Note: Nearly all of the photos were taken by David Welton, unless otherwise noted.

South Whidbey’s memorable character Elliott Menashe passed into–what I believe is–spirit on Saturday, April 27, 2024. I learned of the news from Marnie Jackson, ED of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. After posting the news on my FB page, I received many comments from people who knew and loved him. Almost universally he was described as a sweet man who loved the land. Elliott taught my husband Bill and I about the importance of working with nature rather than against it. An example: using soft shore armoring–such as tree roots to protect the near shore environment–rather than concrete walls, which unbalance the nearby marine life and add to unnatural erosion of the shoreline.

He ran a consulting business, Greenbelt Consulting since 1987, which helped property owners make informed decisions on developing their land. On its webpage he notes: “Managing the environment pays seen and unseen dividends. If you’re wise, you can help both the long-term health of your land and your bottom-line.”

Using a probe to measure the depth of water beneath the floating forest at South Whidbey State Park, Elliott Menashe explains that such forests are rare in modern days.
Using a probe to measure the depth of water beneath the floating forest at South Whidbey State Park, Elliott Menashe explains that such forests are rare in modern days.

Some comments from Elliott’s wide circle of friends, written here, with their permission:

“Elliott Menashe was one of our dearest Whidbey Island friends — for many years.  He was an outrageous wit and a keen observer of human foibles and natural phenomenon.  He was rich in experience and knowledge — so wise and so large of heart.  No one can or will replace him; he is utterly irreplaceable.  This loss drains so much of the life we love here on this island.  So long, dear friend!”
– Susan & Drew Kampion

Drew Kampion, creator of drewslist, holds up a copy of his former publication, the Island Independent. Note the ‘Oil, Water,’ headline. Drew says: “Based perhaps on the awareness that we don’t know everything, that we don’t have all the answers, and that touching one another’s fragile subjectivity with compassion and forgiveness is a work of greatness.”

A landscaper and environmental restorationist, Christine Tasseff, owner of Roots Landscaping & Restoration, LLC, worked with Elliott for 18 years. We chatted by phone while she waited in line for the ferry May 2. She saw Elliott during his last days on Earth.

Smiling woman with hair and dress flowing
Christine Tasseff leads popular Sunday morning Prayberbody sacred dance

“The first thing I think of is how Elliott’s life and his work were one,” Christine said. “Every consultation we would go on together…his childlike enthusiasm was endless. After he was diagnosed with cancer, I drove with him to consultations. Our company carried out his vision. I hung on every word he said. I never tired of the basic information he shared. I knew I was in the presence of such deep knowledge and wisdom, I just drank it up. I was standing in his home office the other day. Every room of his house was about his work. It’s utterly fascinating–he reached the ideal to love work so much, it isn’t work. I will never walk in the forest again without thinking of his spirit walking with me. He had so many ideas left to raise consciousness. My dream for his work would be to create an educational curriculum to take into colleges.”

Sarah Dial Primrose wrote: “Oh my god. I was just speaking about him this morning. How I had not heard from him in a while. Oh, Elliott. How I loved you. you helped me make that huge leap out to Whidbey 40 years ago. I’ll always love you & all that you did for our lives here on Whidbey, RIP, Elliott. Elliott was a dear, albeit colorful! guy. I met him through friends when I first visited Whidbey in 1983. I moved here in 1984, and Elliott became one of my very first Island friends. He cared deeply about the delicate balance of Whidbey. He worked hard to try and educate & encourage folks to keep that balance when some were embracing their own (often unrealistic) visions of “Perfection & Paradise” with their piece of Whidbey. He will be missed by many.”

Sarah Dial Primrose in a 2019 FB post

Charlene Ray added this: “I am feeling so sad about it. I lived next door to E for 11 years and we became friends. I called him E and he called me C. He was funny and incredibly caring. We had weekly chats sometimes more when he was sick. When I moved and during Covid it was mostly email checkins. I haven’t seen him for a bit so I wondered if he was sick again. He liked to say he cared about books and trees more than people, but he also cared deeply about the people he loved. I love him and will miss him. We talked about meeting for coffee in Langley. Life is just too unpredictable to wait!”

Charlene Ray taught mindfulness practice to elementary school students on Tuesdays.

One of the last emails Elliott sent Charlene contained a link to a song from his days living in Berkeley, CA. It is by a band called The Joy of Cooking and the name of the song is Children’s House.

The song sums up Elliott’s passion for caring for the Earth, which, after all, is our children’s house. Charlene posted some of the song’s lyrics, which she described as “pretty poignant.”  Here is one verse: I think about past generations as the gulls fly seaward overheard. Indians who danced here have been forgotten. And who will dance here when I’m dead.

***

Back in 2017 David Welton and I took a walk with Elliott along the Wilbert Trail at the South Whidbey State Park. Elliot enthusiastically pointed out how the old firs, spruce, cedar and maple roots formed a ‘floating forest’ above a wetlands. With the permission of Dianna MacLeod, publisher of Whidbey Life Magazine, I am posting that March 2017 story here. It is an homage to Elliott, a character who considered Bill and I friends. I always loved meeting him around town.

The Floating Forest of South Whidbey

BY KATE POSS
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
March 29, 2017

An old-growth forest in balance is a rare gift worth preserving and celebrating, says Elliot Menashe, an environmental consultant who believes in working with nature instead of against it.

