Future site of Dharma Rain Zen Center. This is from the center of the campus looking west toward 82nd street.

Future site of Dharma Rain Zen Center. This is from the center of the campus looking west toward 82nd street.

One of Tara’s 11th grade classes is AP Environmental Science (affectionately called APES). One of the projects that her science class has been involved with all year is the future campus of the Dharma Rain Zen Center. At different times during the year, her high school class has visited the nearby site to assist with soil samples, vegetation identification and counting, and most recently tree planting. Sometimes the work is part of class, and sometimes it’s offered as extra credit points. Last Saturday was an extra credit day for T to pitch in with tree planting at the site, so I agreed to drive her up there and leave her for the day. Her class had been told the goal was to achieve 1,000 plantings in one day.

After we arrived, we encountered a monk who showed us where to go to sign up. One of my favourite local organizations, Friends of Trees, had set up a tent and was efficiently and expertly coordinating the volunteers. (Click here for another post about Friends of Trees.) I waited aside while Tara went up to the registration table. The man there said, “You’re 18 right?” Tara answered that she was not. The man turned to me, “So you’ll be signing her in, then?” And… before I  knew it, I had volunteered to plant for Dharma Rain.

On the east side of the campus, near the base of Rocky Butte.

On the east side of the campus, near the base of Rocky Butte.

I love the idea that Portland hosts a Buddhist community with plans to build a temple and campus in my own neighborhood. Hidden out of sight beyond the frontage buildings along 82nd, I would never have known something was going on here without getting the information from Tara.

I had obviously come unprepared, but Friends of Trees is a well-oiled machine. Boxes of gloves I could use, labeled according to size, were beside the table. The registrar pointed out the shovels and planting tools available for us to take. He explained where we needed to go to find our planting team.

Banner in a tree beside the parking lot

Banner in a tree beside the parking lot

Dharma RainWe received some quick instruction on how to plant Salmonberry bushes, which provide a natural cover and food for birds. Soon we were raking aside dead yet thorny blackberry vines to clear planting areas for the Salmonberry. I’m not exactly sure why the blackberries would be killed to make way for salmonberries, which seem a variant of the same plant in my mind, but perhaps the salmonberry are less aggressive plants. Some of the blackberry debris we moved through hosted monstrous root balls and vines as thick as small tree trunks.

Tara talked about what it used to look like before all the blackberry was killed, and the heaps of vines towered above her head. She also explained that it used to be the site of a landfill (that probably explains why 14 acres in the middle of the city was available for purchase). So we were instructed to collect any large pieces of trash and move it to a pile near the entranceway, so that it wouldn’t be a hazard to others.

This is how ballerinas plant.

This is how ballerinas plant.

Starting out cold, getting covered in dirt, scratched from blackberries, and tired from clambering up and down the hill was worth it in the end. Friend of Trees provided food and drinks when we needed breaks, and a follow-up when it was all done. This is from the email I received later in the week:

Thank you so much for your hard work Saturday morning at the Dharma Zen Rain Center in NE Portland!  It was a bright and beautiful (if chilly) morning and together we planted more than 1,200 native trees and shrubs!  We appreciated getting to partner with the Dharma Rain Zen Center on this project and look forward to the restoration transformation taking place at this site!

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