September and October Construction

A LOT of work has been done in the last couple of months on the new building, now named Still Water Hall, as well as finishing touches on other parts of Cloud Hall.

**The wood siding is almost completely up on Still Water Hall, and the scratch coat and brown coat have gone up on the upper portion of the building (it will be finished in stucco to match the Zendo and top floor of Cloud Hall on the west side).  The view below is from the “lawn,” with the Zendo off the left hand side of the frame:

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This is the view from the pathway that leads from the inner parking lot to the tea house (and old office).  The covered landing will eventually have stairs leading up to it:

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**The covered entryway on the east side of Cloud Hall has been rebuilt:

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It is unclear, given the new configuration of this entryway (the bridge connects up to it off to the left of the doors), whether the han will return to its former location.

**The new roof membrane on Cloud Hall and the Zendo is complete.  New rain gutters are still being installed.

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**The radiant floor has been installed in the program space and student rooms in Still Water Hall.  The pictures below show the tubing, before the “gypcrete” (a mixture of gypsum plaster, Portland cement and sand, used for fire ratings, sound reduction, radiant heating and floor leveling) was poured.

The program space:

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A student room in the dorm above:

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Looping over toward the stairway down to Cloud Hall:

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The hallway in the dorm (all the tubes connect to the control panel):

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The control panel (wow!):

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The program space in Still Water Hall after the gpycrete was poured:

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The alcove in the left of the frame is the storage closet for yoga props, chairs, etc.  The wooden doors were custom-built for the closet and the glass paneled doors are for the front and back entryways.

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The exposed wooden beams, a lovely architectural detail, extend out through the front and back of the building and will support covered walkways on both sides.

In the picture below, you can see the beams at the top of the left hand side of the frame, on what will be the front of the building (entering over the new bridge from the direction of the Wheelwright Center):

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**The bridge is coming along as well.  For quite a while it was just bare concrete:

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Then the handrail support posts went up:

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Then the wooden decking started going down:

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It will be finished in the next couple of weeks.

**The final coat of stucco went up on the exterior of the basement:

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**And the retaining wall that holds up the pedestrian pathway between the Cloud Hall bathhouse and the dining room and basement offices (part of our updated ADA pathways around Green Gulch) was “refreshed” so that it actually retains what is behind it and the railing is straight:

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Large Woody Debris

One thing juvenile fish apparently LOVE is LWD: large woody debris.

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From the King County government website:

Large woody debris refers to the fallen trees, logs and stumps, root wads, and piles of branches along the edges of streams, rivers, lakes, [and other shorelines].

Some key benefits of large woody debris to fish and other aquatic creatures:

  • It provides refuge for juvenile and adult fish at a wide range of river flows, such as flood events.
  • It creates pools for juvenile fish and hydraulic complexity and roughness along the river bank
  • It provides food sources and habitat for aquatic insects and wildlife along shorelines.
  • It helps stabilize shorelines and reduce excessive erosion.

As there is not yet naturally occurring LWD in our newly constructed stream channel, it was designed and placed as part of construction so that the hydrological and habitat benefits will be immediately available.

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Great care was taken to mimic naturally downed wood – a pool was dug around the root wad of this tree, just as would appear if the tree had upended itself.  It will fill with deep, cool water and provide a nice place for a little fish!

Because we would like to stabilize the site and keep the design in place for some time, redwood (which decomposes slower than other kinds of wood) was used in many places.  Rock was buried under the bank and the logs were bolted in place:

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Here you can see the underside of the bolt, going into the rock:

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The redwood used for this project was planted for and removed from a local housing development (the crew kept finding bits of irrigation pipe in the tree roots).  It’s nice to know the source of the wood – and know that it’s not coming from a redwood forest somewhere.

A lot of willow salvaged from the old creek bed (below) and some cypress removed from the site last year were also used:

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Channel Construction Begins

This is what the sixth field looked like from Highway One a couple of weeks ago:

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Closer up, the field was a rainbow of these colorful wooden markers, indicating start and finish grade at various points:

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I learned that the crew leaves the markers in place, on little islands of soil, until the final grade is confirmed to be according to plan (then the little islands are knocked over):

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In only a few days, the channel was obvious to the layperson’s eye:

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When excavating the the new channel we uncovered alluvial gravels from a historic streamed in the same location of the planned big meander. Very exciting!  They also found the remnants of an old bridge.  You can see the band of gravel in the photo below:

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They were also excited to find the new channel filling in with a large amount of ground water – which, in the driest part of a very dry year is a good omen for this newly constructed fish habitat. Mike and Frank, below, looking into a section of the new creek channel:

