Building the Base

The first order of business once the work site was set up was to assemble the base of the bell tower – four vertical posts with two horizontal beams connecting each of them.

You can see these pieces on the model, below:


Mike ad Ryosei seemed to be in a good mood as they got to work in the morning.


By the end of the day, this is what it looked like!


Mike explained the order of assembly:

First two of the sides were assembled laying down, two vertical posts with two horizontal beams connecting each of them.  (All the pieces were carefully cut and carved carved to fit together, post into hole, so assembly involved lining them up and applying pressure until the fit was tight.)

Next, these were hoisted until they stood vertical, with a “cradle” holding them in a stable position (the cradle, I gather, being made of other wood that was put on either side of the posts to hold them upright in place).

Then, the two remaining lower horizontal pieces were inserted , and the vertical sides were pulled in until the posts on the horizontal pieces engaged with the holes on the vertical posts.

Because the vertical posts are at a slight angle, the bottom horizontals were able to engage a bit while the top horizontals were put in place.

As you can see in the photograph below, thick straps were used to ratchet the four sides together snugly.


Great care was taken to protect the wood, both by wrapping it with paper (to prevent the redwood from getting stained or beginning to grey – which it will do naturally when exposed to the elements) and padding the straps so they don’t dent the wood.


Then, they attached the posts to the granite base rock that Mark Bourne had installed months earlier.

There was some rebar involved – this being California, we had engineers evaluate the structure for seismic stability (they LOVED the project – perhaps the most interesting math they did all year…the engineering team actually visited Mike in the workshop!) – the rebar was part of their recommendations.

The stones were not all perfectly level – nor exactly the same height.  So Mike and Ryosei did a little power drill work to make the legs fit snugly on the pedestals.


Mike inspecting his handiwork:


Ryosei sealing the ends of the posts, before they are set in their place for the final time:




Bell Tower Construction, Part I: Preparation

Before the crew even set foot on site, a lot of work had already gone into the structure.

Back in August, Mike and Ryosei had gone up to Mendocino to select the reclaimed redwood for all 4 posts and all (8) of the horizontal 4 X 8’s, plus the “hafu” rafters: the major vertical and horizontal beams.  They supervised the rough milling, to get the perfect “sticks,” as they call the pieces of lumber.

They also had to collect the other wood that would be used for the project: red and yellow cedar for the ceiling, pine for everything else.

Then all the lumber was “finish milled” at Joinery Structures, in Oakland.

This fall, all of the pieces were cut out, first in plywood – full size – and then in the final material.


This was done in a workshop space in a large warehouse in Oakland.  Mike says you can get anything you need, construction-wise, within a two mile radius of the shop.

Mike in the workshop:


The scale model, which they used as a reference while cutting the pieces:


Some prototypes of support pieces that will be visible up in the rafters:


They decided that these were too square, and worked out a different design, which Mike showed me on his computer model:


Just after New Years, Mark Bourne returned to Green Gulch to complete the site work by connecting the base of the bell tower to the existing paver path.  He worked between storms:


Because the shop work went into the fall, and we have been having such a gloriously wet winter so far, the construction crew decided to build a tent to cover the bell tower site, so they could work in inclement weather.

This was a somewhat improvised affair, with a couple of models deployed.

Tent number one had a metal frame, erected with the help of January Intensive participants on a beautiful sunny day:


Even before the tarp roof was put on, the structure was deemed too rickety, and a new one, below, was erected:


Mike’s son, Owen, has a great deal of experience erecting large shelters for Burning Man, a skill that to everyone’s surprise and delight came in handy for this project.



The tent was erected just before some major storms were forecasted, so the tent was methodically tied down to stakes, trees, granite slabs, and even pick-up trucks before the crew left for the weekend.




The tent withstood 60 mph gusts of wind, gusts that brought down a couple of trees at Green Gulch.

By the second half of January, the crew was ready to begin assembly.

Bell Tower Site and Platform

Work on the platform design and placement of the new Bell Tower began in earnest in the spring of 2015.

There were several considerations that went into the placement of the Bell Tower.

The first was the relationship to the current structures – the Zendo, most importantly, and also the Tea House, Still Water Hall, and other outbuildings.

The second was the relationship to the creek – it is best practices (and Marin County Planning Code) to build new structures at least 100 feet from any creek to protect riparian habitat.

The third was the idea – an idea that in large part organized and animated the 2008 Long-Term Vision and Restoration Plan for Green Gulch Farm – that eventually (50-100 years) we would re-build all the buildings that are in the historic creek bed outside of the riparian zone, and “free the creek.”  The area around the “lawn” was envisioned as a site that would work for a new kitchen dining room complex, as well as a new Zendo (built in relation to the new kitchen, for formal oryoki meals).  We wanted the current bell tower location to work with these possible future buildings.

