook a vast stretch of blue -- the Puget Sound.
And when I walk in Saola park, I never see many people. And this makes me feel like this is a groove of Madrona’s meant for me. It makes me feel like it’s a secret place, where these trees enjoy being rooted while watching the waves go by.
Here, in the heart of it’s range, the Madrona is experiencing widespread decline. That’s partly because we had been trying to suppress fires in Washington State for so long. That suppression method backfired, as we’ve seen elsewhere across the country, with only an increase in the severity and frequency of fires.
Now, in Washington State, we’ve begun to align our prescribed burn and wildfire management plans more with how the Coast Salish people have traditionally tended to these forests. Wildfires are a natural and relied upon method for forests to regenerate, and in the case of Madrones, while their papery bark makes them vulnerable, they rely on fires to thin the forest. It makes room for their descendents to grow.
The renewed thinning of our forests will hopefully give the Madrona a better chance. But you can help them regain their range by planting more Madronas in appropriate places throughout our City. If you’re planting a Madrone, plant it somewhere with well drained soil, and take care that it’s delicate roots are at a safe distance from any current or future construction.
Perhaps the most beloved native tree to our area is one you’re unlikely to find growing in Seattle’s urban core. The Western Red Cedar, which grows from Alaska down to California, holds a place of honor across many cultures and Tribes.
COLLEEN AND THE CEDAR
I'm always happy when I see a cedar tree. To me when cedar has such an incredible importance. In my Tribe, and we have a lot of this and other tribes as well, the cedar is cleansing. When you when you've experienced a really hard thing, or you've gone through a really hard time, maybe it's a death, you get to have a cedar ceremony where you brush off all those negative and hard things that you've gone through. And so, when I see a cedar along the streetscape it means something different to me than I think it might mean to someone else.
At the Chief Seattle Club, we have traditional medicine people that come from you know, Swinomish and Yakima. They always bring cedar. We always have Cedar branches in our gathering circle where we do all kinds of you know, Sarah money and and, and it's it's always I know you breathe easier when you know that it's there and and you know that there's protection there.
Visitors to the Chief Seattle Club have to bring Cedar from elsewhere, because unfortunately there are no known cedar trees growing near the Club in the Pioneer Square neighborhood.
In fact, according to an interactive map of Seattle’s street trees produced by Trees for Seattle, not a single native tree of any species resides along the streets of what is currently designated as the “Pioneer Square Preservation District.”
This district, which is protected by an ordinance to preserve the unique historic and architectural character of Seattle’s original downtown, is able to present none of the original ecology of the area.
Sure, we’ve got plenty of the European Littleleaf Linden and Maple, and countless London Planes from Asia. We’ve got Red Oak from the East Coast and Ginkgo from China.
But nowhere, in the entire historic district of Pioneer Square, will you find a street tree that could have been growing here in the early days of Seattle.
No common douglas, no madrone, no Western Red Cedar, no Whie Pine.
When I look at all of the urban planning or all of the public parks public spaces I see a lot of non-indigenous plants, trees. To me that's a statement. It's a continued work of colonialism, and it's the continued colonial mindset that, “we took over.”
This place right now we're living right now is vastly dominated by non-indigenous people. And it was a takeover. And you see that with the blackberries, it's taken over. And it's all over the place and you see very little representation of indigenous plants, trees.
And so I think as a part of the work of environmental justice, a part of the work of anti-racism, is to say, “we will be intentional,” and it is a matter of equity to encourage all new planning to have indigenous plants to have indigenous trees as part of this of this area.
We asked Valerie Segrest to tell us about the Cedar tree, it’s role in Coast Salish culture, and the medicines that it provides.
For the Coast Salish people we call the cedar tree, “Long life giver, grandmother cedar.”There are so many teachings to share around this tree in particular, it is everything to us. It's our clothing. It's our basketry material. It's our housing. It's the wood that's used for transportation. It's our canoes.
The inner bark was used for baby diapers. If we really wanted to think about a tree and how it can stand through the sea. And was so much patience and kindness and generosity plays such an important role on the health of people, cedar tree is our teacher in so many ways.
And even the way the branches grow and they sort of bow up as if their arms are raised up to the skies. That is why our people will raise their hands up and say, “You lift me up, you lift me up,” because that, in and of itself, is connected to the teachings of the cedar tree.
