August 10th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan





















We had rolled into Terney the evening before after dropping our various chauffeurs at the “wilderness lodge” on the edge of the nearby Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik.  The drive into Terney was gorgeous – rolling hills of deep green forests and fields spattered with various sized bodies of water reflecting the grey sky overhead.  It felt a bit like the Oregon Coast.  The town itself felt different from the other towns we’d passed through.  It was clean and bright and all the roofs were similar and newish.  Terney is home to a large Japanese timber company which accounts for its prosperity.  It’s also home to a branch of the Wildlife Conservation Society, started by an American guy named Dale Miquelle in 1992.  WCS is primarily devoted to research and protection of the Amur Tiger & Amur Leopard.  Their headquarters, a cozy little home/office perched on a hill overlooking the town, was our base – the most comfortable base we’d had yet, complete with tiger striped blankets & towels, and a super high-tech shower from the future.  Our host, Anna, was the only staff member around and the first true red-head we’d seen in Russia.  Anna made me notice how many different noses there are in the world – hers was very cute and elf-like.

After settling into our new digs and a delicious dinner featuring fresh baked bread, we headed over to another organization’s space, Uragus, where we would be presenting the following morning.  On this night, however, it was our turn to be presented to while nibbling on the compulsory tea and sweets.  The speaker, and our primary contact in Terney, was yet another passionate woman named Galina.  She and her husband Serge (a former ornithologist for the zapovednik with the most amazing eye brows I’ve ever seen) had founded two organizations, one for adults the other for children, both dedicated to ecological conservation.  Uragus, the adult version, was named after a very common bird native to the area.  Among the various projects these organizations had started was an ecology club that went on hikes and camping trips in the region that included trail building; summer ecology camps for kids; an ecology olympics that sounded like a lot of fun; student/teacher workshops with all 10 villages located in the Terney region (2 of these villages are inhabited by the indigenous peoples known as the Udege); and last but not least a mini-arboretum that surrounded the building in which we now sat.  We talked until 11:30 before finally calling it a night.  The forecast was for rain in the morning so we went to bed not knowing if we would have much of a crowd when we awoke.


We had little reason for concern.  Russians are a hearty lot and like Seattlites, a little rain is hardly discouraging.  But before our schtick, we were to take a tour of the garden that Uragus had planted with the help of kids and community members.  Our tour guide was a little girl with a bright pink shirt and a long red stick for pointing at things (or snapping our attention).  She was incredible.  If only I could recruit American kids like her to help lead our Weekend Walks.  It was a tough act to follow, but Tony and Sally knocked it out of the park and as we had come to expect, the kids who participated in the ecosystem challenge demonstrated a deeper understanding of ecological concepts than most adults.  My favorite part about this particular session was how the small group of slightly older kids (teens) helped out the younger ones in figuring out the ecosystem puzzle.  Bandura would have been pleased with such effective modeling.




























Afterwards we took it outside for some games.  We were short on time, the kids wanted to run and we were dealing with a pretty big age spread.  So we played a few rounds of “bear, salmon, mosquito” followed by a little “maple seed mix-up” during which I learned the Russian word for “tree” (dierova).  We were joined, un-expectedly, by Helaina and the kids that had basically kidnapped me the day before.  It was good to see them, and a nice feeling to have been missed.  We returned to our base at the Wildlife Conservation Society where we were joined by Galina for a delicious lunch of soup, salad and bread.  We brainstormed how we could help and get Vlad BG involved and came up with a few ideas, the most simple of which was to provide them with plans to install a cattle guard in their front gate to protect their garden from the “free-range” cows and goats that roam the town.


Our time in Terney had been too brief, but there was still so much to see and do.  First on the list was a crappy little art museum back in Kavalerovo, and who should we find as our tour guide – Helaina, showing up yet again like a dirty penny.  The first piece I saw as I entered was an intergalactic landscape scene complete with space station (Russians love space).  I knew I was in for it.  Featured prominently in the gallery were works by a local sculptor.  When I say local, I mean 5 minutes down the road.  So we went to his house and toured his garden.  Oleg was not only an artist, but also a proprietor of a “banya” (sauna).  I use that word “proprietor” loosely as I don’t think we actually paid anything, but sauna we did!  It was terrific and if I could choose one aspect of Russian culture to bring home, it would be the banya.


p.s.  If anyone out there is interested in collaborating for some sort of artist exchange, I know a Russian sculptor who’s dying to show some work in Seattle.











