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The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

June 21st, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

For the members of Cohort 14, everything is starting to come full circle. The Learning Center looks as it looked when we arrived last July: Pyramid’s faces are bare, Sourdough Creek has slowed to a trickle, the air is warm, and the winds are strong. Many things have changed in the intervening seasons. We taught two seasons of Mountain School, the latter of which ended just one week ago, completed final projects, and attended our last natural history retreat. As I have remarked in previous blog posts (and to anyone I talk to), these retreats have been one of the highlights of this graduate residency. They are a break from our hectic teaching schedule, a chance to reconnect as a cohort, and an opportunity to learn from passionate naturalists and scientists.

While our fall and winter retreats took us to the Methow Valley, we expanded our reach on our spring trip, traveling up to the Sinlahekin Valley. En route, we camped in Winthrop to hike up Tiffany Mountain. On Monday May 25th we hiked up about a mile before meeting large hail and stormy skies.
Foreboding skies over Tiffany.

Tiffany Hail
A sample of the hail

» Continue reading The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

yla1

Youth Leadership Adventures getting ready…

June 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The energy of our youth programs is shifting to Youth Leadership Adventures as staff are preparing to lead 100 high school students in the North Cascades backcountry to canoe, backpack, camp and complete service projects while receiving hands-on training in outdoor leadership, field science and public speaking. Last we checked, Kate, Matt & Co. were packing 924 backcountry meals, which includes 42 pounds of granola, 68 pounds of peanut butter and 330 pounds of trail mix. Yum.

yla3

 

NEWS FLASH: We still have a few spaces left in our 16-day Science and Sustainability courses this summer for students ages 16-18 from Washington and Oregon. The trip takes place July 15-30! Apply online at http://ncascades.org/signup/youth/YLA. Full scholarships available!

 

 

 

Paul Willis 2

Creative Residency: Paul Willis

June 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

by Paul Willis

Last fall I was lucky enough to serve as an artist-in-residence for North Cascades National Park. They gave me a room in the ranger cabin at the entrance to the Newhalem Campground, and most days I was out hiking around, fishing for poems. Most of them swam into being on the trail, not at my desk, a sort of literary version of plein air painting. As Rebecca Solnit has said, the mind works best at three miles an hour.

As an English professor for the last thirty years in New York and California, I have missed the Northwest. I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, across the Willamette Valley from the shining peaks of the Cascades. My brother and I began to explore them in high school, and the mountains planted something inside us that has remained. He now lives near Ashland, Oregon, and was one of the prime movers for the designation of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. While in graduate school at Washington State University, I did my part by helping to gain protection for the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, the last home of the mountain caribou in the lower forty-eight.

But unlike my brother, I did not find pleasure in the dogfights of politicking for wilderness. Writing about it has felt much better to me, first in a series of eco-fantasy novels now published as The Alpine Tales, and more recently in the occasional essay and the more frequent poem. So my brother and I have slipped into a symbiotic relationship: he does the dirty work of fighting for wilderness preservation, and I do the easy work of actually enjoying the wilderness. I would like to think, however, that the things I write are some sort of encouragement to him, so that’s my side of the symbiosis. Our mutual friend David James Duncan, the novelist, complained to me that he feels torn between his activist side, wanting to save rivers, and his contemplative side, wanting to write novels. What you need, I said, is a brother who saves the rivers for you.

But back to last fall in Newhalem. The Park Service did want me to earn my keep by offering a couple of writing workshops for visitors. One I led at the Newhalem Visitor Center, and another at the Environmental Learning Center. The latter workshop was part of an adult weekend organized by Katie Roloson and Chris Kiser of the North Cascades Institute. These two young women were extraordinarily adept, I thought, at gently leading us into situations of discovery. No information dumps. Just tact, patience, and the right word at the right time. I found that I liked these people.

So when the opportunity came to return to the North Cascades this spring as a creative resident here at the Institute, I was very happy to do so. It is now the end of May, and I have been here for a month. The berries of fall have been replaced by the flowers of spring, all begging to be written about. I have gone on a couple of five-day saunters, one on the East Bank Trail to Desolation Peak, and one down Bridge Creek to Stehekin. On the Bridge Creek Trail I met a total of two people and five bears. A pretty good ratio, actually.