That cedar works really hard and without a spoken word teaches us that we have to go out there and lift people up. And that's our work in life.
Cedar leaves also carry medicine, Valerie says, providing antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
You can powder it or put it into a sav, infusing an oil with it and use it for nail and skin fungus. Cedar also has immune stimulating properties that increase white blood cell scavenging and is in particular helpful for chronic respiratory and intestinal infections.
The chronic respiratory action, you would want to harvest fresh cedar leaf, chop it up really fine, put a handful of it into a bowl, and pour some hot water over it. And then put your head over the bowl and put a towel over it and inhale that sweet fragrance of all that is sacred in the world. And you want to do that for five minutes, preferably 10. That is how you would actually take care of the lungs and address the chronic respiratory infection.
If it were an intestinal infection, you would drink some cedar tea but you would want to have maybe one cup every couple days.
However, Valerie notes that Cedar tea is particularly strong, and not recommended for pregnant women or people with kidney weakness.
Those volatile oils that are in the cedar leaf have to be processed through the kidneys.
And so, while cedar leaf can help clear the air, and through smoke, you know like burning it, or putting it into a pot of boiling water and purifying the air in your home is great, drinking that leftover tea is probably not best.
But you could wait for it to cool down to room temperature and pour it over your body and get it that way. It would be more safe to ingest topically than it is internally.
The Western Redcedar is found only in our region, where it outgrows and outlives its neighboring trees through sheer determination. Her crown might die back after centuries of windstorms, her heartwood may be hollowed by fire, but the Western Redcedar can stand strong for over 1,000 years. So, when we’re planning for Cedar to grow old in our CIty, that means planning not three generations, but 40 generations down the line.
Western Redcedars don’t ask for much care or maintenance. Their mammoth, fissured trunks can be seen in backyards and street corners across Seattle, often found in groves with Douglas Fir and Devil’s Club.
Give young roots a wide berth, planning for the giants that will one day stand there. Keep them watered for three years after planting, so that they survive our longer summers, and can establish healthy roots to help them grow.
And now, we take you deep into the Puget Sound forest, into the heart of a windstorm, where we meet the fourth beloved tree of this episode.
VALERIE AND THE WESTERN WHITE PINE
I had a dream once that I had climbed up to the top of a White Pine tree in a windstorm. And at the very top of it, there was sap running out of the top of the tree that looked like a waterfall, and I was just drinking cups full of sap, so, to me, it's just one of those trees that have always really captivated me.
The Western White Pine in Valerie’s dream likely stood about 60 feet tall, it’s silky long needles dancing in the wind and giving the tree it’s signature fuzzy appearance as she drank from it’s waterfall of sap.
It used to be a dominant tree species here, up until the early 1900s when a blight hit the white pine tree and it wiped out several stands and really ravaged the forest systems that included white pine around here, but it's incredible medicine.
I love it because when you sit with it, and the wind blows through the needles, it sings a song and some say that bird can hear that song. And so in some ways, white pine is calling out for birds to come visit. The sap is really prevalent in white pine, and it's incredibly antibacterial, antimicrobial.
It's different and often overlooked. But it is powerful medicine and has always played an important role in our herbal apothecaries. But because of that blight, you don't see as much white pine these days.
While the White Pine, native to North America, can live for over a century, and can adapt to dry and moist conditions, it struggles with pests and urban pollution. They’re rarely seen in today’s urban forests, but there are still some growing around the Seattle area, if you know what you’re looking for.
Is there a White Pine growing in your neighborhood? If so, snap a picture, and share it with us on Instagram at Growing Old Project, where we’ve shared photos to help you identify Western White Pine in your forest.
FERNANDO AND THE FERN
At a restoration event in South Seattle, we talked with Fernando Magalhaes, an Earth Corps specialist from Brazil.
Earth Corps conservation training program brings people from around the globe to Seattle for six to ten months at a time to help restore our local ecosystems. These young leaders join US AmeriCorps members in developing skills in environmental service, community building, and leadership. They work in the field every single day that they’re here.
Which means that most days, Fernando is doing restoration somewhere in our community.
I think it’s the feeling that we doing something not just for us, and not just for now, but for the future, and for our kids or grandsons, granddaughters, and for the earth.
Fernando says our Northwest ecosystem looks quite a bit different from where he’s from in Brazil.
