Of Joe-Pye and Dunning-Kruger

When I first started to volunteer at the Waters garden I was afraid of weeding. To be honest, I still am. What if I pull the wrong plant? Think that I’m helping only to discover that I pulled the rarest, most valuable plant in the garden. So I made sure that I learned the species to pull one by one. First creeping charlie, an invasive species that is pretty easy to recognize, if not so easy to eradicate. Then came Joe-Pye, I carried a specimen with me as I worked to compare with what I was about to pull, so that I could be sure that I pulled the right thing. Joe-Pye weed is pretty easy to recognize too, so I quickly became confident. Perhaps too confident; at garden night, when other tasks ran out, I could look for the plants on my weed list and pull them, safe in the knowledge that these were plants that should be removed. I taught others how to recognize them so they could pull them with me.

Then I discovered that Joe-Pye is a native plant. I questioned, why remove a native? Well, it gets tall, crowds out other plants. Pulling it helps the more ‘valuable’ plants by giving them more space and light. This satisfied me for a bit, but as I watched the work in the garden it began to dawn on me that there was more to it. The question was not so much what to pull, but where and when to pull it.

Native ecosystems evolved over epochs that are difficult to comprehend. Different species competing for the same resources gradually establish an equilibrium, some even come to rely on one another. Different plants flower at different times in the year to reduce competition for the pollinator insects; species like the oak trees have mast years, where all the trees synchronously produce so many acorns that the animals that eat them are overwhelmed and can’t consume them all. When humans first arrived in the Chicago region, they disturbed this equilibrium. Some species were driven to extinction, but over time a new equilibrium emerged. The humans, plants and animals of this area lived in a balance with one another.

Then came the modern world. Natural areas were suddenly considered to be ‘unimproved land’ just waiting to be torn up and exploited. The delicate equilibriums built over thousands of years were destroyed. Some species seized their moment. Tall goldenrod and others sprung up wherever disturbed land was left unmanaged. But others became rare and precious.

When we try to restore native ecosystems we are trying to achieve in a few years something that would only occur naturally over thousands. The plants and animals have not evolved to deal with this kind of environment, thousands of years of battles are re-played in our gardens. For a restoration to be successful it needs a watchful eye. Someone to say, “the rosin weed are taking over that section of the garden, let’s thin them out before they go to seed”. Someone who understands how to guide the plants towards that equilibrium in this new environment. 

I don’t know how to do this. Maybe one day I will; but a couple of years ago I didn’t even know that I didn’t know this. This is the Dunning–Kruger effect. People with limited knowledge of a subject tend to overestimate their competence; it is only as you learn more that you learn how much there is still to know. Knowing that this can happen is key to seeking knowledge with humility and applying that knowledge with precision. It is the value that experts bring to the table; not just because they can speak with the authority of years of learning, but because they can foster this humility, having stumbled on the same pitfalls themselves.

Joe-Pye is a beautiful plant. I know now that it has an important place in the garden, that we should not indiscriminately pull every example we see. Sometimes it grows to excess, gets too tall, crowds out other plants. Then an experienced eye will see where and when it needs to be removed. For me, I will be happy when I can tell the two Joe-Pye species that grow in the garden apart.

Jeremy Atherton, Waters Parent

Floristic Quality Index and Ice Cream

Hello Dear Friends,

Twenty+ people showed up on Wednesday night to work, play and enjoy food and music. We repaired a broken bench, pulled wheelbarrows of bindweed,  pruned the Ninebark (native shrub), raked the grass around the fire circle, removed the grape netting and harvested the last of the grapes in Journeys and Refuge Garden, and more. We made a small fire and cooked quesadillas, and Jeff, a school dad, serenaded us on guitar, while bats swooped overhead. All school families, friends and neighbors are welcomed.Tomorrow, Saturday September 3, from 9:00 until noon,

We will meet again to do more garden tasks, including the beginning of our Floristic Quality Assessment!

This scientific tool will allow us to qualitatively and quantitatively score our native plant community restoration. We will end up with an index number so that we can compare our garden with other restoration sites, and with itself, over time. Tomorrow we will begin identifying every native plant in the garden, creating a list, looking up the plant’s scientific name and Coefficient of Conservatism (C number). This number ranges from 0 -10, 0 being plants that, tho native, are weedy and aggressive, to 10, plants that will not tolerate disturbance of their very particular habitat and community. The list is then analyzed mathematically to come up with a score.

We know, from decades of study and work, that our garden is fabulously rich, ecologically speaking. Beginning with our ancient oaks, whose roots have held on to the mycorrhizal fungal associations necessary for a healthy native plant community, to the effects of 25 years of prescribed burns, our garden hosts at least 120 native species. It is an ecological, historical, educational, cultural and community treasure, nurtured by generations of school families and friends. 

So, join us and learn and enjoy these wonderful waning days of summer.

And for those of you who can’t get enough, we will be working on the Riverbank on Sunday, 9-11:00, another powerfully beautiful and ecologically significant site.  Meet at Berteau and the River. And, a reminder that next Wednesday’s Garden night will include a field trip to the riverbank for a walk around, possible seed collecting, fire and food. 

Mr. Leki

Garden this evening, 5 until dark

Dear Waters School Community Garden Friends,
Join us this evening for garden stewardship, fellowship, shared food and music. The garden is a place to feel peace, and courage. We need both.
Thanks to the awesome people who spoke in favor of the ecology program and garden at yesterday’s LSC meeting. I was not able to “get in”. I clicked on the LSC Zoom link three times and waited to be admitted. Nothing. I called a friend. She got in. I asked her to write in the chat that I was not being let in. I called CPS Downtown to complain.
Finally, I was in, just in time to hear a motion to adjourn after only 1/2 hour.
Thanks to the 1,000+ people who signed the petition.
See you this evening,
Pete

Garden Stewardship Tomorrow Morning

Apologies for the late email. 

