Seattle City (spot)Light: Mark VanOss

Mark VanOss has worked for the City of Seattle for 28 years and is currently in the utility’s communications department as a senior public relations specialist within the community outreach team. In his role, Mark updates the public on various projects occurring in neighborhoods throughout City Light’s service territory. “Construction projects often involve excavation in front of a business or a power outage to a home,” Mark explained. “We need to care for our customers in the way that we’d like to be cared for.”

Mark grew up in a rural part of Ohio that evoked a small-town feel – his dad was his high school principal! He attended Miami University and received a Bachelor of Science in Biological Science Education and later received a Master’s degree from the College of Forest Resources in Outdoor Recreation from the University of Washington. His early dream at the UW was to alternate seasons between national parks – working summers in Mt. Rainier and winters at Joshua Tree.

Mark lives with his wife Jean in north Seattle and together they have three children, all of whom were City Light Employee Association scholarship recipients. They recently welcomed a grandchild, Elsie. “She was named after my mother who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year,” Mark shared. In this week’s (spot)Light, Mark talks about parks, birds and nature.


Mark with his wife Jean on the Golden Gate Trail at Mt. Rainier

“My interest in parks and education has followed me throughout my career. I think it stems from my biological science background and the dual jobs my dad held: school principal and summer maintenance worker at a state park. Various seasonal park jobs led to me to Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota. A friend of mine passed through on his way to Seattle and I impulsively followed him when the season ended. My first job in Seattle was working as a tour guide at the Ballard Locks.”

“I started my career with the City of Seattle in the Parks department as a park naturalist at Camp Long. It made sense to me since I was always interested in becoming a park ranger. Along the way great things continued to happen. We had our first child and I also transitioned into a new role with City Light as a Public Education Program Specialist. The interview panel had me teach a lesson to 40 fourth graders!”

“I still explore nature through birding. In college, I took a class in ornithology. It just connected with me. Jean and I like to visit Juanita Bay Park to birdwatch. My favorite birds are the roseate spoonbill and any warbler. They’re full of vibrant, bright colors. That yellow is amazing. My birding dream is to kiss a puffin on its beak. Carefully, of course.”

“I also have the nature element in my job as I oversee the marketing for Skagit Tours. We promote the tours and make sure that this fun, amazing place spills over with exuberance to the folks we encourage to travel up there. It’s a beautiful place – North Cascades is one of my favorite national parks.  My bucket list park would be Glacier Bay in Alaska. I want to get to it someday!”

Seattle City (spot)Light: Heidi Narte

Heidi Narte has always loved trees. As a child, she climbed them. As a teenager, she spent hours hanging out in them. So, it’s no surprise she joined City Light in 2014 as an Arboriculturist. It’s also no surprise that, in honor of the recently celebrated Arbor Day, we’re shining the (spot)Light on her.

A native Washingtonian, Heidi grew up on Bainbridge Island, but resides in Burien where she enjoys its thriving sense of community. “I love the community spirit in Burien. We have so many events,” Heidi said. “My favorite is the Burien UFO festival. There’s a band, costumes, prizes. It’s a lot of fun. In Burien, we find any excuse to get together, shut down the main street, listen to live music, dance, and have a good time.”

Heidi received a B.S. in Urban Forestry with Environmental Restoration focus from the University of Washington and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Seattle University. In this week’s (spot)Light, she talks about her role at City Light, her latest hobby of birdwatching (she loves Ospreys) and her passion for the environment.

Heidi in her natural element

“I think the quality of life here in Seattle is amazing. The nature is fantastic. My latest hobby is birding. I’m often tooling around, going for walks with my binoculars. I birdwatch all over. Some of my frequent spots include my neighborhood, Discovery Park, and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Skagit County has some pretty wonderful places to watch birds too. I also enjoy puttering in my garden, taking photos, hiking, and bicycling.”

“Most people know our division as Vegetation Management. We coordinate pruning the trees back from powerlines so they won’t interrupt service or be a safety issue. The City of Seattle has a requirement that for every tree we take down, we plant two. We do two plantings (spring/fall) and perform a lot of outreach to different neighborhoods. I love our Urban Tree Replacement program and our customers love it, too. I often hear them say, ‘you’re giving me a tree?’ And we say ‘yes!’ I think it’s just a win-win for everyone. For us. For our customers. For the environment.”

“When deciding where to plant, we look at historically underserved communities. We examine the census data to see where it might be economically a little harder for folks to buy a tree. We select trees that won’t grow too tall and get into our powerlines. I also try to find trees that have some habitat benefits for pollinators and birds and look at species that are not overrepresented in the city (like cherry or maple trees) to try to build diversity in our tree population.”