Oh my God, so different. First, because Brazil is a tropical place, so warm, and we don't have this kind of like Pines here, all of these conifers. We have more colorful plants and here it’s more like green and stable plants then we have in Brazil.
When we asked Fernando about his favorite plants or trees in the Seattle area, he shared about the ferns that he had been helping volunteers plant at Kubota Garden that day.
Ferns, ush. They can grow in every place. So it's very beautiful. And I really like them.
It's, it's cute. I like it.
They are cute.
Yeah, I really like it.
Ferns were amongst the first plants to grow on our planet. Millions of years ago, when algae and mosses ruled the world, ferns utilized the chemical lignin in their cell walls to grow taller than everything else around them.
Ferns evolved as the earth did. They developed tubes to carry water and minerals, and they learned to grow on just about anything. Ancient ferns could grow as tall as trees themselves, as high as 33 feet. And in fact, tree ferns still exist today.
If you walk into any forest in the Northwest, you’re likely to find fern growing there. They love the shade of an evergreen forest, and appear at all levels of the canopy. Like the orchids of Hawaii, ferns grow on the branches and nooks of trees in our forests. Wherever they can stay cool and gather moisture from the air.
The case for ferns is a strong one. First, as Fernando mentioned, they are utterly cute, and delightful to watch as the bob in the wind.
But they’re also great at growing in disturbed sites as a stage in forest succession, cleaning the air, and providing habitats for small animals.
As we explored in the last episode, cities and urban areas are hot. But chances are high if you live in the Seattle area, that there are ferns living in your neighborhood. Particularly in the summer, during drought periods or high temperatures, those ferns get stressed as their soil dries out.
We can help them by keeping them watered throughout the summer heat, or planting them in shaded areas where they’re out of direct sunlight.
What do we call this way of caring? This connection to a place. The kinship with trees. The transforming of concrete into Medicine Gardens and prairies.
Is there a word for that? Perhaps not, not in English at least.
We asked Valerie if she knew of any Lushootseed words to describe a reciprocal relationship with our ecosystem. Lushootseed is spoken throughout the Salish region, including in the Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Puyallup, Nisqually, and Squaxin Island Tribes. And while Valerie noted that she’s not a Lushootseed speaker herself, she had some ideas nonetheless.
I listened to a recording of Vi Hilbert and Bruce Miller um telling stories once, and well, once -- I listened to that thing a million times until it stopped working.
But Vi talks about, there's a phrase in our language ____. And I'm probably horrifying every language teacher out there because I don't have the proper like, sounds to be able to say it correctly, but _____, and it means sacred friendship.
But I'm told that that interpretation is so rough, that the actual interpretation doesn't exist. But the is the idea of our relationships with the things that we love. It's about the connection of land and people and how things show up in the world. And it's our sacred kinship that we have with the living legacy that is the land we derive from and the plants we adore and the sea life we organize our lives around.
That that is something so special that it doesn't even translate into English language. It's just a feeling, it's how you feel about something that sort of illuminates you or illuminates itself because you have such great admiration for it and love.
And that's _____.
ACT 3: CARING FOR YOUR TREE
At 8:50 am, on a Sunday morning in Fall 2019, our team met in the parking lot of the Washington Park Arboretum, where we had come to ask about the trees we planned to encounter throughout the project, and meet a Champion Pacific Crabapple growing old there.
Just a little note, that’s when I first got Valerie involved in this project. Because I texted her and asked, “What do Coast Salish people use Crabapple for?”
We met with Jessica Farmer and David Zuckerman from the UW Botanic Gardens, who led us into the park to meet the tree.
Come meet the team!
What a great Pacific Northwest Day!
Yes! I’m so excited about it.
Because we're an Arboretum, we're a heritage tree place. But there are three or four significant heritage trees here.
Can you tell us what a heritage tree was?
Yeah, what does that look like?
Heritage Tree is usually based on size, or history or another factor that gives it great significance for our city. It's similar to champion trees, but heritage also brings into account the history of our city and what the tree may have meant to people for quite a long period of time, which is kind of cool for your project.
The Arboretum has one of the most diverse plant collections in the world, with more oaks, maples, magnolias, hollies, pines, spruces, and firs than almost anywhere else. With over half a million visitors and over 10,000 people participating in educational programs each year, this park plays a big role in cultivating a sense of stewardship in Seattle. They host field trips and camps, hands on training in everything from restoration pruning to caring for hummingbirds, and a nature preschool based entirely outdoors.
