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sitka spruce with moss

Graduate students explore natural history on the Olympic Coast

May 1st, 2013 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

My cohort-mates have heard this a few times by now, but I’ve been to the Olympic Coast four times and despite its reputation for tempestuous weather, I’ve had blue skies each time. I must be pretty lucky. But then again, so many fortunate things happened on Cohort 12’s spring Natural History Retreat that “lucky” probably should have been the theme of the whole trip.

For one, despite arriving at the ferry terminal at the exact time the boat should have been floating away from the dock, we still somehow made it on board. This initial triumph colored our moods for the rest of the trip—we beamed as the boat sailed towards menacing rain clouds that obscured most of the high Olympic Peaks.

trackingTracking, on the shores of the Elwha. Photo by Hillary Schwirtlich

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Learning To Love Thorny Places

January 27th, 2013 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Hillary Schwirtlich is a graduate student in her third quarter of North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She grew up in South Texas, moved to the Northwest for an AmeriCorps position right out of college and fell in love with the mountains. Hillary splits her time between the group rentals and ecological studies assistant positions at North Cascades Institute.

A collared peccary, locally known as a javelina, bluff-lunges at me from fifteen feet away, snapping its jaws together repeatedly. I’m cross-legged on the hard-packed dirt, eye-level with the salt-and-pepper animal, my entire body tense. I have a vivid memory of being hastily tucked in the crook of a mesquite tree by my dad as a child, and then watching him run from three or four angry javelinas. They can be aggressive if they feel they’re in danger.

After a couple of minutes, the javelina relaxes and returns to his group, which are rooting around for feed corn under a feeder on our 88-acre property in south-central Texas. It’s sunset in mid-December, and I’m in shorts and a t-shirt. I return to my natural history journal and make observations on the wildlife I’m seeing – at least five cottontail rabbits, a squirrel, and a bright red cardinal have made an appearance at the feeder this evening.

A drawing from the Natural History Journal that sparked this post. Drawing by the author

This natural history journal is opening my eyes to the biodiversity of my home for the first time in my life.

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