Kavalerava to Ternei

July 27th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

We were put up for the night in some friend of a friend’s apartment who was out of town for vacation or something.  These kinds of details are too much to care about when going full bore and everything has to be interpreted.  The important part was that it was dry, the floor was flat, there was enough bedding to make a pillow fort, and I had bought the right power converter at the airport so waking up to music on the laptop was possible.  Tony was stoked to hear the Stones as we prepared for our day; Sally was perhaps less stoked, but she’s tough.  Nadya’s mom would compliment her later over breakfast telling her that “she’s a woman who could stop a horse”.  Our first sheduled appearance was at the school where Nadya’s mom is a teacher.







After a leisurely tea complete with various cakes and delectable edibles (Russian’s love their sweets), the morning began with a presentation from our hosts.  The woman delivering, Alexandra, had a nickname, “The Encyclopedia”.  She was rad.  And she wasn’t even a teacher, she was a retired volunteer (what would we do without retired volunteers).  Alexandra told us about the school’s 3 big projects that she had spearheaded and seen to fruition:  the arboretum; the ecology trail; and the natural history museum.

First the arboretum:  through much petitioning and hoop jumping, the school had convinced the city of Kavalerava to let them take the abandoned, ruble-filled lot that was their back yard and do with it what they wanted.  They turned it into a contest and put out a call for designs.  An 8th grader won, and with some help from a local professional, a mini-arboretum was born.  Featuring over 80 species of mostly native trees & shrubs and several concept gardens gardens (medicinal herbs; plants of North America, etc.), it was an incredible example of teamwork and determination to behold.  The ecology trail is about a mile long, features a variety of ecosystem types and winds up at the towns most prominent feature – a granite monolith defying the forces of erosion and jutting chin-ward to the sky.  The natural history museum had 3 exhibits:  Minerals; the Sea of Japan; and Geologic Excursions (which is what they call fieldtrips).  The benefits Alexandra pointed out that had resulted from these combined projects were, increased scientific knowledge, community engagement and biological preservation.  Brilliant!  I want to steal that and make it our new tagline.  What did we have to teach these people?









But teach we did and Tony and Sally both played their parts masterfully.  I think Tony may have been channeling some Mic Jagger from our morning inspiration.  The students demonstrated ecological comprehension beyond their years as the ring of teachers, some visiting from nearby schools, and adults nodded and leaned into eachother’s ears.  I loved simply observing.  Kids, no matter where they’re from, will always express their kid-selves with their antics and mannerisms.  Russian kids have a very distinct way of raising their hands – the one arm shoots forward and up like a sword blade and the other immediately goes to supporting the now raised elbow, as if they’d been trained to wait with their hands up indefinitely.

After the “Ecosystem Challenge”, a program that Mts. to Sound does in the classroom with 4th/5th graders, we headed outside for some games.  There were about 40 kids, ages ranging from 8 – 14 so Tony and I divided and conquered.  He took the younger group first and then we flip-flopped after 15 minutes.  I had Nastia and tall Katia doing their best to translate for me as I got the kids to play forest succession game we like to call “the forest succession game”.  It was awesome for me because I got to learn how Russians play “rock, paper, scissor”.  The game is the same, but the lead up before you throw is 5 times as long, it’s like a sonnet.  The kids eventually got what was going on, and more importantly, so did Nastia and I could see her wheels turning as she thought of how to tweak it for native Russian trees (I had used PACNW natives).  With the younger kids I just wanted to play, so split them into teams and had them part-take in an “amazing animal form relay race”.  The message about finding your niche in life and adapting to change was completely lost, but we found ourselves burying the smallest race contestant in grass, so we got the enjoyment part.











