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Fred Beckey: Mountaineer and Author (1923-2017)

October 31st, 2017 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

“Man used to put himself on the line all the time. Nowadays we’re protected by the police, fire, everything. There’s not much adventure left. Unless you look for it.” — Fred Beckey

Perhaps no living human is more associated with the untamed allure of the North Cascades— a blend of fear, awe, agony and ecstasy— than mountaineer Fred Beckey.

In the celebratory, life-spanning book Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs, his friends and climbing partners from the last seven decades lavish Beckey with accolades: “The most prolific mountaineer of the last 100 years,” “the undisputed sovereign of American dirtbag climbers” and “grandfather of the road trip.” These claims would be unbearably rich were they not actually true.

Beckey immigrated to Seattle from Germany with his family in 1925 and began climbing the mountains visible from the city with the Boy Scouts and local mountaineering clubs. He ascended Boulder Peak in the Olympic Mountains by himself at age thirteen, beginning his life’s trajectory of climbing remote rock—and later achieved the summit of Mount Olympus with his troop.

Beckey began exploring the North Cascades next, making first ascents up Mount Despair in 1939 and Forbidden Peak in 1940—rugged mountains deemed unclimbable by the local mountaineering club. Over the ensuing summers, he pioneered routes up dozens more Cascadian peaks, sometimes with his brother Helmy in tow. Staring out across the sea of peaks, Beckey recounts feeling “a kinship with the noble almost unbelievable peaks and tumbling glaciers.”

In 1942, the brothers made their way towards Mount Waddington in British Columbia’s Coast Ranges, a dark, sulking massif cloaked in glaciers and surrounded by miles of impenetrable coastal rainforest. After weeks of rain, snow, rockfall and avalanches, the two teenagers achieved the summit, only the second humans to stand atop the peak, and the first up the foreboding south face approach.

Mt. Waddington from the north, by John Scurlock

» Continue reading Fred Beckey: Mountaineer and Author (1923-2017)

Colors of the West: Free online workshop with painter Molly Hashimoto

October 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

“Putting a brush in the hands of new artists, young and old, heightens their awareness of the power and beauty of nature.” – Molly Hashimoto

Join North Cascades Institute and The Mountaineers Books October 24, at 7pm for the next Mountaineers Books Web Series event with Molly Hashimoto, author of the new book Colors of the West: An Artist’s Guide to Nature’s Palette. Molly is an award-winning artist and art teacher. In her book, Molly explains techniques for creating successful watercolor paintings en plein air, a French term meaning literally “in the open air.”

In this presentation, Molly will:

Discuss outdoor paint palettes and how to “see” color depending on time of day, season, atmosphere, and more
Offer tips to improve your nature painting skills or begin this as a fun new hobby—whether you regularly go into the backcountry or just want to sketch and paint the natural beauty in a park down the street
Steeped in the natural world, Molly has sketched in the outdoors and worked as a plein air artist and teacher for more than 20 years. In that time she has filled more than 40 sketchbooks with landscapes, vignettes, studies of flora and fauna, and natural history notes—all created while visiting some of the West’s most stunning landscapes.

Click here to register >>

You can attend from any web-connected computer or device. Register even if you can’t attend the evening and we will email you a recording of the webinar to listen to whenever it’s convenient!

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Polly Dyer: NW conservation hero passes away at age 96

November 23rd, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

In the North Cascades, a mosaic of public lands—national, state, and provincial parks, national forests, wilderness and recreation areas—protects many of the region’s most beloved areas. It’s easy to take their stewardship for granted—few today would argue against preserving natural treasures like Mount Baker, the Picket Range, Cascade Pass, and Suiattle River—but in truth, Washingtonians owe a great deal of gratitude to early visionaries like Polly Dyer.