The Bell Tower planning group got together to look at the site and understand the dimensions of the Bell Tower in relation to the other buildings.

Central Abbess Linda Ruth Cutts stood in for the Obonsho bell, while Thiemo Blank, Head of Maintenance, showed us the peak of the roof:


In this next photo, Tea Sensei Meiya Wender joined them as the Shoten (person who ceremonially strikes the bell), with a shovel standing in for the striker.


The site and platform was designed by landscape architect Mike Bourne, assisted by Jamie Morf.  Both Mark and Jamie have worked on different projects at Green Gulch over many years.

Among other projects, Mark designed and installed the landscaping around the Lindesfarne Guest House:


and renovated the Roji (tea house garden):


When asked about the design process, Mark wrote:

“The layout of the foundation for the bell tower was driven by the combination of a Japanese temple bell, and the strong Japanese influence of the bell tower design. In the case of the structure, the influence is not only the choice of Japanese joinery assembled by master carpenters Mike Laine and Ryosei Kaneko, but their attention to the proportions of Japanese structures.

From the standpoint of the bell, the base anchors the tower to the ground. There is another view of what is at play: I hope that it is not misleading to bring the phenomenology of Martin Heidegger into a description of Zen practice in a Californian setting – when stated as such, it seems altogether too loosely eclectic – however, it was Heidegger who brought the vital sense of gathering together the myriad things to the attention of Western philosophy. Heidegger wrote that the act of building transforms our understanding of place, and through the act of building we create places for our understanding and the space of dwelling. From this standpoint, the base is not the simple combination of the structural necessity of footings on the one hand and the ceremonial obligation of a place to stand on the other hand; rather, the base serves precisely to bring the bell tower into the world, to lift up and bring forth the place that is the bell tower – to gather the divinities, as Heidegger would have it.”

Mark arrived in early July – on summer break from his PhD program in landscape architecture at University of Washington! – to do the main site work.


We love having Mark around Green Gulch.  He delights in moving soil with an excavator, does beautiful work, and he loves to clean up the old chunks of concrete and debris scattered around Green Gulch (which he did during his “down time” on this trip).

Preparing the site involved changes to the grade of the central area, moving tens of tons of soil and creating a finished grade, ready to be landscaped:


The square holes are for footings for the vertical support beams for the roof of the structure, and are ten feet apart.  The perimeter of the base is fifteen feet by fifteen feet.  (Green Gulch residents Frank and Dusty enjoyed visiting the construction site.)


Granite was selected as the material for the perimeter of the base and stairs, in reference to the granite steps that lead to the Tea House gate, which is close to the structure.  (The gate, below, was designed and built by Mike Laine.):


 It arrived a few days after Mark did:


Granite beams defining the perimeter of the base were placed, and footings were poured for the foundation-stones; the base was then partially filled with gravel, and the concrete slab was poured.  The GGF maintenance crew assisted with the work.

Mark and Julian placing and leveling the granite:


Before and after the first, structural concrete pour:


The concrete team: Justin, Mark, and Reed:


The partially completed base, as seen from the top of the stair down to the Zendo:


Mark then built the walkway and stairs up to the platform:


When this was completed they did the final concrete pour.  Mark and Reed did a beautiful job finishing it:


After an initial rough-wash with acid the slab was allowed to cure for several weeks, at which point Mark returned to do the finishing touches of grinding the concrete surface and one final acid-wash.

He had this to say about the concrete floor:

“The philosophical conception of the role of the bell tower meets the actual physical being of the bell tower most acutely at the created ground that is the base: the floor. We are all attached to the ground, not only visually, but physically. During the consideration of the floor, the major influence for my considerations was a type of lime-clay mortar that has been used in Japan for centuries. This mortar is very similar to mortars that have been used in Europe, and the Japanese mortars share the property of remaining porous, pliable, and responsive to human travels. There is also a lustre to these surfaces that is almost invariably absent from finished concrete. However, these mortars are an unknown quantity in California; even in Japan they demand regular repair and replacement. Working with a concrete was a pragmatic necessity, so the challenge was to achieve the dynamic sense of a mortar floor, with the durability of concrete.

I decided to pursue an experiment in this regard: in pouring the slab for the floor, the finish was intentionally left imperfect. Once the slab had cured it was finished with a hand grinder, in order to create a surface that is smooth and has some of the luster of lime-clay mortar, while also rewarding our bodies with the sense that we are still attached to the earth.”

Mark, using a diamond pad on a hand grinder to finish the surface:




The finished pad:



Bell Tower

close up bell

For forty years, through fog, rain, and clear early morning dark, the sound of the Green Dragon Obonsho has been a daily, faithful companion to our Zen practice, as temple bells have been for centuries in China and Japan. We have all heard it, as it is rung during morning zazen, and for weddings, funerals, ordinations, and other ceremonies. It has become a part of our bodies, our psyches, our lives.