We headed back inside for a brainstorming session on how to partner with Vlad BG, ate more cakes, drank more tea, and then it was back on the road.  Destination, Ternei, a little village 5 hours north along the coast.  As I walked to the parking lot I was still buzzing from all the kid attention (and special Russian tea), and somehow got ushered into a van other than ours.  Helaina, “the English teacher at the school”, was heading the same direction with 5 of her young students, a couple older ladies and a bear of a man behind the wheel to stay the night at a wildlife preserve.  She figured it would be a great chance for her students to practice English and I went along with it.  They turned out to be really great kids, and really nice people (with matching camo) and we bonded.  At one point we stopped for lunch at what resembled a school cafeteria and I was “rung up” with an abacus for the first time in my life.  My grand total was about $2.50.  I found out later that Sally had also ridden solo, but in another jeep, and Tony had ridden with our hosts from Vlad BG and Ivan or driver, a former military pilot.  It was comical, but this is what I had come to expect in Russia – relax, go with it.

Mother (and father) Russia

July 22nd, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan









We had made our presence felt in Vladivostok, now it was time to take our act on the road.  First stop:  Userisk, a large town due north, to present to a group of college students at the Pedagogical Institute.  These students were a mix of Geography and Ecology majors.  I majored in geography as an undergrad and almost all of the electives I took in grad school had to do with ecology, so I felt right at home.  Before going on, we had a sit down with the director of this 101 year old university and a few of his professors.  We learned that pedagogically speaking, Russian schooling is based more on the German system than the American one.  Students are in large part still viewed as empty vessels needing to be filled with knowledge by their teachers.  I illustrated this mentality by taking a bottle of water and pouring it into an empty cup (the things we do to communicate when language isn’t an option).  One of the professors picked right up on the analogy, took another empty cup and pretended to throw the water out under the table, mimicking a common response from students who are force-fed their education.  We all had a good laugh.  He went on to tell us that educational reform is happening in post-Soviet Russia, but as with all large movements, it just takes time.

I started my talk with a 5 minute crash course on the geography of Puget Sound (as requested by the professor) and then dove into the “what, who, why, and how of EE” that I presented the day before at the conference.  During the “what” I explained how EE has been such a difficult thing to pin down in the U.S. in part because in English the word “environment” can have a plethora of meanings depending on who you ask.  The word “education” is equally divisive.  So when you put the two words together, one can see how difficult it could be to arrive at a clear definition.  This logic doesn’t work in Russian.  They have a very specific word, “ekologia”, that they use for environmental education and it’s very similar to our notion of ecology.  So while this started us off on a slightly confusing foot, it did lead to an interesting discussion and help turn our presentation into more of a dialogue.

I ended my part with a challenge.  In one of my slides, I showed a brief timeline of educational reform in America that included only a few noteworthy dates.  One was the launching of Sputnik in 1957 that led to the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  This was the act that provided federal funding to states and helped make public education accessible to everyone (keeping America competitive with the USSR).  The next major reform I discussed was the “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001 which in turn led to the more recent “No Child Left Inside Act”.  The main motivation behind the latter is to help ensure America’s leadership position in the emerging “Green Economy”.  So the challenge I laid down for these Russian teachers in training was to ask if they were willing to sit idly by and watch us take that lead.  The most challenging issues we face today are global ones; I figure a little healthy competition of who can be greener can only be good for society – certainly better than “who can have the bigger nuclear arsenal”.