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Mike has been staying in the Green Gulch guest house during the week, so that he can start early and end late! Mike in front of the “little” excavator:

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And digging part of the channel:

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Soon the materials stock-piled in the compost yard will begin to be placed in the channel…

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Basement Stucco

The exterior of the basement is almost complete.  As with the rest of Cloud Hall, there are many layers under the one we will all see…

You may recall that they demolished the walls of the basement, and re-framed them, back in April (this photo taken from inside the basement, looking toward the dining room):

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Then the whole building got a plywood layer, and a vapor barrier:


Then came the exterior insulation:

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 As with the rest of the building, a layer of gypsum board went up over the insulation, covered by “weather-resistive” paper.  Instead of wood siding (as on the upper floors), metal lath went up.  This creates a drainage space between the building paper and the stucco, allowing water to drain out through the “weep screed” at the foundation.  (From the InspectAPedia website: “Stucco relies on this drainage plane for waterproofing, since the stucco material itself is relatively porous. It tends to soak up water when it rains, but it dries out quickly since it is highly permeable to water vapor.”)

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A closer look:

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Stucco has three coats: the “scratch coat”, seen below:

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The “brown coat,” here:

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And the “finish coat,” which will go on 28 days after the brown coat.  (Stay tuned…)

Watershed Work Party Invite

Watershed Work Party This Sunday Begins with Visit to Creek Restoration Site

Hello Green Gulch watershed volunteers,

The skies have cleared of fog and the sun has been shining. Even more amazing is the transformation that is occurring down in our 5th and 6th fields. The creek restoration project is underway!

Watershed Work Party
Sunday, September 14
Meet at the stop sign near the GGF Wheelwright Ctr at 1 pm
We will work until 3:30 and then get together for tea & muffins
Come at 12:15 for a complimentary lunchBoth new and returning volunteers welcome
RSVP: 415-354-0432 or

Our deepest thanks to all of you who have contributed your time and energy in preparing for this exciting time. Removing cape ivy can seem endless, but the site looked so clean I felt really confident that we are starting with a clean slate.

During the last two weeks, men in big machines have been moving tons and tons of soil. They have also been re-moving vegetation and trees and digging beautiful channels. There is a rainbow of colored stakes marking out the new creek channel and its flood plain. The ground work has been laid for a new bridge to be installed next to the horse pasture.

Check out our Renovation and Restoration blog to get more details and photos, with an introduction to the creek restoration project and a post titled, “Creek Construction Begins.”

We will start our work party this Sunday with a visit to the creek restoration site and then we will get down to work.

Projects will be selected from the following list:

  • Sukey_toward_creekCollect seed for the restoration planting later in the year.
  • Apply more mulch on the Bermuda grass patch in the 5th field.
  • Scrape and sheet mulch another Bermuda grass section in the 5th field.
  • Any nursery work that needs attention.

We look forward to seeing you this Sunday!

With our appreciation and delight,
Sukey and Audrey

Atop the Guest House

The following was published in Sangha News Weekly, the San Francisco Zen Center’s online newsletter, about the Guest House roof project completed earlier this summer (see other posts about the roof under “other projects” on this blog).

Laying a Roof and Raising Consciousness: An Interview with Contractor Ezra Wynn on Being Atop the Guest House

Interview conducted by Lauren Dito

Among the many large-scale improvement projects at Green Gulch Farm this summer, the re-roofing of the lovely Lindisfarne Guest House was notable as much for the extreme complexity and tediousness of the job as for the uplifting inner effects of the experience as reported by some of the visiting workers. The uniquely shaped roof was beautifully completed in early July, thanks to the amazing craftsmanship of contractor Ezra Wynn.

The Lindisfarne Guest House is a distinctive example of a traditional Japanese style of architecture that avoids the use of nails. Twelve rooms open onto a skylit atrium in one direction, and landscaped and wooded grounds in the other. This summer the repair work involved replacing all the shingles, along with the chimney and the flashing around the windows. The two-story octagonal structure was built in the 1970s with a crew of Zen students led by Paul Discoe, a disciple of Suzuki Roshi who had studied traditional temple carpentry in Japan. The workers took their time as they diligently followed the Zen Center schedule, devoting significant time each day to zazen (rising at 3 am, to bed at 9 pm).  (Photo: Sara Tashker)

In the interview below recorded by Green Gulch resident Lauren Dito, Ezra explains what is so unusual—and challenging—about the architecture, while also reflecting deeply on some of the non-material rewards of having spent time on the property.

