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Prometheus in Paradise: Fires in the Methow Valley bring loss but reveal a committed community

August 13th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

The East side is burning. A certain degree of compartmentalization is required to brush away images of treasured places in flames, wildlife fleeing for their lives, and homes transformed into piles of blackened ash. At 270,312 acres as of this post, the Carlton Complex fire is the largest in Washington history. Over 2,000 firefighters representing 43 crews from all over the northwest have descended on the Methow Valley and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The firefighting resources of the West are being taxed by at least 16 major fires burning in both Washington and Oregon.

These events are enormous in scope. Mine is smaller story. Heavy smoke, closed roads, and fear are diverting visitors from the summer paradise of the Methow Valley and pummeling the small local businesses that depend on the short season for the bulk of their annual revenue. Restaurants, hotels, outfitters, and farmers are watching the summer slip by, waiting for the people to come.

Undeterred by smoke or fire, I planned a weekend visit to my beloved Methow Valley to drop as much of my scant play money on the local vendors as possible. My journey East began with a hike around Maple Pass Loop, a local favorite for stunning alpine vistas with only moderate exertion. The smoke was heavy, obscuring the grander scene of Glacier Peak and the numerous towering spires of the North Cascades. It filtered the sunlight a red-gold and put the color riot of summer foliage in soft focus. With the greater peaks and crags masked in filmy sheets, my attention was drawn to sights in shorter view. I found myself lingering in the cool sinks of sparkling snowmelt cascades where monkey-flower (Mimulus Lewisii) and false hellebore (Veratrum viride) gathered. I was rapt by the myriad of butterflies and fuzzy bumble bees sipping from pollen cups.

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Smoke obscures the greater mountain views, but draws attention to the smaller things.

This phenomenon of closer examination extended as I dipped down into Winthrop. After checking in at the North Cascades Mountain Hostel, I strolled to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for dinner and a pint. The atmosphere was quite altered from my previous visits; there was no music on a Friday night, and families and fun-seekers were replaced by tanned and sooty folk in Carharts and T-shirts. Firefighters and Forest Service employees leaned on the bar, sipping well-earned cold beers at the end of a long shift. After a subdued meal, I strolled down to the banks of the Chewuch River. I passed a fire command post in an office building where people were busy on phones and radios, inspecting large maps tacked to the wall with silver push-pins. It was over 85 degrees at 8:30 PM with a thick grey sky. I wandered down to the irrigation canal and waded in up to my knees in the cold water. A cloud of tadpoles swam around my shins. A red squirrel scolded me endlessly as I invaded his watering hole.

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A Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer purchases goods at the Methow Valley Farmers Market in Twisp, WA.

» Continue reading Prometheus in Paradise: Fires in the Methow Valley bring loss but reveal a committed community

Three trails to Maple Pass Viewpoint.SHale

Summertime Stewardship on Maple Pass — Join Us!

August 5th, 2014 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Washington is an amazing place. From the tide pools on the West Coast to the mountains in the heart of the state to the river gorges in the east, over one third of Washington is protected in one way or another. We have three National Parks, four National Recreation Areas and a mix of National Historic Sites, Parks, Reserves, Scenic Areas and Trails. We also have nine National Forests and a variety of capital-W Wilderness areas. One could say that the people of Washington treasure their land.

Of this protected land, 4.4% belongs to the realms of subalpine and alpine habitat. Normally, alpine habitats can be found at 10,000 feet or above; but in high latitudes like the North Cascades, alpine habitats start a little lower, between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. As visitors, we see alpine habitats as flower-filled, snow-ridden reaches that are the perfect spot for a day trip. But don’t let the beauty fool you: Alpine life is hard. The winters are long, summers are short and snowfall and wind levels are high. There is twice as much ultraviolet radiation and twenty-five percent more light than at sea level. Air at high elevations is thin and cold with temperatures ranging from -20°F in winter to 90°F in summer. With an average annual temperature of 37.5° F, alpine areas are ranked similarly to polar climates in that no month has a mean temperature higher than 50° F. In many alpine communities in the North Cascades, snow can be found on peaks year round, with some popular hikes not melting out until August. Come autumn, it will start snowing again before long, covering up the ground for another nine months. Weather can change very quickly and, since there are almost no places to hide, storms can be incredibly dangerous.

pasqueflowerkrenzImagine being a plant in the alpine. What adaptations would you need to the harsh conditions? Pictured here is a favorite species of the subalpine: Western pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis), before it develops into its frizzled-haired fruit. Photo by Katherine Renz.