By the time Sally finished her part of the presentation on the Mountains to Sound Greenway, the students were ready to jump out the windows of our now breathy conference room.  We’d talked straight through lunch, so we called it a day and said dasvidanya.  We had a 5 hour drive ahead of us to Kavalerava (Nadya’s hometown), and in addition, had been invited to visit a “nearby” natural history museum located at the edge of a large zapopriendik (protected area).  The woman who ran the place, and managed the associated EE program, had been in attendance the day before in Vlad, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  So while it was out of our way and put us a little behind schedule, it turned out to be really cool and I’m glad we did it.  The drive out there was our first real chance to get a feel for the forest in Primorsky Krai.  It reminded me of where I grew up in Shenandoah Co., Virginia.  Lush green pastures set amidst rolling tree covered hills carved by meandering streams.  It was hard to imagine tigers and leopards in such a setting, but sure enough, when we arrived to the museum, we saw them in the flesh.  Granted they were poorly stuffed and somewhat dusty, but it was still quite impressive.  And the big cats are but a smidgeon of the biodiversity in the Russian Far East.  Housed within this quaint one room exhibit must have been several thousand specimens representing all the various taxa groups and collected on site.  Mongolian bears, wild boars, little deer with vampire fangs, countless insects, and a rich stock of birds and reptiles as well.  We’d learned the night before from Alexander that Russia has something called “The Red Book” listing all their threatened/endangered species.  It turns out that a majority of these species are endemic to Primorsky Krai, and a fare number of them were on display for us here in the boonies.










We left the museum, now really behind schedule, and high-tailed it to our next destination.  Nadya’s parents had arranged a fancy dinner to welcome us, but we had one very special stop to make before hand to meet Nadya’s grandparents.  “Salt of the earth” is the best phrase I can come up with to describe them.  These are the Russians that live in the pages of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, skin leathered by years spent in the soil, backs and hands as strong and capable as adults half their age.  We had found “mother (and father) Russia”.  I have no idea what they must have thought about their granddaughter showing up with us to their little plot in paradise, but I could see the pride swell in both their eyes as they embraced.  We sat and gorged ourselves on freshly made crepes topped with strawberries, cream and honey and time suddenly ceased to exist.  It came out that Nadya’s grandfather had once been in a choir, and so naturally we asked for a song, and just as naturally, he sang one.  His bellowing voice filled our little kitchen concert hall belying his 80+ years – a haunting melody about a white daisy that still echoes in my head.  In the dying light, we left their farm reluctantly and arrived to dinner around 11pm to find Nadya’s parents fuming.  It was obvious that they had been waiting for some time, and that we were the only reason the restaurant was still open.  Part of me felt bad, but most of me didn’t care, our delay had been worth every heartfelt note.

We’re Big in Vladivostok

July 21st, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan








We woke early and excited (and maybe just a little nervous).  Today was our big day where we were the featured presenters at an environmental education conference organized by Vlad BG.  We’d seen this event on our itinerary prior to the trip and not thought much about it, but now it was being billed as a much bigger deal that several higher-ups would be attending, the U.S. Consulate for Vladivostok among them.  There would also be a couple TV crews.  I suddenly regretted not brining a dress shirt or tie.  Oh well.

The conference was being held in the auditorium of the nearby Institute of Marine Biology.  Vlad is a major port serving this part of the world, and a fishing hub to boot.  As such, marine biology is much better funded than botany, and this favoritism was reflected in the well-kept building beautifully perched on the shoreline overlooking Peter the Great Bay.  The interior was bright white, pristine and filled with natural light.  The auditorium was smallish, but the stadium seating allowed for at least 200 people.  There were about 60 in attendance for the conference.

Our colleagues from Vlad BG were up first, filling everyone in on their efforts to establish an EE program, and referencing their visit to Seattle.  It was a good segue into my presentation on the UWBG.  I’ve done a version of this presentation during the last few guide trainings, and could almost give it in my sleep, so I hadn’t felt the need to rehearse.  Delivering a talk through a translator, however, is a whole different ball of wax.  Fortunately, my translator was Tony, who knows the garden every bit as well as I do, so whatever gaps I left, he filled in.  It was very much a tag-team effort and as if by design, we finished exactly at our allotted time 45 mins.  There was 30 mins. carved out for questions, and to my surprise, the audience used every second of it – they were captivated!  It felt good to have come through for our hosts who had kind of gone out on a limb to have us there.