After being closed for much of the summer, the guest house reopens fully for stays in just two weeks, beginning September 4. Guests are warmly invited to book a stay under the beautiful new roof and enjoy the charm of the architecture and grounds at Green Gulch Farm.

Is there something particularly enjoyable for you about this kind of architecture?

Oh yeah, it is kind of like the Path. You get into it and it looks doable, and then you find out it’s really hard. Then at some point you surrender to the flow and enjoy the space. I have been a meditator for most of my life, so I enjoy the energy here.

Early construction photos (1970s). As reported by original builder Paul Discoe in the book Zen Architecture: The Building Process as Practice: "We foolishly decided to blend the roof plans from octagonal to round. This turned out to be much more difficult than we imagined. Many mistakes later, we found out how to precut the shingles in the shop and make curved templates to align the courses. Years later this study was useful in other projects. …In the end, the structure became an integrated whole that could be felt as one pattern but could not be easily understood."

I understand you’re also one of the most skilled roofers in the area, with more than 30 years experience. Was this the first Japanese-style roof you have done?

Pretty much. I have done a fair amount of straight ones. This was the first one that went from an octagon to a dome. It is a work of art. I just kind of restored it.

So what did that feel like for you to now come into this project later in its life? And what was challenging about the job?

We have done a lot of wood shingle roofs—all different styles, lot of Victorians, a lot of fancy turrets in different wave patterns, roofs with curved edges. So I looked at this and I thought, yes, we will be able to do this. But as I was taking pictures, before the scaffold was set, I thought, this looks pretty complicated. Sure enough it was incredibly complicated just to figure out how to start it! There are eight facets, and every other one is steeper. So that created a problem, because we had to make the steeper sections blend with the less-steep ones as the octagon gradually became a dome.

Also, the class B fire-treated shingles we chose are very difficult to work with. They are dried out and brittle, and you have to cut them with a saw rather than with your hand. It turned out that all curved shingles had to be cut, every single one. After about five weeks we ran out of money—maybe six weeks we worked with my crew. For about the last month or so I have been here alone trying to get it done. Every estimate I have made turns out to be twice as long as I think it is going to take.

Ezra Wynn (photo: Lauren Dito).

The main thing I realized as I was getting into this job was the amount of dedication and devotion of the original builder. This person was so devoted as to put together this incredibly difficult project and did a beautiful job.

So now you have added another layer of dedication and devotion to this building.

I went through the whole process in my mind: oh my god, what a failure! I am losing my shirt, what a moron … until finally I just accepted it and said, listen, this is the most wonderful place you could possibly work. I am going to be happy here despite myself.

I was determined: I thought, if I am going to do something this demanding and this difficult, if I got to climb up this “mountain” 25 times a day, I want to get something out of it, some expanded consciousness. I want to do some waking up.

(Photos: Lauren Dito)

But the roof came out beautiful. I feel really good about it and we did as good a job as we possibly could for greater longevity.

That’s a big challenge for this community because of the proximity to the ocean; everything deteriorates so fast.

I also stained it with a pigmented stain, which Maintenance should do every 5 years and get 50 or 60 years out of this roof, or 100 years if you keep it up.

What would you say about your time here at Green Gulch?

It has been a wonderful blessing for me, and I am very grateful for this opportunity. I have a much greater understanding of Buddhism, doing this here. The crew too—they loved working here. They were sad to go. I would say it is my favorite job I have ever done, and I have done a lot of them. And the last couple of weeks I started eating in the hall with everybody. It is really nice.

(Photo: Shundo David Haye)

I think it feels really good for the community, too, when they know that there is somebody who has really felt invested and has felt the magic of the place. It just adds one more person to the family. Can you say more about your own spiritual practice?

I do yoga. It is a very mystical type of meditation focusing on the third eye, raising body consciousness. So it is the same place, the same goal [as Zen Buddhism].

What is your feeling—when you see people in their robes, when you hear the bells?

I absolutely love it. To me, this is a guest house but it is really a temple. They built a temple here. I couldn’t have asked for more. It is like a gift. I got to do some growing, and I am a little wiser than I was before.

[Green Gulch later received this statement from Ezra in an email: “What I observed in finishing this project was that my heart was full.  My cup was to capacity. I saw that if a committed group of people live simply and purposefully, and consciously calm their minds, what remains is love, naturally.  I saw the whole place enshrouded in the thickness of it, as tangible as the fog.”]


There has been a lot of work in the past few weeks on the pathways leading to Cloud Hall and the basement.

They are not, as of yet, completed.  We are waiting on the architect-specified binding agent for the pathway surface – it does not contain nasty chemicals that might wash into the creek (the sub-contractor had originally ordered a different product).