“I feel really good about the work that I do. It fits in well with my personal mission statement: To make the environment a little better than when I got here…to improve it without being insensitive to the needs of humans. I want to be a voice for nature that can’t speak for itself—places, critters, and plants.”

Thank you Heidi for taking such important care of our environment and for your significant contributions to the utility!

The Whispering Season

Carkeek Park demonstration garden photo courtesy of Terri Johnson, owner of Plumb Pixel Photography

Written by Deborah Phare, Carkeek Park Steward

Between the closed-fist grip of deep winter and the gentle touch of early spring resides another, much shorter, season. Gardeners are familiar with this brief time of year and respond to its arrival with hope and joy. Its duration is brief – sometimes just three weeks – but its days are filled with the soft green shoots and emerging buds of early perennials and shrubs poking through a mist of soft fog or the crumble-top layer of tired mulch.

In the demonstration gardens at Carkeek Park, few plants are in bloom during this time of year but the gardens’ gifts are on full display. The garden has a large selection of Hellebores and Heucheras, as do most gardens, but above and beyond those important plants there is a full palette of subtle colors and interesting shapes best seen during this short season.

The small, bright yellow buds of Mahonia aquifolium sparkle against shiny, deep green leaves.  When planted in mass, Oregon Grape is a shot of sunlight on a dark winter day. Lucky visitors find delight in the nascent, cheery white pedals of Hepatica acutiloba nestled in our shady woodland bed. Trillium ovatum, Coast or Pacific Trillium, shows the beginnings of a flower tucked inside its protective leaf-coat. Most of the trillium flowers are white, although there are a few deep maroon blooms.

The tiny, round pink buds of Kalmiopsis leachiana “Umpqua Form” compliment the round, compact form of the plant. Some visitors who bend down to inspect this tidy little plant at close range are impressed by the many buds they see, and make a note to return in spring to see the plant in full bloom. They are never disappointed.

Viburnum tinus, Spring Bouquet, offers two rewards for close inspection – shimmering blue berries and small pink buds. Even before the flowers open and their fragrance warms an early spring garden, the berries and buds offer a bright reprieve from the deep gray of winter.

White-flowering Ribes sanguineum buds are beginning to open and create a delicate, cascading presence against the plants’ dark stems.

Carkeek Park demonstration garden photo courtesy of Terri Johnson, owner of Plumb Pixel Photography

Foliage and stem color are on full display during this short time period. Mahonia repens shows its deepest purple, red and maroon in these weeks between winter and spring. It is a rare plant in the Pacific Northwest that sports such dramatic winter color. This Mahonia is especially beautiful when its leaves are dusted with the glitter of frost or dew. Intriguing and confusing to some visitors are the fertile, dark brown fronds of Matteuccia struthiopteris, Ostrich Fern.  Visitors could see these fronds and mutter that the gardener is pretty lax in clean-up. But when the fiddle-heads begin to show through the snow or mulch, it’s obvious that there is a reason these brown fronds remain on the plant.

Leucothoë fontanesiana responds to winter with highlighted reds and greens, and a more pronounced white. Against a background of fog, its spectacular show causes many visitors to steal a moment from their jogging or conversations to stop and appreciate the display.

Seed-heads of perennials that have retired for winter persist with architectural interest and unique beauty. Eutrochium purpureum, common Joe Pye Weed, and Achillea millifolium,yarrow, create a strong vertical presence in a horizontal landscape.

Especially attractive during this season is the combined impact of deep red stems and lustrous green leaves of Vaccinium ovatum, Evergreen Huckleberry. This important plant is used in many beds in the Carkeek gardens and makes an exceptionally attractive addition to each bed.  Gardeners would be hard-pressed to find a family of plants as versatile and hardy for this area.

A contrast among dark colors during this time of year are plants that offer a glimpse of white.  Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian Sage, displays dusty white/gray stems and an amusing presence as it serpentines its way through the structure of more vertical, traditional plants. As these stems wind through the foliage of evergreen plants they offer the visitor a sharp delineation in color, texture and movement – a welcomed sight throughout the many garden beds of Carkeek. Another plant that brings interest through winter is the native snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. Birds will often eat the berries. The persistent white berries are a bright sight in the dark of winter.

Last, and always a pleasure to see, is the small beauty of Lewisia cotyledon when its leaves are outlined with frost. This plant’s symmetry is best highlighted when its deciduous neighbors are down for the season, the ground has a thin, sparkling cover of frost and the plant can be seen without its flowers.

It is during this brief time of year that the garden and its inhabitants share with us its most elusive gifts; gentle beauty, delicate color, unique form, and subtle promise.  These quiet gifts, whispered to the person patient enough to listen, are on full display in the Demonstration Gardens of Carkeek Park.

And they are waiting just for you.