Now, imagine being a plant in the alpine. Rarely, if ever, does it rain, so you get your moisture from the long lasting snow packs. If the soil has not already blown away, it is nutrient-poor and makes it difficult to grow roots. The sun is hot and will burn new, tender leaves if you don’t figure out a way to adapt. The snow lasts quite a while, so you could only have two months to produce flowers and become pollinated before you are covered up by the white blanket again. Long lasting snow can be heavy and push you down; yet if you grow too tall, avalanches can knock you over. If you are lucky enough to survive all of that, you still have to avoid being eaten by an alpine herbivore.

Luckily, for alpine plants, they have a series of adaptions to help them survive such difficult life. Waxy, hair covered leaves help retain moisture. Long, strong taproots burrow deep into the rocky soil in search of hard to find nutrients. Anthocyanin, a reddish pigment acts to speed up photosynthesis and as a sunblock from the harsh sun. Instead of rushing through the reproductive season, plants extend the flower production and blooming process out over a few years to best maximize their short time uncovered by snow. Taproots and a short cushion-like shape help keep plants anchored to the ground in high winds and avalanches. It would seem as if alpine plants have it figured out. However, they still must contend with the challenges we humans rarely fail to offer.

 -1One of the many beautiful views from the Maple Loop trail with bountiful white and pink heather (Cassiope mertensiana and Phyllodoce empetriformis). Photo by author.

We come in with our heavy boots, sharp trekking poles and large numbers. We mean no harm, but to an alpine plant, too much tramping is the difference between life and death. I’ve been told that 12 steps on an alpine plant will kill it. Lush meadows and heather patches that once guarded the entrances to the alpine world now stand bare, opening up the precious soil to the elements. Social trails, campsites, lunch spots and viewpoints are all leading to the further degradation of alpine habitats.

So, this summer, my Leadership Track (a position I hold as part of my Graduate studies) is focused on working towards restoring alpine and subalpine habitats. We will be closing some social trails, rerouting the trail at some points, posting educational signs, and collecting seed and plant clippings. With those seeds and clippings we hope to grow them at the Marblemount Greenhouse to be planted at a later date. We collect them on site in order to preserve the genetic identity of the plants at Maple Pass, as well as to best support these plants in their bid to grow at high elevations.

MaplePassS.HaleLake Ann, as seen from the Maple Loop trail in between Heather and Maple Pass. Photo by author.

The work I am participating in will take place along the Maple Pass Loop. Thanks to its easy access and astounding beauty, it is one of the most heavily traveled trails along Highway 20. I’m sure many of you have hiked this trail, but if you haven’t, move it up higher on your ‘To Hike’ list this summer. Splitting off from the Rainy Lake trailhead, the trail ascends quickly through fir, spruce and hemlock stands. Huckleberry bushes fill in the understory and soon enough the wildflowers start to show their pretty blooms. At 1.3 miles you hit the trail for Lake Ann. Continuing on the loop, the subalpine world of heathers and low shrubs quickly come into view, as do the peaks and a view of Lake Ann. Depending on the time of year, snowfields will come into view at around 2.5 miles, soon after the split to Heather Pass. With the snowfields come more wildflowers; glacier lilies, paintbrush, penstemon and lupine among them. As you walk the rim and look down into Lake Ann, Maple Pass shows itself in the distance. At 3.5 miles and 6,600’ of elevation, you are at the pass itself. This is where I will be spending a good portion of my time and energy for the rest of the summer.

I am working in tandem with the Methow Valley Ranger District of the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest and the North Cascades National Park on a project called the Maple Pass Restoration Plan. This plan, funded in part by the National Forest Foundation, falls under the larger “Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences” Project. The goal of “Treasured Landscapes” is to ‘revitalize our forests and strengthen our natural connection’ through stewardship, restoration, building better community bonds to the natural world and education.

hiker.SHaleBecause even just our well-intentioned footsteps as we commune with nature can leave a big, destructive trace. Photo by author.