Here is the pathway leading to the southeast entrance to Cloud Hall, ready for surfacing:

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The ADA pathway splits to the left, where it will lead either to the new program building or, if you take a right turn off the bridge, to Cloud Hall.

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The same pathway, photographed from the bridge (the pathway in the left foreground of the shot leads to Cloud Hall).

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The view from inside the entryway (men’s bathroom off to the right in this shot).

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The freshly poured concrete pad meeting up with the ramp that comes off the bridge.  The finished bridge and ramp will have a wooden decking over them, as well as railings and path lights.

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The same entryway.  You can see how the ramp to Cloud Hall meets up with the bridge on the far left of the photograph.

The other pathway that is taking shape is the one to the basement offices.  This one is also ADA compliant, and very cool.

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 We are all enjoying its serpentine quality (someone mentioned it looks like a dragon!).  Here it is, seen from the second floor of Cloud Hall:

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Work Period: Cloud Hall Move In

The past couple of weeks at Green Gulch have been marked by the presence of many fantastic volunteers here for another work period – with the goal of moving everything back in to Cloud Hall!

Cloud Hall right before move-in day:

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With the tools and paper removed:

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And after a decent amount of order restored (the shoe rack situation is a work in progress – we will need wait for the radiators to be installed before they are in their final configuration):

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You might notice one major thing that had changed:  no stove!

Now that all the rooms (and central area) have radiators, we have no need to burn wood for heat.  Don’t worry – we have wired the boiler which feeds the radiators in such a way that we could hook up a generator in the event of a prolonged power outage, so given air quality concerns and the added benefit of easier flow through Cloud Hall (particularly for Suzuki Roshi memorials), we decided to remove the stove.

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The difference between the color of the wood that was under the stove and the rest of the floor is quite striking (as you can see in the photo below).  We were happy to find there was flooring under the stove – we did some exploratory digging and were pretty sure this was the case before the brick was removed, but at Green Gulch you never know what you’re going to find!

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The Doshi altar and Kaisando have been restored.  Kwan Yin is now on the Doshi altar (see below).  The figure that was there previously, Ida-ten (the deity that protects monasteries), was relocated to the Wheelwright Center altar during the renovation and will stay there either permanently or until another altar is cited closer to the entrance to Green Gulch.  (One thought is that perhaps when the back road is re-done as the main pedestrian entryway there will be a good place to put an altar – it is traditional in Japan to have a statue of Ida-ten at the monastery gate.)

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In the picture below you can see the new cork floor along the walkway on the second floor.  Cork was selected because of its sound dampening qualities (all current and former residents who were consulted unanimously agreed that carpet – which is the best sound insulator – is a terrible idea in Green Gulch’s damp climate).

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The stairway connecting Cloud Hall to the dorm on top of the new program building is temporarily closed off by plywood:

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A surprising and lovely feature of the east-facing rooms of Cloud Hall is the very wide window sills that were created when the external insulation, siding, and all the other layers were added:

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Frank checking out one of the rooms on the west side of the building:

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This is a photo of the new counter in the women’s bathroom, before it was totally finished (it was finished before move-in).  If you had ever used it, you might recall that the counter top was badly rotten – due, it turns out, to water damage from the wall behind it (which was fixed when the Bunk House was demolished and the program building put up in its place).

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One of the amazing projects that the work period participants did, in addition to doing many dishes, helping in the kitchen, and bringing good cheer to the valley, was to completely unpack/empty three of the five storage containers that we have had on the property since March (and go though and organize the other two).  Here are the contents of one of the containers being moved and sorted:

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Another crew worked on sewing new curtains for all the rooms in Cloud Hall.  (This project was not completed, so if you’re local and you have a sewing machine, give us a call!!)

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Another work period project was to build simple storage units with shelves and hanging bars for Cloud Hall rooms (many of the funky closets in the downstairs rooms were removed, and many of the rooms didn’t have good shelving or a place to hang clothes before the renovation).  Here are some of the members of the furniture the crew working in the shop:

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We were lucky that Phil (center) a Tassajara work period regular, and professional carpenter, headed up this project.

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Although not all of them got built, all the pieces for sixteen units were cut, sanded, and are either put together or ready to be assembled – all in two weeks!

Here are some of the shelves that were assembled, drying in the bike shed:

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The Guest House and Wheelwright Center rooms, which housed students for the last four months, are clean and ready to welcome guests full-time as of September 4th.

Thank you work period participants!

Creek Construction Begins

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Today marks the end of one full week of site work on the Green Gulch Creek restoration (a sign on the farm road lets hikers know that the trail is closed during work hours).