Here at the ELC I have enjoyed eating meals, washing dishes, and swapping stories with the staff. Such youth! Such energy! Such devotion! Their lively presence sweetens my days. We all did a hike-ku together one afternoon, writing down a few things in response to our surroundings, and a few days later I gave a talk to the grad students on John Muir’s theology of glaciers, complemented the following week by a very substantive lecture given by Jon Riedel on glaciers of the North Cascades. In another couple of days I will give a farewell reading of some of my work-in-progress at an afternoon staff meeting. And already I dread my departure. There might be a better sabbatical in the world, but I cannot imagine one.

As a sample of that work-in-progress, I’ll leave you with the draft of a poem I happened to catch two weeks ago:

Pyramid Creek

Clearest stream, you wander here
from gravel bed to gravel bed,
napping in pools along the way.

You lave the roots of dusky cedars,
leaning with age, and reassure them
they have many years to leave.

Thick green moss describes your banks,
saplings of hemlock, little hands
of soft vine maple raised in air.

They want to ask if there is any other
place you’d rather be, but off you go,
down to the river, down to the sea.

                       —Ross Lake National Recreation Area

Paul J. Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and a former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His most recent collection is Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013). Learn more at pauljwillis.com.

ancient places nisbet

Northwest Bookshelf: Ozette, Orcas and Ancient Places

June 8th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Ancient Places: People and Landscape in the Emerging Northwest

Jack Nisbet (Sasquatch Books)

Spokane-based writer Jack Nisbet is a treasure for anyone interested in the ways natural history, landscape and human cultures intersect in the Pacific Northwest. His previous books have traced the route of Northwest fur agent and geographer David Thompson, profiled pioneering naturalist David Douglas and his many discoveries and meditated on the unique flora and fauna of the dry side of Cascadia. His latest title journeys around the Inland Empire in search of “genesis stories,” events from long, long ago that shape our world today.

A highlight is the essay “Meltdown,” which flows across vast stretches of time to reach an understanding of how the cycles of ice ages and epic floods shaped much of Eastern Washington and, in turn, our habitation in and movements across the land.

From the Colville Valley to Lake Pend Oreille, Okanagan Highlands to Grand Coulee, Nisbet deftly connects past to present, human to nature.

Jack Nisbet reads from Ancient Places at Village Books in Fairhaven on Wed, June 10 at 7 pm; free!

 

Ozette-Kirk

Ozette: Excavating a Makah Whaling Village

Ruth Kirk (University of Washington Press)

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Makah’s whaling village at Ozette emerged from the mud in the far northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Richard Daugherty came across the site while surveying the wild Pacific Coast for archaeology sites as a UW graduate student. The subsequent decade of excavation by Dr. Daughtery and his team unearthed one of the richest troves of Northwest native artifacts ever discovered: clubs and combs made from whalebone, net sinkers and knives from stone, mussel-shell harpoon blades, beaver-teeth carving tools and a myriad of useful and ceremonial items made from the Tree of Life, Western Red Cedar. Their research also discovered entire houses inhabited by the Makah hundreds of years ago, close to perfectly preserved by being encased in a mudslide.

» Continue reading Northwest Bookshelf: Ozette, Orcas and Ancient Places

NorthwestCoast-Holm

Northwest Bookshelf: Native Art, Native Trees and a Journey to the North

June 2nd, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Northwest Coast Indian Art
Bill Holm (University of Washington Press)

From blankets to gambling sticks, coffins to rain hats, spoons to shaman’s paraphernalia, seemingly every material aspect of the indigenous cultures of the northern Pacific Coast was decorated with representations of the natural world, usually animals. Salmon, bear, raven, wolf, whale, seal, beaver: the wild creatures of the British Columbian and southeast Alaskan coastlines and islands are memorialized in bold strokes of black and red by Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit artists from time immemorial.

The definitive study of the visual language of Northwest Coast Native art is back on bookstore shelves in a 50th anniversary edition that includes new color photographs, illustrations and reflections from contemporary artists on the impact of Bill Holm’s landmark book.

Holm is credited with decoding the hidden structures of the complex and highly stylized art form, helping “unravel the secrets of Northwest Coast art,” according to one artist. He made his findings in a systematic study of hundreds of artifacts housed in the University of Washington’s Burke Museum as a graduate student.

“I realized there was a sort of grammar or syntax to it not unlike a written language,” Holm writes in a new preface. “There were ‘rules’ that transcended tribal and linguistic boundaries on the northern coast, and these rules were followed with remarkable uniformity by artists of all the tribes in the area.”

Considered one of the most advanced art forms in the world, Holm demystifies the schematics of Northwest Coast Indian Art while also allowing that it is the individual artist’s sensibilities that make the sum of elements greater than the parts.

Even with his deep comprehension of the art, Holm acknowledges mystery too: “It is difficult to understand how these Indian artists, scattered among the inlets of the rugged northern coast, mastered the complexities of the design system to such a degree that only an occasional piece in the vast museum collections of today deviates from that system.”

» Continue reading Northwest Bookshelf: Native Art, Native Trees and a Journey to the North

GrayWolf

Howling to be Heard: Wolf Evolution and Behavior

May 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

by Mike Rosekrans, M.Ed. Graduate Student
This is the second article in Mike’s “Howling to be Heard” series; you can read the first one on wolf folklore here.

Wolves have been a part of the American landscape for a much longer time period than humans have. Evidence shows that gray wolves appeared in North America around 15,000 years ago during a period of oversized mammals. The gray wolf’s much larger cousin, the dire wolf, was the primary predator until it went extinct about 8,000 years ago. It is believed by scientists that because dire wolves were much larger they could not keep up with the ungulates that had become much faster and adapted to run through forested areas after the retreat of the last glaciers at the end of the ice age. The smaller and quicker gray wolf, which hunted in packs, was much more suited to this newly forested environment. Following the extinction of the dire wolf, the gray wolf became the top predator in North America.

The gray wolf is the largest member of the Canid family and the third largest predator in the Northwest after the grizzly and black bears. The gray wolf’s closest relative, the coyote, has taken over much of the gray wolf’s former range due its near eradication during the early 20th century. It is believed that these two species separated on an evolutionary scale about 1.5 million years ago. In fact, all domestic dogs have evolved from gray wolves.

Other than primates, wolves have the most complex social structure amongst land mammals. The social structure of the wolf is centered around the pack, a group of 2-20 wolves that take on specific roles and functions within the community. Each pack has an alpha pair consisting of one male and one female, which is usually the only breeding pair within a pack. The rest of the pack members consist of the alpha pair’s offspring. Some pack members may eventually break away and set off on their own to either establish their own packs or join another. If a male leaves a pack or is kicked out by the alpha it will often become the alpha of another pack.

» Continue reading Howling to be Heard: Wolf Evolution and Behavior

Uplift Group

Uplift: Youth in Action for the Colorado Plateau

May 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

One of the pillars of North Cascade Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. graduate program is a “sense of place.” This can be hard to define, but often includes an understanding of the natural landscape, knowledge of cultural history, and the feeling of community. Over the past nine months, the mountains of the North Cascades and the shore of Diablo Lake have become a second (or third, or fourth) home. There is another place that has always felt like home: the Colorado Plateau. The Colorado Plateau is a 130,000 square mile area that spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. It is home to ten National Parks, 17 National Monuments, the Colorado River, and mountains standing up to 11,000 feet high.

The Colorado Plateau gave me my most rewarding employment and confirmed for me that I am destined for a life outdoors and many years of teaching. It was there that I first developed a deep connection with land and learned innumerable lessons about myself. So, I when I heard about the Grand Canyon Trust holding a conference in mid-April, I knew I had to go. With the blessing of all the staff at North Cascades Institute, I flew to Flagstaff, AZ on April 17th.

» Continue reading Uplift: Youth in Action for the Colorado Plateau