Chattermarks

From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

North Cascades on Instagram

Archives

img_7689-1

Growing Roots In The Mountain

November 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center


Guest post by Lauren Danner, historian and writer.

Lauren Danner

The North Cascades have been the focus of Lauren Danner’s research and writing for more than 15 years. While she knows the park intimately on paper and through the memories of those involved in its creation, the Environmental Learning Center creative residency allowed her an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the American Alps, creating a greater physical and emotional connection with the mountains that will resonate authentically in her forthcoming book, Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Parks, soon to be published by WSU Press. Lauren is a former college instructor, museum director, and field coordinator of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial in Washington. The following post has been taken from her website, wildernesswithinher.com, where she writes about the North Cascades, national parks, and wilderness. 

Today is my last full day in the North Cascades, where I’ve spent three weeks as a creative resident at the North Cascade Institute’s Environmental Learning Center (ELC). As I’ve written before, my plan was to hike, write, and soak in the North Cascades, which have been the focus of my research and writing for more than 15 years.

I am simultaneously content that I’ve accomplished my mission and a bit sad to be leaving this remarkable place.

Here’s what a typical day looked like.

I wake up in Diablo, a company town owned by Seattle City Light, which runs the Skagit Hydroelectric Project that provides 20 percent of Seattle’s electricity. The house I’m in is scheduled to be “deconstructed” (a more polite term than “demolished,” I guess) so it’s pretty bare bones.

img_7229-1

Company house in Diablo. Mine is the one on the far right, next to the water tower. Photo by Lauren Danner

In fact, if it weren’t for my housemates, there wouldn’t be much there but beds and a dining room table. But I’ve won the roommate lottery. I’m sharing with staff members Travis, a smiling 30-something uber-athlete and poetic free spirit who works as a naturalist, and Mike, a cerebral student of Marxist economic theory and Magic (the game, not the hobby) who applies his interest in food justice to his work in the ELC’s kitchen as a baker. He uses his sourdough starter to tasty effect, and we’ve enjoyed his bread — and his TV. My first night (and let’s face it, I wasn’t sure how these two would respond to a middle-aged historian being plunked into their midst) we watched Dead Poets Society, squished together on the ancient couch, and I figured everything would be all right.

Each morning, I either drive a few miles or walk to the ELC over the Diablo Dam trail, a short (1.5 miles) path that wakes me up better than coffee.

Danner2

Part of the incline railway visible from the Diablo Dam trail. The picture doesn’t do justice to the steep 34.2 degree grade. Photo by Lauren Danner

The first half is long, rocky switchbacks up the side of a low ridge on Sourdough Mountain, where Beat poet Gary Snyder worked as a fire lookout in the 1950s. (The trail to the top of the mountain is known as one of the hardest in in the park, gaining 5,000′ of elevation in five steep miles. Travis makes a point of hiking it once a week.)

» Continue reading Growing Roots In The Mountain

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.

ThunderCrkSml

Creative Residency with Sharon Birzer, natural history illustrator

December 6th, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Sharon Birzer, artist and natural history illustrator

My Creative Residency journal  @ North Cascades Learning Center, Diablo Lake, July 11-18, 2014

July 11-13

The first three days I interacted with a class held at North Cascades Institute’s Learning Center on lichens: “Frog’s Pelt, Pixie Cup and Old Man’s Beard: Lichens of the North Cascades.” Taught by Daphne Stone, the weekend was rich with lectures, hikes and lichen identification. The class hiked to Rainy Lake and Washington Pass. We also took a hike up a service road to Buster Brown, a rocky outcropping covered in lichens.
This is a group that I brought back to look at under the dissecting scope and draw. This group has two lichens- Cladonia cervicornus with the double cup and Cladonia bellidiflora, and 2 mosses–Racomitrium elongatum and Polytrichum piliferum.

 

UmbrellLichenBIRZER

ClassNCI2

July 14 Thunder Creek

Today is hot, in the 90’s. I hiked up Thunder Creek and spent time in the cool shade of an old cedar and Douglas fir forest. A cool breeze wafts down from the mountains and everywhere are ferns, lichens, fungus, and life.
July 15 Sauk Mountain

Hiked up Sauk Mountain today, 4.2 miles, 5537 elevation. Annabelle told me it would be beautiful. Wow. Alpine meadows. Wildflowers abound. Ice fields at the top and glacier lilies and avalanche lilies (finishing) and many others species of wildflowers in full bloom everywhere. Afterwards I was dusty and hot so I dipped into Diablo Lake before working on lichen illustrations.

OldGrowthSml

» Continue reading Creative Residency with Sharon Birzer, natural history illustrator

Forest by Molly Hashimoto

Encounters: a Creative Residency at the North Cascades Institute

October 22nd, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

by Ilona Popper, North Cascades Institute Writer in Residence, Summer 2014

I was lucky enough to enjoy a brief writer-in-residency at the North Cascades Institute in May 2014. I gave two talks: one about wolves from the book I am writing and a joint talk on creativity with artist Molly Hashimoto. I attended Molly’s print-making class and heard her speak about the “surprises” of wildlife encounters that she captures in her prints and paintings. That sense of wonder was a large part of my time at the Institute.

I felt part of my role as writer-in-residence was to talk about writing—and writing about nature—with anyone who had an interest. I had some wonderful conversations at dinner with adult seminar students, graduate students, naturalists, and Institute staff. One man spoke passionately about how to get started on writing his memoirs. He felt he could never write well enough, even to begin. I was struck, as I often am, by how critical and severe people can be in judging their first efforts, dismissing their ideas before they are formed or condemning their craftsmanship in first drafts.

People often talk of the self-discipline of writers. It’s true that writers practice self-discipline, first in just getting the words down on paper regularly, but even more in learning to reread one’s work with open curiosity about where it might be going. Trashing your own ideas, your own writing, especially in an early draft, is easy. Sticking with revision until you’ve fully developed an idea—that takes discipline.

The bulk of my time at the Institute was filled with writing, hiking, discovering the local ecosystem and wildlife and learning about what North Cascades Institute does. I was impressed with the way that the food, the laundry, the classrooms — everything about the Institute’s campus — is part of a larger curriculum and ethic that supports the wide array of eco-educational programs at the Institute.

I’m a naturalist and I live in a rich and beautiful place, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Part of the value in being at North Cascades Institute was to see how the Northern Cascades ecosystem is so different from and yet linked with the wild lands in which I reside. I recently heard Christina Eisenberg speak of “The Predator Way” (the title of her book): the long corridor of the Rockies, inhabited by predator and prey mammals since the earliest eras. Wolves, cougar, lynx, wolverine and bear traveled the mountains as they dispersed, looking for new homes.

Predators are returning to the North Cascades and spreading throughout Washington state. I was thrilled to hear that wolves had been seen in one of the drainages not terribly far from the Institute campus. [See my my recent article, “Wolves in Washington: Lessons from Yellowstone,” Mt. Baker Experience, fall 2014.]

» Continue reading Encounters: a Creative Residency at the North Cascades Institute