The Maple Pass Plan is not the only National Forest Funded restoration project in Washington. A group of projects, collectively called the ‘Majestic Methow’ are working towards goals of ecological restoration, aquatic habitat restoration, wildlife habitat restoration and better connections between science and action within our greater community. Many of these areas are considered backcountry and some even lie in Wilderness areas. A few however, like Maple Pass, are easily accessible, with trailheads located right off Highway 20.

This summer marks the first effort of this multi-year project. My job is to help coordinate our different visits to the site, advertise the work to the general public and bring in volunteers to assist with our work. We have over an acre of trails to replant, 2,000 feet of social trails to close and almost a mile of trail to reconstruct. My work in this project will end before the job is done, however. The restoration process, notably plant propagation, will continue for a few years. After the initial trail closings and plantings, the site will be monitored for a few years to assist with plant regrowth.

Hopefully, this effort will result in a vastly different looking Maple Pass in five years, and a healthier ecosystem overall. For now though, I must think smaller, and focus on re-potting all of the tiny huckleberry and heather that I love so much.

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering along side of us this summer, please contact me at Samantha_hale@ncascades.org.

marmot.krenzWho knows? You may get lucky enough to see a marmot like this one as you replant baby subalpine heathers. Photo by Katherine Renz.
Leading photo: Three separate trails tri-sect the fragile heather community at the viewpoint to Maple Pass Loop. Braided trails such as these show just how numerous and intricate social trails can be. Over time, these trails lead to large bare dirt patches and soil erosion. Let’s see if we can work this summer to make it a single track.
 

Samantha Hale is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Once a self-professed ‘ocean only’ lover she is starting to see the merits of frolicking, Julie Andrews style, amongst alpine plants. You can find her, DSLR in one hand, hand-lens in another, walking the high ridges.

 

 

 

Citizen Science Bioblitzes!

July 30th, 2014 | Posted by in Field Excursions

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Join North Cascades Institute for fun, educational outings to engage in meaningful research in the North Cascades ecosystem. Your participation in our BioBlitzes will provide important contributions towards understanding complex ecosystems and how to best conserve them.

Dragonflies of the North Cascades
AUG 10- AUG 11

Maple Pass Plant Inventory
AUG 17 – AUG 18

Butterflies in the High Cascades
AUG 21- AUG 22

Snakes in North Cascades
SEP 14

Hawkwatching at Chelan Ridge
SEP 20- SEP 21

Information and registration at
www.ncascades.org/citizen-science
or (360) 854-2599

NCI BioBlitz Flier 2014

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A Trip to the Olympic Peninsula

June 30th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Come every fall, winter and spring quarter, the graduate students in residency at the Environmental Learning Center leave for a long weekend dubbed the “Natural History Retreat.” It is a chance to explore a novel, neighboring ecosystem beyond the North Cascades we teach about and love on a daily basis. Last autumn, in the midst of a government shutdown, we quickly cavorted to the Methow Valley; in winter, we slept, to the extent we were able, in hard-earned snow shelters on Mt. Rainier’s Paradise. This mid-June, we headed for the one Washington national park we had yet to discover: Olympic.

But backup for a sec. Before it seems grad school is all fun ‘n’ games, it’s essential to clarify that the term “retreat” is a bit of a misnomer. Try “concentrated, highly efficient learning experience” instead. There were no hot tubs nor Swedish massages. Rather, like wolverines — those elusive weasels capable of covering six miles per hour whether traversing rivers, flatlands, or the steepest vertical relief — we were on a mission to cover as much territory in as little an amount of time as possible. In three days, we traveled from the Environmental Learning Center to Port Townsend, and eventually to the Hoh Rainforest, pit-stopping along the way to engage in multiple natural and cultural activities.

wooden boats pt townsend K. RenzInside Port Townsend’s Northwest Maritime Center. Smells so good, like wood and varnish and salt. Photo by author.