I was busy today. My entire summer has been spent trying to protect the ecology program, my job, stewardship of the garden, and to strive for permanent protection of the garden. We’re still getting emails from people who just found out what’s happened. The story isn’t over yet. 

Tonight’s Wednesday night garden night is still on, but I will not be there. 
I hope to be there Saturday. 
P

additional message and invitation: 

from a gardener: 
Think how you would feel if you were a school mom or dad who was a gardener, who made friends there, who enjoyed Wednesday nights with children playing, music, food, and the beauty of nature.  Think how it would feel to read some of the comments on facebook.  It is deeply hurtful. This issue needs to be addressed.  

An invitation: Please send us letters of thanks to the school families and neighbors, the gardeners who created and tended the garden over the last 20+ years. This would be healing. The gardeners deserve thanks, respect, and kindness. It would be good to get many many letters of thanks to the gardeners, past, and present. Please make extra time and write or record yourself sending thanks to the gardeners.  If you helped with the garden, then please thank those you witnessed. Tell the beautiful stories.  We’d like to share your stories, with your name, or just initials, or anonymously, if you prefer.  

Video of past garden night below. We hope you watch to the end when you have time.. about 7 minutes of a lovely typical garden night from years ago. 

https://vimeo.com/463664267

Sweat, Soil, Water, Joy, StruggleSaturday Garden morning 9-12

Dear Waters Gardener Friends, 
Join us tomorrow for a Garden Solidarity Gathering and Stewardship day, 9-12:00 noon. We’ll be weeding and watering, tying and harvesting, chipping and chopping. We’ll end with ice cream cones and cold, sparkling water. We will spend some time looking at the latest blooming native wildflowers, and take some moments to update everyone about the threats to the garden and its stewardship. 
If you would like, I would invite you to take a bag of frozen tomatoes for your enjoyment.
Many thanks to school families that are organizing and communicating to protect the garden and restore the ecology program. Tho things look bleak, don’t lose hope, and don’t leave. We need you and we love and appreciate you. I still am at a loss to know for sure why the ecology program and garden were attacked so ruthlessly, without thought about the thousands that worked so hard to create them.  It could be retaliation for years of activism, it could be a new more privileged group wanting to take over the beauty and wealth created by others, and re-cast it in their own image. There is a long history of that happening. But, I don’t know because I have not been told. Have you??  
I have asked the Alderman to make another attempt to mediate some kind of plan for going forward that doesn’t poison the community with division.  We will know in the next few days if this is something worth pursuing.
I realized, as I was biking to the Lake today, to try to rid my mind of anxiety and my heart of pain, that I was looking at each tree that I passed. I was looking for seeds to share with the 1st graders that I would be doing tree study with: locust pods, and ash seed clusters, and new bur oak acorns, and fresh catalpa pods. I have done this every one of the past 20 years. And I realized that I didn’t have to do it anymore. That I no longer worked for Waters School, and would not teach the songs, and leaves and bark and flowers to these little ones. 
I got to the Lake and the prairie there was abloom with compass plant and monarda, and yellow coneflower and big blue stem, and I remembered that I would not be showing these plants to our 7th graders. We won’t comb the beaches for signs of what lives in the depths, won’t share lunch on the harbor and songs about water.
I stopped by Uptown Bikes on Broadway and Wilson to get a part, and the owner asked me if I was ready to go back to school. I said, “Did you know I was a teacher?” She said “everyone knows you, and knows about Waters School. It’s famous.” I told her I had been fired and she cried. She went in and asked her staff to sign the petition. 
I went to the Library and ran into a Waters Teacher that greeted me with joy, until I told her I had been fired. And she cried and asked what she could do. She came to Waters because of Ecology and the Garden, She said she would talk to all her teacher friends to act.
Please sign the petition at watersecology.org, and ask friends to sign and comment. These next few weeks will be critical.
With much Love, 
Pete Leki

**Update: she is found. Thank you to all who looked for Maria. ** Missing Person Irving Park/Western area. please look and spread the word

**Update: she is found. Thank you to all who looked for Maria. **

Maria Hernandez has been missing since yesterday Monday, Nov 1.

Please spread the word.

Here is the missing person report from the police.

https://home.chicagopolice.org/category/missing-persons/

Anyone with information is asked to call Area Three detectives at (312) 744-8266.

We have been told that she suffers from dementia and wandered away from the location. She also primarily speaks Spanish and only knows a little English. No phone or other identification on her. Her physical description from the day of the disappearance is beige/khaki pants and a brown winter jacket.”

Maria’s husband, and friends and family are out looking for Maria and have put fliers around the area. Pedro and Maria were Waters School parents and Pedro was on the LSC in years past. They were also part of our Waters Ecology and garden community. Maria was a teacher at Near North Montessori.

Please reach out to the police if you have any information. Lets keep Maria and her family in our hearts and hope they find her very soon.

Waters Student Present to the Citywide River Conference

Dear Friends, Three Waters 6th Graders, Lucy, Lucinda, and Ameer, will be presenting to the Chicago River Student Congress this Saturday. They will be explaining how the river and sewage system are linked, from house and street, to treatment plant and  Deep Tunnel before returning to the river. Thanks to Ms. Walsh for making this possible.The Congress is virtual, open and free. Students and others may register at:
https://www.chicagoriver.org/programs/education-and-outreach/chicago-river-schools-network/student-congress

Phenology and EphemeralsHere is a link to the latest spring wildflowers to bloom in Waters Garden.

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1IOVJHR8Cjta1HgM8wrbf8D-3oS9pwFQsfxrQsnVHe48/edit?usp=sharing

Mr. Leki