Barrier or ‘Guardian’ trees at Ebey’s bluff. From one of Elliott Menashe’s many lectures on how trees are shaped by weather. Photo from Greenbelt Consulting

Menashe, a forestry graduate from UC Berkeley, now runs Greenbelt Consulting to educate clients in environmental management along with land assessment, mitigation, and restoration. On a rainy March morning, while walking the Wilbert Trail at South Whidbey State Park, Menashe gestures to a “floating forest” with his arms wide open. The woods capture his enthusiasm as much as the Seahawks capture football fans. This part of the park is composed of the interwoven roots of trees, some 300 to 1,000 years old, floating above a wetland.

Elliott Menashe and an old growth fir along the Wilbert Trail. Photo shared by Dan Pedersen

“The interconnection of laterally-growing roots protects the whole stand,” Menashe says. “If this were a cleared area, we’d have 30 times the amount of runoff you see now. With the kind of rain we’ve had, there would be a mud hole and a flash flood. The gentle creeks moderate the flow of water to slowly percolate into the aquifer.”

The forest was saved from being clear-cut in 1977 when activists formed Save Our Trees and rallied, placing themselves between Department of Natural Resources chainsaws and the old growth trees. Save Our Trees raised private funds and, together with public money, eventually purchased the land and added it to South Whidbey State Park. Menashe says the very best of the old trees were logged years ago to rebuild San Francisco in the wake of the 1849 fire and to build ship masts. Yet old titan trees remain, towering over the forest, their lateral roots, growing on top of fallen ancestors, weaving together a carpet of moss, cones, needles, sticks and dirt that float above the wetland, which is lit by yellow and green swamp lanterns this time of year. Educational signs line the trail and describe the role of the floating forest and the interconnectedness of the land and fauna.

“There is a whole world under our feet that we don’t consider,” Menashe says, taking a metal probe and inserting it into the forest duff between the lateral roots of a giant Sitka spruce. He reports that water is flowing within a few feet of the seemingly solid ground he is standing on. “That’s why you need to slow down and really look at what we have here. The trees communicate through an underground symbiotic and mutualistic soil relationship.” That relationship, Menashe says, helps ensure clean water, prevents erosion, and creates a balanced forest community. (To better understand how trees communicate with each other and cooperate with their environment, view Suzanne’s Simard’s TED talk.)

“Fresh water, forested, mature old growth — there is almost none left in the Puget Sound lowlands,” Menashe says. “How much money does this cost society by not preserving them? It could take a thousand years to rebuild this if it were taken down.” Menashe says the trees, plants, and moss act as a sponge to prevent damage from storm water runoff. Plants absorb toxins and clean the water that flows into the aquifers that provide drinking water to much of South Whidbey.

Skunk cabbage, also known as swamp lantern, is a plant which indicates wetland habitat. Wetlands on Whidbey Island are protected resources because they act as filters to clean our drinking water

Students at the Calyx Community Arts School, a nature-based classroom in the former ranger’s home across the street from the floating forest, learn the importance of maintaining healthy forests and living in balance with nature.

Lisa Kois founded Calyx following her work in South Asia as a human rights lawyer, writer, and documentary filmmaker. She uses the 347-acre classroom at South Whidbey State Park to teach the transformative powers of nature and the arts to students from ages five to 10.

Lisa Kois, founder of the Calyx Community Arts School, believed in the power of nature in teaching children. Her program inspired a public school version called Alternative Learning Experience, administered through the South Whidbey School District.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, documents the benefits that time spent in nature has on the development of the human brain. “Connection with nature and the multi-sensory experience that time outdoors provides opens neural pathways and facilitates learning of all kinds,” Kois writes on the Calyx website. “Time in nature helps children succeed in all areas of their lives and development — whether it’s learning to read or write or play a musical instrument or chart the phases of the moon.”

A student at the Calyx Community Arts School takes part in the school’s outdoor classroom at South Whidbey State Park.

Menashe says hope for the future lies in understanding the need to preserve our heritage forests, such as the floating forest of South Whidbey State Park. “When short-term economic gain is considered, the long-term ecosystem services that save society millions of dollars in restoration suffer. With preservation, we get clean water, lack of floods, and an aquifer recharge.”

As Earth elders such as Menashe wonder whom to pass the torch of advocacy to, it’s a comfort to know that all they have to do is cross the street to Calyx.

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5 Comments

  1. Amy Tuthill on

    Thank you for this story about Elliot. He sounds like an amazing man and we all need to to know this information as residents of our special island of Whidbey.

  2. Steve Menashe on

    Thank you SO MUCH for posting this, Kate. It made me cry yet again… My brother, Elliott, was dedicated to his vision. Here’s an excerpt from his obituary:

    “Elliott was passionate about not only preserving and rehabilitating beautiful forests, bluffs, and shorelines, but also assuring they were accessible to all. He was our own personal Lorax. The Spotted owls are weeping… Please take a hike at one of his many favorite spots on the island and keep him in your thoughts.”

    I would also like to point out:

    “A celebration of his life will be held on South Whidbey on July 13, 2024, check with your friends for details. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to: ElFest@GreenbeltConsulting.com for more details, and to let us know if you’d like to help in some way. We will also be collecting digital pictures and short videos via that email address for a slide show. Elliott was very photogenic…”

    A minor thing, but can you please make sure his name is spelled with two “T’s”? There are a few instances in your article where he is referred to as Elliot, instead of Elliott. Thanks in advance.

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