We took a brief lunch break and were then given a tour of the museum housed on the top floor.  It was modest in size, but really cool, featuring sections of a Blue Whale skeleton and countless other sea creatures large and small.  My favorite part was this hokie little video illustrating how whales evolved from land animals (I’ll try to attach it).  After our tour, it was time for Sally and I to give our joint talk titled, “Environmental Education:  Theory and Practice”.  I presented the first half going over the what, who, why and how of EE.  This was followed up by Sally using the Mountains to Sound Greenway as a case study and then back to me to talk about EE at the Arboretum.  To our great delight, the audience was very interested in all of it.  During the intermission afterwards people were gushing at how interesting my part had been and one woman even asked where I was published.  I felt like a rock star, especially b/c I had given a rough version of this talk during guide training last spring that nearly put everyone to sleep.

After our joint presentation, Sally presented more in depth on the Greenway.  She had managed to send her slides over well enough in advance to have them translated into Russian, and so tall Katya, one of the Vlad BG staff, was the one to actually deliver the information.  It was so robotic and quick, though, that Sally pretty much re-presented everything during the Q&A session.  While they have protected natural areas in the Russian Far East (“zapopriedniks”), this concept of working with business interests to link together large tracts of land as wildlife corridors is a new one for them.  This foreign way of doing things was beautifully illustrated by a question from Pavol who asked, “So how do you force the businesses to compromise with you”.  After Sally, there were a slew of very brief presentations from various groups doing EE in the region, including a high school student who spoke about how they were promoting “tiger day” at their school.  It was not the last we would hear of tiger day.

The conference ended around 5pm, there was another hour or schmoozing and picture taking, and everyone could finally take a big breath of relief.  We had done it and it was a complete success.  But our day was not over, not by a long shot.  It turned out that we now had a meeting to go to with an organization known as the Phoenix Foundation located in downtown Vlad.  I would have been pissed about this if not for the character we would meet when we got there, Alexander, my new hero.  He’s a former botanist turned biology teacher turned EE activist who is sharper than a tack with the energy of a Jack Russell on speed.  The small outfit of which he is a part (I think they are 6), is dedicated to stopping poachers, raising awareness of Primoria’s incredible biodiversity, and developing educational materials for teachers to use in the classroom.  They’re also responsible for making tiger day something of a national holiday around these parts.  To top it all off, he took us up on the roof for a bird’s eye view of Vlad.

Vlad BG

July 20th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan








We woke early, after what felt like the best night’s sleep I’d had in years.  Evenings in Vlad are on the cool side, perfect for sleeping.  After a rather strange breakfast of buttery succotash pasta, a fried chicken leg, and fried egg, we headed over to the botanical garden to have a look around and tag along on a series of tours lined up in honor of “Environmental Education Week”.

1st impressions:  The main building looms behind a large metal gate with a turnstile (yes, unlike us, they have a gate and fence and charge admission).  The 4-story tan brick building topped with an assortment of HVAC equipment and antenna resembles a TV station or hospital, and is more than just a little intimidating.  But outside waiting for us was a familiar face, Valya, one of the three women who had visited Seattle last Sept., and with her she had her newborn son, Vladislav (did I mention we are in Russia?).  Any apprehension I felt dissolved at once.  We were taken inside and greeted by their young and charismatic director, Pavol Krestov.  He studied in BC, and speaks very good English.  After some brief niceties, it was time to get to work.  There were 3 tours scheduled, and the first one was to start momentarily.  It should be noted that these tours did not exist before Albina, Valya, and Nadya’s visit to Seattle last fall.








The first group was composed of about 40 kids ranging in age from 6 – 16.  They were part of a program that aims to help children deal with abusive home lives.  This was not just some softball group lofted over the plate to make their program look good to us visiting Americans, this was a challenging population by any standard.  Shockingly, Pavol himself welcomed the group and kicked off the tour by jumping right into a discussion about the sun as the source of all energy and plants’ ability to photosynthesize.  No introductions, no ice-breakers, none of it – straight into lecture.  It was clear from the get go that they do things a little differently around here.  After the intro, the group was divided into 2 smaller groups (one younger, one older) and the lecture continued.  Tony and I went with the older group.  Olga led the first part that took place in the greenhouse, short Katya picked it up from there with a tour of the display gardens, and Valya wrapped things up with a few games.  If it sounds like this program was all over the place, that’s because it was.  And while my overall impression was “information overload”, it did give us a good chance to see the garden!