The original home of the bell was a small structure near the maintenance shop. Later, another hut was built for it, behind the zendo. When, after many years, this hut began to disintegrate, we decided to build a proper bell tower, but “temporarily“ the bell was hung from a Cypress tree.

owl bell tree

Now, many years later, after much discussion and planning, we have a design for a bell tower constructed using traditional Japanese joinery, bringing the bell from its hidden location behind the zendo out to the “main lawn” and into its proper relation with the zendo and the Green Gulch valley. The design draws on our Japanese heritage, and is in keeping with both the bell’s origin and its present California home. We worked on this design with Mike Laine and his partner Ryosei Kaneko, both carpenters skilled in Japanese joinery. We are confident that Mike and Ryosei’s crew will build a structure that will be an important and iconic addition to our temple complex.

With the great and generous support of many Sangha members, through donations large and small, through donations made in gratitude for the Triple Treasure and donations made in loving memory of Daigan Lueck (1931-2015), Steve Stucky (1946-2013), Michael Sawyer (1942-2008), and other Sangha members, the project is fully funded.

A model of the bell tower, from the front. There will be a gentle curve at the eave line and in the structural roof, which will be covered in cedar shingles.

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The model from below, showing the fan rafters and the underside of the eaves.

The sound of the great bell includes the voices of all our ancestors, blending them with the vows and aspirations of those practicing now at the edge of this continent. It extends to the endless future, encouraging all who hear.


By this Japanese bell

The sky-headed sea-tailed

Green Gulch dragon

Stirs the fine mists and rains

Of right Dharma

For East and West

Farming and greeting guests

The pre-voice of this old bell

Is not hindered by the wind.

— Richard Baker, 1975

Wayfinding at Green Gulch

One wish of Green Gulch residents and visitors alike for quite some time has been clearer, more direct pathways and way finding at Green Gulch.  One of the requirements of this construction project is ADA pathways and clear signage.  So after decades of temporary signage, Green Gulch is putting up slightly less temporary signage (as Buddhists, we know that nothing is permanent).

The effort started months ago with a great deal of planning and consultation, and is now in the execution phase.  Signs will continue to go up and alternate pathways to go into effect over the next couple of months.

Former resident, and professional contractor Sam Senerchia returned to help with sign mounting and installation:

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Residents Jiryu and Frank did a lot of the actual mounting:

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A new sign at the edge of the Zendo pond, near the main lawn, directing visitors to the farm & garden and welcome center:

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Clearly marked ADA pathway to the Zendo:

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A new signpost in the main area of Green Gulch, directing visitors to the new building, Still Water Hall, over the new ADA accessible bridge, or to the Welcome Center.

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Many more signs, including wayfinding maps and informational kiosks, will go up at the outer and inner parking lots, new pedestrian pathway (the back road), and welcome center area over the next couple of months.

Cloud Hall: Finish Line in Sight!

It is hard to believe that construction will soon be over.  The construction crew has been hard at work over the past couple of months finishing the new building and site work.

The exterior of Cloud Hall, including the basement stucco, has been finished for some time, and looks beautiful:

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The new roof over Cloud Hall and the Zendo is also finished, and although stood up quite well for the first few rains of the season (the head of maintenance commented that it was so nice not to get the usual half-dozen reports of leaking student rooms, or have to deploy buckets in the Zendo), the big storm in early December caused the roof to leak at the junction with the old Cloud Hall stovepipe, as well as a large branch to crash into the roof, which made a hand-sized hole in the new membrane (it has since been repaired).

Stucco went up on the top floor of the new building in early November:

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This completed the exterior of the building, except for the hand rails, which have been fitted and will be galvanized and installed by the beginning of the year:

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The student rooms are trimmed out:

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And the Green Gulch maintenance crew (Thibault pictured above) mounted bars for new curtains, and wardrobe units which were built during work period.

Larry Strain, the project architect, and Helen Degenhardt, head of Zen Center’s Finance Committee (and also an architect), on the final walk-through of the new building (in the program space):

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A detail of the kitchenette that will serve the space.  To the delight of the Green Gulch Guest Program crew, which has been schlepping dishes to and from the kitchen for decades, there is a dishwasher!:

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A detail shot of the bridge railing, when it was almost complete:

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The back road re-grading and surfacing went quite well.  It will be the main pedestrian pathway to Green Gulch:

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There is one spot in the road where water drains from the side hill, crossing the road and making it impassable without boots during big rains!  We will need to problem solve this spot to facilitate better winter access.