They're outside in preschool, all day every day unless the weather is hazardous. So if it's just cold or wet whenever, they're out in it. The teachers like to say there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.
There are a number of hands on experiences available through the Arboretum and Botanical Garden, with both indoor and outdoor classrooms to learn skills like plant identification and botanical art, as well as wellness programming.
We have these forest bathing walks that happen right now once a month, and folks come out and they have kind of a guided meditation series of invitations to go through and slow down, and experience nature more deeply.
Forest bathing isn’t one of those, “don’t try this at home” kind of things. We encourage you to try it, in fact.
In his published guide to forest bathing, Dr. Qing Li, Chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, writes that shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing is about bathing in the forest atmosphere, not simply going for a walk.
He writes, “This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Indoors, we tend to use only two sense, our eyes and our ears.
Outside is when we can smell the flowers, taste the fresh air, look at the changing colours of the trees, hear the birds singing and feel the breeze on our skin. And when we open up our sense, we begin to connect to the natural world.”
The Arboretum, amongst other parks in Seattle, offers guided forest bathing walks, as well as trainings and workshops to help us care for the trees and plants around us.
We asked David and Jessica what it would take to see more Northwest native trees growing along the streets of Seattle, particularly around the Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square.
It's really hard for them to grow in that colonized urban environment, that's been built. So it's a challenge in getting Native trees into street tree plantings anywhere that you go.
Why is that? So they don't do as well as imported trees as street trees?
A lot of planting strips are fairly narrow. Right? And a lot of Native trees need a lot of space to grow. So there's not a whole lot of Native trees that are right sized for street tree planting spaces.
And then those that are smaller, Vine Maple is one, there are a handful of species, but a lot of like our big conifers, or Big Leaf Maples and things like that are too large for the planting strips or the boxes if you're in more of a Downtown kind of area.
Because of all these barriers, it’s rare to find a street tree growing old in Seattle, or most cities.
There are a lot of like structural soils, soil cells and things like that have been researched and developed for planting into tree boxes, basically, in sidewalks to help alleviate that as much as possible. Sometimes there's things where the cell will go continuously along the sidewalk underneath the surface, so the roots can grow through a channel rather than just a box, and things like that.
If we want to see more large conifers and native trees growing in our urban canopy, we’re going to have to make room for them, and we’re going to need to take part in their stewardship and care.
Throughout our project, we asked for advice on best to show Seattle’s trees that we care.
Here are some of the ideas and tips we heard. Tips that, if we were all to start following, would help trees and humans in our community grow old.
First, find a local tree and fall in love with them. Visit them regularly, and keep an eye out for drooping foliage or a pest infestation. Bring them water in the summer, and mulch from time to time.
Learn to identify invasive species like Blackberry or English Ivy, and volunteer to help remove them from our ecosystem.
Plant trees that are native to your region, give them at least three years of watering to help them get a strong start. Make sure they get watered during the summer drought. Remember, the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap!
If you think you might need to remove a tree on your property, either for safety or for development reasons, call a certified arborist first to get advice on the project. Let them know that your preference is to preserve the tree if at all possible.
If you’re breaking ground on a new construction project, consider how neighbors might benefit from what you make space to plant there. Are there opportunities for new, large conifers to take root? For mini-greenspaces to thrive? Perhaps -- dare we dream -- even room for a Camus prairie?
If you live in Seattle, add your comments to the new Tree Ordinance draft when it comes out in 2020. This is our chance to provide constructive input toward that 2070 vision we imagined back in episode one.
And if nothing else, for those who are able, please take public transportation.
If the path to reaching our vision for 2070 begins with one person and one tree, then caring for a neighborhood tree seems like a pretty good place for hummingbirds to begin.
What’s your favorite tree?
Share you a photo of your favorite tree with us on Instagram at Growing Old Project.
Learn more at GrowingOldProject.com.
And join us in our next episode to explore another essential greenspace in Seattle, and the role community has played in restoring the West Duwamish Greenbelt.
Subscribe to our series on Apple Podcast or your favorite streaming platform, and if you’re enjoying Growing Old, give us a review, and help others discover our series.
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.
UNTIL THE BREAK OF DAWN --- SONG