I met Kevin and Julia on Saturday morning, March 13, at 8:15. We sat at a picnic table near the playground the Southwest section of Priest Point Park.
I would call them local heroes. Kind, caring people who do things to help others or to preserve our incredible natural environment. Not looking for attention or recognition, just living with the earth and caring. Kevin Head is a retired teacher who founded and taught in an alternative high school for 32 years. Julia Brayshaw still works most days. She is a psychotherapist – and author of Medicine of Place, a book about wildflowers in the Cascadia region. They both glow with good health.
Fighting ivy together
They began coming to Priest Point Park more than 12 years ago. When he saw what the ivy was doing to the maple trees, he began pulling it off of the trees. This became a part of a near-daily routine. I have seen them get out of their car and begin jogging down the access road. He stops where he is working on what he calls an ‘island’ of ivy among a grove of trees. Julia continues running.
For those walkers or joggers who look, but don’t really see, or see but don’t notice, the ivy sometimes climbs conifer trees, but it doesn’t cover them like it does if it gets started in and around deciduous trees. The vines grow around and up even to the upper branches. Kevin told me, “It is called English Ivy and it does not actually kill the trees by climbing them. What the ivy does is suck all of the nutrients out of the soil. The trees and every other plant will eventually die because the nutrients are gone.”
How Julia met Kevin
Julia has been running since before high school. She was the first of this remarkable couple that I had met. She jogging toward me on the beach and me being amazed at what a strong runner she is. “Back then, I only ran at night so no one would see me.” She grew up in Illinois / Michigan and, after leaving there, homesteaded in Idaho for ten years. Her partner died, so she and her two daughters left Idaho and came to Olympia from Idaho. “That is how I met this guy who was building kayaks.” They met each other in 1985 and married three years later.
Kevin explained, “My buddy and I were building and selling kayaks to finance a kayak trip to Alaska. Three of us made it from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.” (I checked and it is a 500+ kilometer trip). “From there, I continued on alone. The other guys got tired of the rain. I boarded an Alaska Ferry and explored Glacier Bay.”
The Islands in Priest Point Park
“I have seen some areas where the Ivy has been cleared,” I offered.
“I call the places where I am working ‘islands, Kevin continued. The first was what I called the Cathedral of Maples. I worked on it for eight and a half years. Then I went to work on an ‘island’ I called ‘Beautiful’. I spent two years on it. Now, next Tuesday will be the one-year anniversary in my current island.”
“And it is my birthday,” Julia announced with a big smile.
“Wow, that’s great. An anniversary and a birthday on the 16th! Are you going to be in the park.”
“We will be there 7:30-8:00. I will be working on my Third Island.”
“Which is where?”
Take the first right off the Ellis Cove trail. I will be down the hill and on the right side.”
“I will see you there.”
Kevin in the Cathedral
I walked down the trail to where I found Kevin’s jacket hanging on a branch and knew he was somewhere near. I saw what I thought was a drag path – where Kevin exits from the forest with a bundle of vines. I followed the path for about a hundred feet into the forest and I saw Kevin, maybe 20 yards away, bent over near a cedar tree. He was pulling vines. He saw me and waved. I had seen him using a tool of some kind and asked what he used it for. “I use this to cut the big ivy roots at the base of the trees,” he said and held up a piece of ivy root about three feet long and an inch and a half thick.
“I wanted to ask you about the vines that climb the trees. Does the ivy get any nutrients from trees it climbs.”
“If it does it doesn’t get much”
“So, it climbs to get more sunlight or what?”
“Well, maybe that, too, but it climbs because that is where it blooms. There is an interesting relationship here. The ivy blooms in December. It grows its seeds by February. That is a time when the birds have little other food. They eat the fruit and drop the seeds in their the poop.”
“I know you called the first ‘island’ the ‘Cathedral of Maples’ and the second one, ‘Beautiful’, do you have a name for this ‘island’?”
“I call it this ‘Third Island’. Want to see where they are?”
I said, “Of course.”
We walked down the trail a ways to where another trail joined ours from the left. We walked up that trail and passed through the mostly-maple forest. He showed me ‘Beautiful’ and we continued along.
We walked through the large open space, the huge maples stretching to catch the rays of the rising sun. Our path joined the Ellis Cove trail and we turned right. Shortly on, Kevin stopped and spread his arms wide and looking into the sun-bright branches and said with a genuine tone of reverence, “This is the Cathedral.”
I had walked all through it before. It was a large expanse of maples, completely free of ivy.
“I usually work an hour or so a day. The ivy is tenacious and, if you don’t keep at it, it comes right back.”
We walked back along the trail to the intersection where the way to the Third Island took off. Right there at the intersection Kevin pointed to a sign. “This is how the park department acknowledged the work,” he said modestly.
The sign pictures three invasive species – Himalayan Blackberry (which we see all over this part of the state), English Holly and the antagonist of this story, English Ivy. The sign also shows a picture is of Kevin, bundling up a bunch of Ivy to haul to the pick-up point.
The sign celebrates the difference one person can make.
Denny Hamilton is a writer and photographer living in Olympia.
If you know of a local hero, or want to write about one, please let us know about her or him.