The final piece of the project is the accessible pathways running around the site.  Construction of these began very late in the project, and then was held up by recent rains.  Instead of being finished by December 15th, as planned, the project will spill into the New Year.  Disappointing – and very familiar in construction!  (The good news:  we received a temporary occupancy permit to gain access to the student rooms on the upper floor – connected to the interior of Cloud Hall – while path work is being completed this week.)

The ADA pathway from the parking lot to the new program space (and Welcome Center) runs from the inner parking lot past the farm office and maintenance shop:

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The site looked like this for a week while the crew waited for rains to pass:

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(The pathway and retaining walls are now poured – photos to come!)

The pathway will go past the auto shop, below the grade of the main road in some spots (there will be space for a vehicle to park in front of the auto shop):

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The paver-topped path that lead to the old office and zendo will be re-done to accommodate the new building and conform to ADA standards.  The parts of it that were removed during construction will be re-graded to tie into the ADA pathway and re-done (looking at the old kiosk near the steps of the Tea House):

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The pathway to Cloud Hall, in front of the Zendo, needed to be moved over slightly to make room for one of the exterior stairways:

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Construction of the new laundry room was slowed by the county permitting process.  It will hopefully be completed soon!!

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The grading around the pool deck as well as resurfacing inside (pavers) and rebuilding of the fence (it will be completely enclosed) will happen in January.  Once finished, visitors will have a line of sight and more-or-less straight walk from the back road to the new Welcome Center (which you can see in the right of the frame, below).

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Stay posted!

A Creek Is Born

Since the last post about the creek, construction has ended and the creek is flowing!

Mid-October marks the end of the construction season in creek beds (although if there’s no rain forecast, it’s possible to extend that to the end of the month).  We were quite pleased that our construction was finished in time.  The last two weeks of October saw the installation of erosion control and demobilization equipment.

Piles of organic vineyard mulch from Sonoma, waiting to be put down on top of the native seed, for erosion control and to aid revegetation:

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Jute being put down on the floodplains and edges of the creek to prevent heavy rains from washing away seed, soil, and eroding the creek bed:

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Jute, carefully pinned down around the piles of large woody debris:

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Willow mattresses and willow waddles being installed:

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A willow mattress is a bio-engineering method to prevent stream bank erosion, particularly on the outside curves of the creek, where the water velocity will be the highest.  Rather than rely on rock or other hardscape material to lower the erosion rate and prevent sedimentation in the creek channel, bio-engineering uses live PLANTS, particularly the roots, to do the job – hence the BIO!

First, you harvest LOTS of live willow branches.  Then you place them along the bank that you want to protect, at a density of around 6-8 branches per foot.

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Then you tie them down using jute twine and wooden stakes,  sprinkle some nice topsoil over them (to hold in a little moisture), and viola!  (The photo below was taken before topsoil was added.)

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If there is no rain in site, you want to irrigate  to keep the willow from drying out (as we did for the first few weeks).  At the base of the willow mattress is a willow waddle – an 8″ thick bundle of willow branches, tied together with jute twine and staked in place.

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Willow is used because it is a fast growing riparian plant that is native to our area. Even in the first season, the willow will lay down a dense matrix of roots, holding the newly formed river bank in place.  It will also, of course, provide habitat for many insects, birds, and other creatures.

Below, some regular old straw waddles, used to slow any water that might be shedding off the hills which, in a heavy rain, can dump a lot of soil in the creek if there’s not vegetation to slow and filter it (this picture was taken after several rains:you can see that the native grasses had begun to sprout):

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The site,after it was all finished, before the rains came:


Site close up

Although it rained a bit in early November, the creek did not start flowing until we had gotten (cumulatively) a couple of inches of rain, later in November.

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There was a bit more flow in early December, after we got 3.6″ of rain over Thanksgiving weekend.  At that point, we had gotten 6.5″ since the rains started for the season.

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Things really got going in early December when we got 4.5″ over a few days, bringing the season total to around 15″ (this was the storm that caused flooding in many parts of the Bay Area):

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In the picture below, you can see the creek topping the bank at one of the riffles – spilling over onto the floodplain:

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New studies are documenting how important this cycle of creeks and rivers spreading out over vegetated floodplains is for juvenile fish.    Juvenile Salmon have been found, after one winter season, to be double the size of fish who do not have access to floodplain habitat, due to the food available (think of all those juicy insects living and breeding in the grasses just next to the creek!).

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More shallow floodplains, this time looking back up toward Green Gulch from the bridge:

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Instead of being channelized under a narrow bridge, the creek now has a lot of room to flow (see photo below).  This storm was said to be a five-year storm, the new bridge is sized for the one-hundred year storm.

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It is so thrilling to see the creek functioning so beautifully!  And since the sandbar at Muir Beach (where Redwood Creek meets the ocean) opened in November, now we just have to keep our eye out for some big red fish!


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touched-up restoration

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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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