Helping hands from Japan

Vicki Clark worried that the 11 Japanese girls she had been guiding through Washington this month didn't quite understand what she meant when she told them they would be helping with a "salmon-stream restoration project."

Clark sounded a little nervous.

"I'm not sure they know what they're getting into," she said.

But language barriers aside, the girls got right down in the dirt with local volunteers last week, helping to mulch trees and shrubs along a new channel of Allen Creek in Marysville.

The girls came to the United States from Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefect, on July 31 for a two-week English-immersion program sponsored by PeopleLink, a California nonprofit organization.

Each girl had a host family, most in Marysville, and took English classes every morning at Free Methodist Church in Marysville.

The girls, ages 13 to 17, also toured Seattle and went to Olympia to learn about the U.S. court system. They also had a chance to have fun at a Seattle Mariners game and went roller-skating.

But the girls also were required to spend a day volunteering. Restoring a salmon stream seemed like a project special to the Pacific Northwest, said Clark, who works for PeopleLink.

She found Adopt-A-Stream Foundation ecologist C.K. Eidem and volunteers from Earth Corps, a local environmental-restoration group, to lead the project.

The girls endured the heat Thursday afternoon to dig up reed canary grass, an invasive weed, and wrap coffee-bean bags and mulch around the bases of trees to protect them.

The stream now flows just north of Cedarcrest Golf Course and next to Grace Academy in Marysville, but it used to be nothing but a polluted ditch along 84th Avenue that would sometimes spill onto the road, Eidem said.

Adopt-A-Stream teamed with others last summer to create the 1,000-foot channel. Last winter, the group planted 3,000 trees and shrubs to provide shade for habitat.

Eidem tried to explain that salmon need shade.

"They don't like it hot," he said, fanning his face with his hand trying to help the girls understand.

The girls may not have fully grasped the whole restoration concept, but several said they were having a good time.

Student Yuriko Kosaka, with the help of a translator and the little English she had learned, said she was particularly amused by the ladybugs that kept crawling up her arm.

A few girls got a not-so-pleasant introduction to outdoor work with occasional finger-pricks from the plants. But giggles still filled the air as the girls filled white buckets with mulch.

Though Yukiko Yoshimura, 14, may not have understood how her work was helping fish, she said she knew how she liked her salmon: coated in miso sauce and grilled.

Kosaka agreed she preferred the food back home to American cuisine, but she said she liked American fashion and entertainment.

"I'll miss America," she said.