After a four-hour long end-of-season Mountain School debrief, we zoomed to sea level to catch the ferry out of Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Before we knew it, we were attired in orange dry suits and talking like pirates on a long boat in Port Townsend. We sailed and rowed around Port Townsend Bay, captained by Kelley Watson, former commercial salmon fisherman and organizer of the Girls Boat Project, and assisted by Chandlery Associate Alicia Dominguez. The quick trip was a success, and our tiny craft failed to collide with the giant ferries or picturesque sailboats in the midst of their weekly Friday night race. A graduate student in education herself, Watson told us Port Townsend had recently passed the “Maritime Discovery School Initiative.” As part of the community’s commitment to place-based education, all students would get a first-hand exposure to the maritime trades. Our collective graduate cohort eyebrows raised in unison as we heave-hoed through the salty sea: Jobs?

wooden boats III pt townsend K. RenzDown from the mountains, on the sea: From L to R: Katie Komorowski, Sarah Stephens, Elissa Kobrin, Samantha Hale, Joshua Porter, and Alicia Dominguez. Photo by author.

» Continue reading A Trip to the Olympic Peninsula

Jennifer Hahn from website

Wild Eats! Forage on Lopez Island with Jennifer Hahn

May 29th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Wild Eats From Land to Sea in the San Juan Islands
Saturday, June 14, 8:00am to Sunday, June 15, 5:00pm
Lopez Island, WA

Imagine fulfilling your desires for eating local food, learning cool new things, becoming more self-sufficient and connecting with nature. Now imagine doing all of them simultaneously.

Really?! Yes, I know, how could so much good stuff happen all at once? But it’s not a too-good-to-be-true proposition.

Jennifer Hahn, an a expert on wild food foraging and an adjunct professor in Western Washington University’s Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, is leading an adult field class on Lopez Island through the North Cascades Institute in mid-June. [Jaw-drop here]. As she tempts us in her book, Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine (Skipstone Press, 2010): “Imagine for a moment one long feast table spanning from the islands of Yakutat Bay in southwest Alaska to Point Conception, California, and beyond, rising from the Pacific Ocean to the Cascades crest.” [Begin salivating here.] Part cookbook, part bioregional natural history escapade, Pacific Feast reveals that nearly 180 different species were once central to the food traditions of the West Coast indigenous people, and offers 65 recipes celebrating them. [Dig in, here.]

“Ever try nettle pesto, rose petal truffles, ginger-sesame seaweed salad, kelp-wrapped BBQ salmon or Douglas-fir sorbet?” –www.ncascades.org

Hahn does not write up a standard itinerary for the weekend program in advance, saying instead that she likes to “keep it wide open,” which makes sense considering nature is always changing. “I wait and see what is blooming/growing/sprouting/flagging my wild attention, then I plan the two days around that,” she wrote to Chattermarks in a recent email. The trip is timed to take advantage of both the abundance of spring and extreme low tide so nutrient-packed sea veggies are easily harvestable.

The schedule includes a daily afternoon feast, preparation and cooking, practice in plant identification and learning foraging ethics. Was the daily afternoon feast mentioned?

dandelions k. renz
A sampling of foraged foods. What an interesting shift to consider ingredients as species rather than just products from the grocery store that you have to eat before they spoil in your fridge! Photo from Hahn’s website.

Basecamp for the program is Group Camp Three in Spencer Spit State Park. Lopez Farm Cottages is an available option if the cute indoors are personally preferable to tentin’ it.

The weekend is not only about tasty treats but also about sharpening a sense of connection and reciprocity with the natural world. Hahn is attentive to her “Sustainable Foraging Guidelines” in her 6-fold laminated “Pacific Coast Foraging Guide” (Mountaineers Books, 2010), and will teach participants what to be of mindful of while harvesting. Her “Stewardship” guidelines are not only on-the-mark but are clever, too:

Sustain native wild populations.

Tread lightly.

Educate yourself.

Waste nothing.

Assume the attitude of a caretaker.

Regulations and laws – follow them.

Don’t harvest what you can’t ID.

Share with wildlife.

Harvest from healthy populations and sites.

Indigenous people’s traditional harvest sites deserve respect.

Pause and offer gratitude before you pick.

Pacific Feast has plenty of impressive foodie recipes, distinct from a dish from an Alice Waters cookbook by the foraged focal point and Pacific Northwest bent (e.g. “Oyster Mushroom Pizza with White Truffe Aioli” by Peter Jones of Arcata, CA, or “Huckleberry and Port Wine Sorbet” by Bellingham’s Lynn Berman). But in this blog post I wanted to provide something easily accessible to everyone, a product with few ingredients that was quick to make, delicious and empowering.