The layout is very different from UWBG.  The place is jam packed full of plants, organized by genus with a focus on pretty annuals.  The plants themselves are arranged in rows giving it the feel of a nursery or even a farm.  Indeed, there is even a small chicken coup housing some spectacularly colored varieties that lends to this feeling of being on a farm.  Not all of the garden is arranged in this way, there are some very well designed beds that feature a wide variety of plants, perennials and annuals alike, but we spent much of our time during 2 of the 3 tours in the ornamental section.  The 3rd tour was in the wooded area that makes up about 80% of Vlad BG’s grounds.  It’s a beautiful mixed forest populated by birch, oak, fir and pine.  The understory features a handful of fern species, several deciduous shrubs (Ribes among them), a few berry bushes and various ground huggers.












The tours were well recieved by the public and it was great to see so many people show up despite the enormously inhibitive road construction going on outside the gates.  It was also great to see so many different guides leading these tours, speaking to the strong sense of teamwork the education program promotes.  They may not have much in terms of resources to work with or financial support, but what they do have going for them is their people…in this way, our two organizations are very much alike.  The tours ended around 5pm.  We dined at a nearby Armenian restaurant and spent the rest of the evening/night prepping for tomorrow’s big event – a regional EE Conference organized by Vlad BG to be held at the Institute of Marine Biology.  It was a pretty big deal, and we were the main event.  The look of anxiety Nadya wore on her face said it all – don’t blow it.

From Russia with Love

July 19th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Greetings from Vladivostok, Russia!  Our visit here is the second step in an environmental education exchange with the Vladivostok Botanic Gardens (Vlad BG) that began last September when a small team of educator/botanists came to Seattle to learn all they could about EE.  They spent much of their time at the Washington Park Arboretum (WPA) learning about our various programs and taking part in our Saplings Guide fall training.  Our small team is comprised of Sally Kentch, of the Mountains to Sound Greenway, me of the UWBG, and Tony Allison who splits his time between both organizations.


After spending almost 36 hours in transit, crossing the international date line and traveling into the future, it was nice to reach terra firma.  We were greeted by our hosts, welcomed by some familiar faces, and whisked away to our new home away from home.  En route, we quickly learned first hand that Vlad is in the process of preparing for the 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference, and the whole place is under construction, including a 60 miles stretch of highway leading into the city.  I had never seen a 6-lane gravel/dirt highway, but there it was.  Like Seatac, the airport is located well outside the city, so we had about an hour in the van before reaching our hotel located directly across the road from Vlad BG.

En route, we stopped by the post office to register (Russia likes to keep meticulous tabs on all foreign visitors) and began to acclimate.  I was comforted to see so many familiar trees and plants, and very pleased to see so many garden plots lining the red-brick and grey-concrete apartment buildings.  The most prevalent crop?  You guessed it, POTATOES!

Our accommodations were nothing to write home about, but compared to a bench in the Bejing airport, it might as well have been the Ritz.  And at $20/night, we were stretching the generous grant funding from our benefactor to the fullest.  We freshened up, caught much needed power naps on perfectly firm beds, and then it was off to a welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant hosted by Vlad BG’s EE staff – a small group of mostly 20-somethings with high-hopes for the future and fountains of passion and determination.  They were very excited to meet us and have a chance to practice their English.  Sally and I don’t speak a lick of Russian, but fortunately Tony is fluent.  We found out just how fluent during a 20 minute toast expressing our appreciation to our young hosts and our commitment to helping them in any way that we could.  It turns out that toasting is a big part of Russian culture, and Tony’s was just the beginning.  After we’d all had a chance to say piece, and fill our stomachs, we parted ways until tomorrow when we would tag along on and evaluate 3 different tours at Vlad BG.  We hit the bed hard that and slept like little Russian babies.