Without Dyer and her ilk, imagine what might have been: Clear-cuts in the Stehekin Valley. A half-mile-wide open-pit copper mine in the shadow of Glacier Peak. The ancient cedars of the Little Beaver Valley drowned underwater. And elsewhere in the state, a ski area, tramway, and golf course on Mount Rainier; the Hoh River valley excised from Olympic National Park and sold for timber. Instead of the most primitive stretch of coastline in the Lower 48, a scenic highway running along the beaches from La Push to Shi Shi.

Dyer’s six decades of writing letters, organizing volunteers, attending meetings, serving on committees, and lobbying legislators in both Washingtons have helped keep some of our most spectacular landscapes intact. And in the era before social media, virtual meet-ups, and online petitions, those conservation efforts required a lot of legwork, fundraising, face-to-face negotiations, and pots of coffee.

Born in Honolulu in 1920, Pauline Dyer saw a wide swath of America as her father moved around the country following Coast Guard postings: Seattle, New York City, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Florida, and finally, Alaska. Summers at Girl Scout camp introduced her to the natural world, but the raw wilderness of Alaska provided what she later called “the basis for my whole life since.”

She met her husband, John, on the trail, and together they explored coastal areas like Glacier Bay in a sixteen-foot skiff, reading John Muir to pass the time. They moved to Berkeley, hiking the Sierra Nevada and becoming active in the Sierra Club, before finally settling down in the Seattle area in 1950, where the Cascades to the east and Olympics to the west fueled their passion for hiking, climbing, and conservation. Polly joined The Mountaineers and chaired the club’s Conservation Committee; established the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Sierra Club, the first chapter outside of California; helped lead the Olympic Park Associates; and cofounded the North Cascades Conservation Council.

Preserving wild places has been Dyer’s undying passion. “It is a priceless asset which all the dollars man can accumulate will not buy back,” she testified before the US Senate, in support of what would become the Wilderness Act of 1964. With fellow conservationist Howard Zahniser, she is credited with the elegant definition of wilderness enshrined in that legislation: “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Discussing her innate love of wilderness, Dyer exclaims that nature brought her “almost unbounded joy. I wanted to stretch out my arms and bring it all up close to me. I felt that it was literally a part of me.”

» Continue reading Polly Dyer: NW conservation hero passes away at age 96

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Nature of Writing Speaker Series book reviews

October 12th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Village Books teams up with the North Cascades Institute every spring and fall to offer the “Nature of Writing” speaker series at the Readings Gallery in the storied Fairhaven bookstore. With a focus on nature writing, science and the natural and cultural history of our region, the free series of readings brings some of the best writers on the natural world to Bellingham.

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Two authors have already visited and shared their new works. Leigh Calvez’s The Hidden Lives of Owls (Sasquatch Books) reveals the natural history of 11 different owl species, including the Spotted, Snowy and Great Gray, while weaving in explorations of human-animal connections, mythology and owl obsession.

Robert Steelquist’s The Northwest Coastal Explorer (Timber Press) is a beautifully designed field guide to the varied habitats and marine life of the Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia coasts. From the Pacific banana slug and Pileated woodpeckers of coastal forests to harbor seals and sea otters of the Nearshore to eelgrass and salmon of the estuaries, Steelquist handily covers the complex weave of life that inhabit our shores.

Coming up Sat., Oct. 8, Hob Osterlund’s debut Holy Moli: Albatross and Other Ancestors (OSU Press) blends memoir with her close study of Laysan albatross. When a distant relative—her grandmother’s cousin, a respected cultural anthropologist who wrote the book Hawaiian Mythology—appears in Osterlund’s dream, the author interprets it as a sign to move to the islands.

With only a few hundred bucks in her pocket, Osterlund relocates to Kauai and a series of serendipitous events puts her on the path to studying albatross, or molias they’re known locally. These magnificent birds spend many months alone at sea, “gliding on gravity and wind” over vast distances across the Northern Pacific, until each November when their instincts, or the “ancestral GPS in their cells,” pull them thousands of miles back to their lifelong mates and nesting grounds.