Thus, get ready for a pre-trip teaser of “Dandelion Syrup.” As a non-native weed, dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have a pretty negative reputation. But once one knows how to harvest and prepare them – the roots, leaves and flowers are all edible and good for you – stepping outside is akin to going to the Co-op. Wild dandelion greens are wildly more nutritious than the domesticated greens from the store, and they’re free (perhaps you could even get paid for weeding them from a neighbors garden?). With their toothy leaves and sunshiny flowers, dandelions are one of the most recognizable species. Unlike various wild plants that have look-alike, fatally toxic relatives (think wild carrots and poison hemlock), dandelions have no poisonous dopple-gangers. The following recipe uses their bright yellow petals for a simple addition to your kitchen.

Dandelion Syrup

By Jennifer Hahn

(As seen in Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine (Skipstone Press, 2010)

The taste of dandelion syrup reminds me of tangy lemongrass with honey. It’s a delicious treat drizzled on waffles, pancakes, berries, or baklava. Stir it into tea for a nutritious sweetener, or mix it with warm water until dissolved and add ice for a refreshing dande-lemonade. I’ve made this syrup with sugar and agave nectar. The latter gives the syrup a haylike overtone, reminiscent of a summer day lying in a field chewing on a spring of grass. Sugar gives the syrup a yanglike zing.

Yield: 1 ½ cups syrup

 

4 cups dandelion petals

4 cups water

½ organic lemon

2 cups sugar or agave nectar

 

In a medium stockpot bring the dandelion petals and water to a boil. Turn of the heat immediately. Let steep covered 8 hours or overnight.

 

Pour dandelion tea through a strainer to remove the petals. Press the pulp into the sieve with the back of a spoon or your hand – or ball up the mash like you are making a snowball and squeeze the last liquid out.

 

Measure the remaining dandelion tea. Add water if it is less than 4 cups and pour into a clean stockpot.

 

Slice lemon into rounds and remove seeds. Add lemon rounds and 2 cups of sweetener to stockpot. Stir well to dissolve sweetener. Simmer uncovered over low heat for 1 hour. As evaporation lowers the liquid level, lower the heat for a constant simmer. (A sugar-sweetened syrup will thicken faster than syrup sweetened with agave). After 1 hour, check the consistency by spooning a bit onto a plate and cooling it in the fridge for a few minutes. The syrup thickens as it cools, and it is ready if it beads up. If you like thinner syrup, reduce the cooking time; if you like a thick, honey-like consistency, cook 15 to 30 minutes more.

 

While it is still hot, strain the syrup through a fine sieve into jars. Set aside the “candied lemon wheels” on a plate to dry. Add them to hot tea or ice cream. Dandelion syrup will deep for six months or more in the fridge.

 

Get inspired with this 2:25 minute sample of what it’s like to forage with Jennifer Hahn.

Find more information on how to sign up for Wild Eats here.

foraged food Jennifer Hahn's websiteEat me. Photo by author.
Leading photo: Foragers become one with their chosen plants. Jennifer Hahn and broad-leaved foliage. Photo from Jennifer Hahn’s website.
 
Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Like a true nature’s child, she was born, born to be wild.
 
 
 
 

 

Migratory Birds Erica Keene

Taking Flight at the Migratory Bird Festival

May 22nd, 2014 | Posted by in Field Excursions

By Erica Keene

Smiles, laughter and flapping arms – I mean, wings. Yes, wings. These were the best parts of a sun-filled weekend spent learning about migratory bird species during the fifth annual Migratory Bird Festival at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. On Saturday, April 26, over 120 participants took on the role of migratory birds to learn about the difficulties they face during their winged travels. Their goal? Get safely to their next stop along the migration route.

The first round was easy, no obstacles. In the second round, a hunter was introduced. With each successive round, migration became harder and harder. Habitats began to disappear. Predators started increasing and catching larger numbers of birds. Elders, teens and little ones alike all participated in this lively, competitive game to learn just how many challenges birds face when migrating long distances.

Migratory bird Erica KeeneYouth from Seattle Parks & Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities Program and the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Program attempt to migrate safely to their next location while facing challenging obstacles such as hunters and habitat loss. Photo by author.