Of course, this has been years (some might say decades) in the making, with plans and grant applications and fundraising and many, many meetings and site visits with different governmental and non-governmental agency representatives.

The Green Gulch Land Steward, Sukey, walking through the temporary compost yard toward the restoration site early last week, on the last pre-construction site walk:

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A patch of comfrey, an invasive weed (although the leaves are very good for many things, including compost!), which was discussed extensively on the site walk:

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We are still fundraising to cover the costs of removing invasive exotics (such as comfrey, kikuyu grass, bermudagrass, and cape ivy) from the restoration site.  Click here if you can help!

The view from the road, before construction started:

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Last Friday a couple of sumps were dug, and the engineers were excited to find the old Creek bed in the middle of the field (they could tell because of the soil composition and the presence of gravel deposits).

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Amazingly, even in this very dry year, the groundwater in this spot was only three feet below the surface!

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A pump has been installed to divert this groundwater downstream from the construction site (along with any water in the upstream portion of the old creek channel).  There are strict regulations about the quality of water discharged downstream from a construction site; in this photo you can see many layers of materials catching sediment and filtering the water (screen, straw waddle, etc.):

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This week a temporary bridge was constructed, and the old “bridge” (which many of you will remember as heavy steel plates and concrete laying across the creek) was removed.  Below, you can see the temporary road and bridge veering off to the left, and the site of the old “bridge” straight ahead (this photo was taken from the new road, looking toward the Pelican Inn; you can see the horse paddock on the left):

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The new bridge will be long enough (and high enough) to accommodate a wider floodplain and riparian area, creating habitat and helping with large storm events (it will also serve foot, bike, and horse traffic, as well as emergency vehicles).

Several fish barriers (old concrete check-dams that were installed by George Wheelwright when he straightened the creek) have already been removed, including this one which was just above the old bridge:

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The old creek channel looks almost unrecognizable (they have removed most of the vegetation and many of the trees, which will be used as fish habitat in the new meandering creek channel).  Here’s a photo taken standing in the old channel, right where the bridge was (essentially the same spot as the shot above):

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You can see there’s also a sump in the creek channel – the water is being diverted below the project site.

During the clearing of the creek channel, there is a full-time wildlife biologist on site, whose job is to relocate animals encountered during construction.  We were very excited when on the first day one of the workers spotted this California Red Legged Frog (a federally listed Threatened Species found in the area, and one of the reasons we are doing this restoration!):


Per an agreement with California Department of Fish and Wildlife, she relocated the frog to a pond nearby.  She says “Cody found a red-legged frog at Green Gulch today and I had the pleasure of capturing and relocating it. This frog is so pretty I couldn’t help but share – cooper eyes, great colors, cool feet.”


Cool feet indeed!

Here’s a wide shot of the sixth field, looking toward the ocean, with the old creek channel following the line of trees on the right hand side of the frame:

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Mike, the principal design engineer, told me that taking down a big tree with an excavator is pretty easy, but taking down a big tree in one piece so you can use it in a restoration is delicate business.  Here’s Mike (he likes to dig out his designs!):

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And here’s a big machine taking down a big willow for re-use in the new channel:

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Part of the PCI team (Jennifer: Wildlife Biologist, Justin: Project Manager, Mike: Engineer and machine operator), excited that the project has begun!

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Great Strides

As the Cloud Hall move-in date draws near, things are really coming together.  It is delightful to see all the little details falling into place.

Back stairs are all finished and looking great

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Siding is going up at an amazing pace.  The south side is nearly finished

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And the east side is going up quickly

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(The basement level on this side will be re-stuccoed.)

Window trim and baseboards have gone up in the Cloud Hall rooms:

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 As well as wall sconces – on dimmers!

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(Somehow a dimmer seems like a really nice thing to have when there’s so much pre-dawn activity.)

Exterior work continues as well.  The Zendo roof has started to be removed:

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 and the Cloud Hall portion of the roof is completely off and tarped:

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 There is a lot of dry rot and evidence of past termite damage (no termites in evidence now) in the roof joists, particularly around the perimeter – they will all be replaced before the new (insulated) roof membrane goes on.

Grading for an ADA path down to the basement offices has begun:

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It will be a long snaking path, which you can sort of see marked out in orange.  We will also have a more direct route, straight down the middle.

And today the concrete for the bridge was poured!

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The finished bridge will have wood decking over it.  It provides ADA access to the new program building, as well as to the east side of Cloud Hall (there will be handrails).  The han will have to be relocated – probably to the other side of the entryway.

We are all thrilled with the work and are looking forward to moving back in in a couple of weeks!