Osterlund writes the life stories of several individual albatross, sharing their names, their quirks and personalities until we too are hooked on these peculiar, endearing creatures and their seemingly impossible life quests. She also explores the Hawaiian concept of aumakua, or “guardian ancestors in animal form,” and finds that her intimacy with the birds provides healing for past familial trauma.

On Fri., Oct. 14, Kim Stafford, son of the late poet William Stafford and founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College, celebrates a new 30th anniversary edition of his critically acclaimed collection of essays,Having Everything Right. A deeply felt meditation on the history, folklore and natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, this essential title reveals how nature, culture and community overlap and inform each other in our special corner of the country.

For the writers in our community, Stafford is also teaching a Chuckanut Writers class on the same afternoon at Village Books: Local Knowledge is Advised on Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. This creative workshop invites participants to tell the story of your place, to be the local bard, the singer. Stafford will lead the class along as they jot fragments for development into poems, essays, stories, and songs. These could be a profile of the local character, an evocation of a neglected place, a field guide to creatures you have met and other short forms of “salvations” — concise writing to save an encounter, a discovery, an incantation from daily life. Come see what your natural surroundings will inspire you to create! Class is $45; click to register.

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Exceptional Mountains: A Cultural History of Pacific Northwest Volcanoes, by University of Montana Professor O. Alan Weltzein, critically examines the relationship between the looming, glacier-clad volcanoes and our Cascadian regional identity. He takes a hard look at the impacts of outdoor recreation, particularly the mountaineering industry, set against population growth and affluence in the Northwest. He’ll visit Bellingham Fri., Nov. 4.

And last but not least, the Nature of Writing Series wraps up Sun., Nov. 13 with one of the most celebrated writers of the Pacific Northwest bringing not one but two new books to share. Robert Michael Pyle has a new collection of poetry, Chinook & Chantrelle, as well as a reflective memoir, Through a Green Lens: Fifty Years of Writing for Nature.

Originally published in the Cascadia Weekly, 10/5/16.

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Walking Washington’s History

August 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Four villages — Whatcom, Sehome, Bellingham, and Fairhaven — grew along the waterfront of Bellingham Bay and rode every boom and bust that swept the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Whatcom surged on sawmills and a gold rush; Sehome boomed on a coal mine and railroad hopes. They merged in 1891 to become New Whatcom. The next village south on the bay, Bellingham, had a brief fling with coal but was swallowed up by Fairhaven to the south, which had visions of railroads and ended up with canneries. In sequence, they inhaled opportunity, exhaled optimism, and built long docks into the bay.

Bellingham is one of 10 Washington cities that Bentley provides brief but engaging historical overviews for, along with walking routes that explore our region’s past on foot (or bicycle). Seattle, Olympia, Walla Walla, Everett, and Yakima are other destinations that Bentley—who also wrote the bestselling Hiking Washington’s History—explores and interprets for her readers.

Each tour is a loop from two to seven miles long, with each city chosen to represent a distinct chapter in the post-European settling and development of the Evergreen State: Vancouver as the earliest significant settlement in the Pacific Northwest, Port Townsend as an important port of call for sailing ships in the mid-1800s, Spokane symbolic of urban renewal and reinvention efforts of the 1970s, and so forth.

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Bellingham, in a chapter subtitled “Reluctant City,” is symbolic of the many frenzied waves of resource extraction that created booms and busts throughout our region: coal, gold, timber and salmon.