Groups rotated through three stations where they learned bird identification techniques, discovered ways to help conserve birds at home and participated in the ever-popular migration game. Each group adopted a bird for the day and spent time at each station learning fun facts about the Mallard, Rufous Hummingbird or the Killdeer. Some participants were even able to spot their bird during the bird identification station.

The day ended with students writing and decorating a postcard to be mailed to them in a few weeks’ time and with presentations on their adopted birds. Groups led interactive presentations on the Killdeer’s broken-wing display and the Rufous Hummingbird’s flight patterns while others absorbed the sunshine and listened.

eldersElders and youth from InterIm Community Development Association learn about migratory bird conservation. Photo by: Jim Chu, USFS.
Migratory Birds Erica KeeneOver 120 participants gathered on Saturday in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day at Camp Casey. Coupeville, WA. Photo by author.

A handful of regional community and environmental organizations participated in this event in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day, including Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities Program (O2), InterIm Community Development Association, North Cascades Institute’s Youth Leadership Adventures and the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Program.

On Saturday evening, 23 youth from Seattle Parks & Recreation’s O2 program and InterIm Wilderness Inner-city Leadership Development (WILD) stayed the night at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island in anticipation of a Sunday stewardship project. Pacific Northwest Trail Association Intern, Noah Pylvainen, took students on a walk along the Pacific Northwest Trail and introduced students to the idea of long-distance backpacking.

Migratory bird fest AnekaYouth Leadership Adventures students showing off their migratory bird postcards. Photo by Aneka Singlaub.

The next morning, students loaded onto the bus for a short trip to Fort Ebey State Park. Upon arrival, Operations Manager Craig Holmquist from the National Park Service introduced them to Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Students were given a demonstration on how to use a weed wrench and learned to identify Scotch broom: a tall, quick-to-spread invasive weed. Their task? Pull as much Scotch broom as possible out of the ground in just under three hours. Many youth had been to this event the previous year and were eager to get started. They looked at the area they cleared last year and when they realized none of it had grown back, huge smiles spread across their faces as the impact they were making started to seem more of a reality. This year, inn less than three hours, 23 youth and their adult leaders cleared nearly an acre of the invasive, yellow-flowered plant, an act of stewardship that will be appreciated by native plant aficionados to come.

migratory bird Erica KeeneZheonte Payne, 15, and Seth Wendzel from O2 share a high five in celebration of removing a particularly large Scotch Broom plant.
migratory bird Erica KeeneAfter nearly three hours of grueling effort, youth celebrate the two trailer loads of Scotch Broom they removed from Fort Ebey State Park. Photo by author.
migratory bird Erica Keene Lewen Chen, 17, from InterIm WILD loads Scotch Broom into a trailer to be removed from Fort Ebey State Park.

Thank you to the US Forest Service, Ebey’s National Historical Reserve, Ebey’s Trust Board, National Park Service, Skagit Audubon Society, Whidbey Audubon Society and all other staff and volunteers who helped make this event possible. We could not have done it without you!

Leading photo: Ximena Beccera, age 9, from the Kulshan Creek Program, learns how to use a spotting scope for the first time at the bird identification station. 
 

Erica Keene is the Youth and Community Engagement Coordinator of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

 

 

 

larch

Ready? Set? Go! Autumn!

October 25th, 2013 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Signs of fall tend to be subtle around the Environmental Learning Center, in the plant world, at least: We live in a dense coniferous forest, so the landscape remains mostly a swath of green. But the traditional seasonal hues awaited Graduate Cohort 13 on the east side of the peaks during our recent tri-annual Natural History Retreat. This year’s Retreat was a tad abridged due to….politics such as, um, a government shut-down. We rerouted, replanned, and still managed to re-treat ourselves to the explosive rainbow of the dry side. Stoplight shades of red, yellow, and green were most prominent, punctuated by flaming peach from the turning leaves of Spirea and faded indigo from the last elderberries drooping on roadside canes (the berries were gone a month ago here in the wet west). A sampling of nature’s floral palette? Sure!

 

snow budAn unidentified twig with soft carmine growth buds pokes through the snow on Cutthroat Pass Trail.

 

IMG_6161These rose hips, a.k.a. the fruit of the rose flower, were some of the biggest, roundest, and reddest hips I’d ever seen. Notably high in vitamin C, the hips are dried and consumed in everything from puddings to tea to candy.

» Continue reading Ready? Set? Go! Autumn!