» Continue reading Walking Washington’s History

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Jack Kerouac’s first morning on Desolation

July 20th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Catching up with Jack Kerouac, who served as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak in the North Cascades 60 years ago this summer. In this passage from his classic novel The Dharma Bums, he awakens on his first morning alone on the mountaintop and marvels at his surroundings:

Lo, in the morning I woke up and it was beautiful blue sunshine sky and I went out in my alpine yard and there it was, everything Japhy [Gary Snyder] said it was, hundreds of miles of pure snow-covered rocks and virgin lakes and high timber, and below, instead of the world, I saw a sea of marshmallow clouds flat as a roof and extending miles and miles in every direction, creaming all the valleys, what they call low-level clouds, on my 6600-foot pinnacle it was all far below me. I brewed coffee on the stove and came out and warmed my mist-drenched bones in the hot sun of my little woodsteps. I said “Tee tee” to a bug furry cony and he calmly enjoyed a minute with me gazing at the sea of clouds. I made bacon and eggs, dug a garbage pit a hundred yards down the trail, hauled wood and identified landmarks with my panoramic and firefinder and named all the magic rocks and clefts, names Japhy had sung to me so often: Jack Mountain, Mount Terror, Mount Fury, Mount Challenger, Mount Despair, Golden Horn, Sourdough, Crater Peak, Ruby, Mount Baker bigger than the world in the distance, Jackass Mountain, Crooked Thumb Peak, and the fabulous names of the creeks: Three Fools, Cinnamon, Trouble, Lightning and Freezeout. And it was all mine, not another human pair of eyes in the world were looking at this immense cycloramic universe of matter. I had a tremendous sensation of its dreamlikeness which never left me all that summer and in fact grew and grew, especially when I stood on my head to circulate my blood, right on top of the mountain, using a burlap bag for a head mat, and then the mountains looked like little bubbles hanging in the void upsidedown. In fact I realized they were upsidedown and I was upsidedown! There was nothing here to hide the fact of gravity holding us all intact upsidedown against a surface globe of earth in infinite empty space. And suddenly I realized I was truly alone and had nothing to do by feed myself and rest and amuse myself, and nobody could criticize. The little flowers grew everywhere around the rocks, and no one has asked them to grow, or me to grow.

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» Continue reading Jack Kerouac’s first morning on Desolation

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Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades

July 4th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Sixty years ago this month, Jack Kerouac left Northern California for the Skagit Valley and North Cascades to begin his summer as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak. We’re having fun tracing his trajectory through his writing found in The Dharma Bums and Lonesome Traveler, as well as John Suiter’s excellent history Poets on the Peaks.

“On the 18th of June, a Monday morning, Kerouac set out for Desolation from McCorkle’s (cabin in Mill Valley), marching off down Montford Road under full pack. In Mill Valley he began hitching north, following Highway 101 through Sonoma and Mendocino and Humboldt counties to Eureka and up into the redwoods to Crescent City. There he turned east to join up with Highway 99 at Grants Pass, Oregon. Now he was in Snyder country, following Gary’s well-worn path up into Portland, across the Columbia, north to Snoqualmie Pass, and beyond — to America’s last and greatest wilderness.”

— John Suiter, Poets on the Peaks

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“At Marblemount the (Skagit) river is a swift torrent, the work of quiet mountains. — Fallen logs beside the water provide good seats to enjoy a river wonderland, leaves jiggling in the good clean northwest wind seem to rejoice, the topmost trees on nearby timbered peaks swept and dimmed by low-flying clouds seem contented. — The clouds assume the faces of hermits or of nuns, or sometimes look like sad dog acts hurrying off into the wings over the horizon. — Snags struggle and gurgle in the heaving bilk of the river. — Logs rush by at twenty miles an hour. The air smells of pine and sawdust and bark and mud and twigs — birds flash over the water looking for secret fish.

As you drive north across the bridge at Marblemount and on to Newhalem the road narrows and twists until finally the Skagit is seen pouring over rocks, frothing, and small creeks come tumbling from steep hillsides and pile right in. — The mountains rise of all sides, only their shoulders and ribs visible, their heads out of sight and now snowcapped.”

—Jack Kerouac, making his way up the Skagit in to the North Cascades, from Lonesome Traveler.

YOU can hike Desolation Peak and visit the fire lookout Kerouac stayed in this summer on our “Beats on the Peaks” class Aug 4-7 ~ info and registration at www.ncascades.org/signup/programs/beats-on-the-peaks-2016.

» Continue reading Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades