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We couldn’t do it without our INTERNS!

July 24th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Summer is a burgeoning season at the Environmental Learning Center. Not only does the landscape itself come alive in a very real sense with turquoise waters, wildflowers, butterflies and access to the alpine, our program offerings expand to serve more participants through Youth Leadership Adventures, Skagit Tours and a varied suite of adults and family programs. The Institute’s composition of staff and graduate students multiplies as well. This summer, we are thrilled to include in our up-river community a special group of five individuals from the east and west sides of the country: INTERNS! These fine folks are motivated students enrolled in undergraduate institutions or culinary schools who are here through the North Cascades Institute’s Internship Program. Internship opportunities are focused in different program areas: Mountain School (spring/fall), Adult and Family Programming (summer), Youth Leadership Adventures (summer), and Culinary Arts and Foodshed Education (summer).

These internships offer exciting opportunities for undergraduate students to gain professional experience in environmental education and learning center operations in the heart of the North Cascades. Interns are supervised by program staff and work alongside Naturalists and Graduate Students, all of whom support interns as they gain hands-on, practical experience in teaching, program development, cooking, administration and operations.

The Internship Program is a crucial link that helps the Institute to fulfill one of its strategic goals of providing multiple, scaffolded experiences for young people along the Path for Youth. This summer, four of our five interns are Youth Leadership Adventure alumnae whose powerful learning experiences in the North Cascades have prompted them to return in order to help others engage with this place in similar ways as their own.

Please read on to meet our fabulous Summer 2014 Interns.

Avarie Fitzgerald was inspired to start on a path of ecology and environmental education when she attended North Cascades Institute’s Cascade Climate Challenge in 2010. Since then, she has been studying environmental science as an undergrad at Portland State University, always looking for ways to climb trees, catch frogs and take hikes in the name of college credit. She is ecstatic to be back this summer as an intern for the Youth Leadership Adventures program and hopes to inspire youth as she herself was inspired four years ago. And be warned, as an Astoria, Oregon native, she is required to make at least one reference to The Goonies daily. (Because Goonies never say die).

AvarieAvarie Fitzgerald

Lorah Steichen spent the first few months of her life living at Wind Cave National Park and continued to explore National Parks and wild spaces across the American West throughout her childhood. She grew up where the mountains greet the sea on the Olympic Peninsula, but recently relocated to Eastern Washington to attend Whitman College where she is pursuing a degree in environmental studies and politics. Lorah is interested in examining the reciprocal relations between nature and society and is excited to observe these processes through the lens of environmental education as an intern at North Cascades Institute. Having herself benefited from a range of outdoor and environmental education experiences, Lorah is eager to help facilitate such opportunities for people of all ages visiting the Institute this summer.

Lorah
Lorah Steichen

Raised in zip-off pants and flannel shirts in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Emily Petrovski cultivated a love for, and fascination with, nature early on. As a North Cascades Institute program alum, Emily jumped at the chance to intern with North Cascades Institute for the summer. She’s excited to be back in the breath-taking North Cascades, helping others to have the same wonderful experience she herself did. Emily will graduate from Western Washington University in August with a degree in Environmental Science Journalism. She loves exploring in the outdoors, taking photos, learning about almost anything science or nature related, and has a mild obsession with dogs.

Emily
Emily Petrovski

Kassandra Barnedt has grown up in the North Cascades enjoying the outdoors from childhood. She was often found running through mud puddles and building forts in the woods with her brother and sister. Six years ago her experience on an Youth Leadership Adventure course sparked her interest  in a career in the outdoors. Currently she is studying environmental education at Western Washington University where she is a senior. The most exciting place she has traveled was Denali, Alaska where she worked on a trail crew for the National Park Service. Currently she is excited to return to North Cascades Institute not as a student but as an intern, leading the same trips that inspired her.

kassyKassandra Barnedt

Donald Young loves exploring the forest. He developed an early love of nature by spending his summers exploring the forests of New England and attending summer camp in Maine. He assumed everything was bigger in Texas until he saw the trees, waterfalls and hydro electric dams in North Cascades National Park! Having spent the last seven years as an environmental educator working with young people, he is here this summer as part of the Farm to Table Culinary Internship and is excited by the challenges of cooking for large groups. Donald thinks that working with wonderful people and using organic fruits and vegetables from local farms are the two best things going on in the North Cascades Institute kitchen. Enthusiastic about American history and regional cuisine, he is looking forward to cooking up traditional American summer dishes. Shaker cuisine and culture are very great inspirations. It’s a gift to be simple! His goal is to create some Shaker inspired dishes in the kitchen this summer.

DonaldDonald Young

Thank you, interns!

Additional reporting by Aneka Singlaub, Youth Leadership Coordinator

Leading photo: Two of the North Cascade Institute’s interns are spending the summer on backpacking and canoeing excursions on Youth Leadership Adventures. Epic sunsets not guaranteed, but encouraged.
 
 

 

 

Owen Painter, MS, by Cam Painter

“When we say…….

June 18th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

….’Mountain’, you say, ‘School!'”

Mountain!!

School!!

Mountain!

School!

It has been another successful season here at Mountain School, the North Cascades Institute’s flagship program through which naturalist-educators have welcomed 4th-12th graders to the North Cascades since 1990. It was an extra long spring season, stretching from February 18 to June 12 due, in large part, to having to reschedule three schools from the government shut-down last October.

Program Outreach Coordinator Codi Hamblin, who is also a former graduate student from Cohort 10 and former editor of Chattermarks, supplied the numbers:

  • Total number of Mt School participants (students, teachers chaperones): 2,588
  • Total number of Mt School students only: 1,445
  • Schools (both public, private, and home) attended from western and eastern Washington: 34

 

Some of the schools attending Mountain School this spring received scholarship assistance from North Cascades Institute. The scholarship is dependent upon an individual school’s demonstrated need as provided by the state’s Office of Superintendent Public Instruction. This helps to ensure a variety of schools can attend Mountain School regardless of a community’s need.

But enough words. Buff Black, a photographer and parent-chaperone from Bellingham’s Silver Beach Elementary, generously offered to share his images with Chattermarks. A select few are shown below, organized loosely following the A, B, and C‘s of our most popular three-day curriculum, “Ecosystem Explorations.”

 

Day 1: Abiotic (“not living, never will live, and never has lived”)

 

kevinbigmapSenior naturalist Kevin Biggs facilitates a lesson on the Big Map about the orographic effect.
tylersourdoughsignGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Tyler Chisholm helps orient her trail group to where they are in the forest and where they’re going.
kevinecosystemboardAn ecosystem is made up of both biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”) and abiotic components. This is the foundational concept of “Ecosystem Explorations.”
40 - Kaci and Dancer Solstice © Buff BlackGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Kaci Darsow helps entertain approximately 65 hungry 5th graders before they slowly descend on the dining hall.
pillowfightInstructors go home after either a diurnal or nocturnal shift (which only lasts till about 9:15pm, at the latest). But apparently pillow fights are a popular ritual in the lodges. Who knew?

 

Day 2: Biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”)

 

22 - Yasmin and Blindfolded Juliette Find the Right Tree © Buff BlackSilver Beach students work on team-building skills while learning to use senses other than sight to get to know some of the plants in the forest community through the popular “Meet-a-Tree” activity.
30 - Head Dunking in Sourdough Creek © Buff BlackSeveral trail groups tend to visit “The Waterfall” on Sourdough Creek on Day 2, doing trail lessons and games throughout the 3.5 mile round-trip hike. Head-dunking in the snowmelt-fed creek is often requisite.
37 - Food Waste Warriors and Chef Hard at Work © Buff BlackThe Food Waste Warriors and Chef Kent defeat Valuta Wastoid once again with their fresh, local food and penchant for composting in Mountain School’s nightly rendition of dinner theater. Waste not!
43 - Guide Kaci and Cougar Clan Get In Touch with a Wolf Skull © Buff BlackThe evening Ranger Program uses “Mystery Skulls” to hone students’ observation skills while teaching them about carnivore adaptations and wildlife of the North Cascades.
42 - Ranger Dylan and Cougar Clan Talk about Carnivores © Buff BlackRanger Dylan, kindly borrowed from the National Park Service (a primary partner of the North Cascades Institute), chats with a student during the small group discussion portion of his program.

 

Day 3: Community (the plants, the animals, and their interactions)

 

50 - Guide Tyler Leading an Eyes-Closed Trust Hike © Buff BlackTyler’s all smiles leading a trust line for her trail group.
32 - Cougar Clan and Sourdough Creek Waterfall © Buff BlackWe made it!

Chris Kiser, Mountain School Program Coordinator, reflects on the season:

This spring, nearly 35 schools and 1.500 students from all over the Puget Sound and East and West sides of the Cascades came to the mountains to experience and explore the magic of this place, leaving as more cohesive groups with expanded understandings of the local ecosystem and their role in it. Closing campfire ceremonies at the end of the Mountain School program always bring this home for me, as students share out loud an unselfish wish for their community. Often, these wishes focus around Mountain School being available to every 5th grader, or continuing to care for wild places so that National Parks like the North Cascades will be protected now into the future. I can’t think of a better example of the Institute’s mission to conserve and restore Northwest environments through education in practice than the words of these young people.

34 - Crouched Cougar Clan Portrait Looking Up © Buff Black
Leading photo: Representing Omak Middle School from Washington’s east side, Owen Painter gets creative with the spillway on Diablo Dam. The “Dam Walk” is one of the evening activities during springtime Mountain School, a privilege granted by our partner, Seattle City Light. It is often a unique experience for the students to get to walk across a 389-foot-tall dam and learn about hydroelectric power generation in a national park. Photo by Cam Painter.
 
All photos by Buff Black (except the lead).
 

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She wishes to extend a huge thank you to all the Mountain School students, teachers, and chaperones; to Buff Black for his beautiful photography; to Chris Kiser for her extraordinary organizational capacity; and to her fellow Mountain School instructors. Schooooool’s out, for, summer!

 

 

praying mantis k. renz

Nature Namaste: Retreats with Maya Whole Health Studio

June 9th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Snowy mountains, old growth forests, wholesome food, s’mores and yoga.

How could you go wrong with a combo like that?

Maya Whole Health Studio is hosting their series “Yoga, Nature & More: Refresh Your Perspective” retreats at the Environmental Learning Center this summer and fall through North Cascades Institute’s Group Rentals Program. They are a fantastic group of instructors and health practitioners from Renton, WA who are devoted to the well-being and enjoyment of their participants.

Not only are the retreats located in one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, but guests are well taken care of while staying at the Environmental Learning Center. Maya Whole Health’s owner, Shannon Aldrich-Payne, and instructor, Kristen Swanzy-O’Conner, created the three-day, two-night retreat around meditation, yoga, reflection and experiencing the surrounding nature. Spending a weekend with them is relaxing and rejuvenating.

Exploring and learning about the immediate environment is the mission of North Cascades Institute. While staying at the Environmental Learning Center, our expert naturalists lead guests on a guided hike in North Cascades National Park. Participants experience the wilderness by learning about the local flora and fauna, observing the natural beauty of the mountainous North Cascades and visiting a breath-taking waterfall.

Food is another passion for North Cascades Institute. Our chefs make sure no one leaves our historic lakeside dining hall hungry by preparing flavorful, delicious, local, organic meals that can accommodate any dietary need (and there’s plenty of dessert too!).

cake betsy AndrianaDid someone say, “dessert”? Enjoy scrumptious meals at the Learning Center like this creation by our very own Chef Betsy. It’s a dairy-free, gluten-free delicious chocolate cake. Photo by author.

In addition to our naturalists and chefs, there is always an on-site host for Group Rentals to help guests and the program. Just like Maya Whole Health Studio, the North Cascades Institute staff is dedicated to making sure everyone thrives during their time here.

Ready to sign up for a retreat weekend with Maya Whole Health Studio? Below are the summer retreat dates and click here to register online or contact their studio:

June 13-15

July 2-4

Mark your calendars for their fall retreats too:

October 3-5

November 28-30

There are other Group Rental Programs that you can sign up for as well! From hiking adventures to wilderness medical trainings, visit www.ncascades.org/rentals.

Or learn how you can host your own event at the beautiful Environmental Learning Center by contacting Andriana Fletcher, Group Program Coordinator, andriana_fletcher@ncascades.org or 206-526-2565.

See you in the North Cascades!

IMG_5472Is there anything more epic than a glaciated valley in the North Cascades to inspire you to become more flexible and grounded? Likely not. Photo by Samantha Hale.
Leading photo: This praying mantis is a natural yogini. Photo by Katherine Renz.
 
 
Andriana Fletcher keeps the Environmental Learning Center bustling with diverse groups of people in her position as the Group Program Coordinator. When not winning at her job, she can probably be found in Croatia.

 

 

 

cougar kitten! Eric York

SPECIAL EVENT: The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous

June 2nd, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous
Author Paula Wild reads and presents, “Sharing the Landscape: Can Humans & Cougars Coexist?
Saturday, June 7, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham
Free!

By Paula Wild

Heavily falling snow covered our footsteps almost as quickly as we made them. The fat white flakes, the forest around us and the arrival of twilight meant visibility was fading fast. And right in front of us, filling with snow as we watched, were the large paw prints of a cougar.

Our pickup was parked a couple of kilometres (about a mile) from the small logging and pulp mill community of Port Alice on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We’d pulled off Highway 30 onto the SE Main, a logging road at the bottom of the hill heading out of town, to retrieve our thermos from the back of the truck. But now, following the tracks into the woods toward a small creek, our thoughts were on cougars. As the snow silently erased the paw prints I peered between the alders and up into their branches with equal measures of apprehension and excitement.

      — from The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous, by Paula Wild (Douglas & McIntyre)

Collared cougar in tree_credit-Steve Winter-PantheraAs the widest ranging predator in the western hemisphere, cougars roam from alpine to ocean and favor forested areas and rugged terrain that allows them to sneak up on their prey. Photo by Steve Winter, Panthera.

Elusive, graceful, powerful. Whether they’ve seen one in the wild or not, most people are fascinated by the big cat called cougar, puma, mountain lion and approximately forty other names. These amazing predators can jump 18 feet straight up from a standstill, swim four miles or more at a time and run up to 45 miles per hour for short distances.

After the jaguar, the cougar is the largest cat in the Americas. It’s said that one shot on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in 1936 measured eleven feet from the end of its nose to the tip of its tail. Large padded paws allow the carnivore to stalk its prey silently, sometimes for hours. Cougars are 90 percent pure muscle, capable of taking down prey more than seven times their size.

And they’re masters at blending in. More than one expert told me, “If you spend any amount of time in the woods, chances are a cougar has seen you while you’ve been totally oblivious of its presence.” But cougars aren’t only found in the backcountry. In 1998, a cougar was killed about eight blocks from city hall in Olympia, Washington and GPS collars have tracked a surprising number of the big cats roaming through residential neighborhoods.

CougarCover Douglas and McIntyre

Long ago, cougars ranged from the Yukon to the tip of Patagonia and from coast to coast. Bounty hunting decimated their numbers in the first half of the 20th century but today many cougar populations, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, are considered healthy and stable. Some cougars are even migrating east into their former territory.

Like all predators, cougars play a vital role in a healthy ecosystem. For instance, the presence of a cougar keeps ungulates on the move preventing them from overgrazing an area. A landscape striped of vegetation can lead to soil erosion in streams, affecting fish, as well the bears, birds and other animals that feed on them. The ripple effect of eliminating predators affects nature in ways most of us never even consider.

Although attacks against humans are rare, cougars are opportunistic predators. Wherever they exist, there is some element of risk to pets, livestock and people. Research shows, however, that there are many ways to prevent an encounter from becoming an attack and an attack from becoming a fatality. For people living, working or traveling in cougar habitat, understanding the way the predator behaves and knowing how to respond is just as important as teaching young children how to navigate a busy street.

Cougar and Maine cat Gail LovemanA Maine Coon house cat and a cougar go nose to nose at a sliding glass door near Boulder, Colorado. Photo by Gail Loveman.

*     *     *

The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous is a BC Bestseller and is shortlisted for the 2014 BC Book Prizes Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award (Canada) and Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in Non-fiction-Nature (USA). It contains 70 photographs, including a 16-page color insert.

If you are unable to attend the reading at Village Books, Wild will also be presenting at the following Washington locations:

June 6: Port Townsend at the City Council Chambers, 540 Water St. at 7 pm.

June 7: Seattle at the Burke Museum of Natural History at 1 pm.

Paula at Trent River by Rick JamesPaula Wild is an award-winning author of four books and has written for numerous periodicals including British Columbia Magazine, Reader’s Digest and Canada’s History Magazine. She saw her first live cougar in Washington state before she could walk. Today she lives on Vancouver Island in Canada. She was convinced to learn more about the powerful cat after hearing a cougar scream in the green space behind her home. Photo by Rick James.
 
Leading photo: This kitten might look cute and cuddly but at three weeks old already has sharp claws. Cougar cubs have blue eyes until they are about a year old. Photo by Eric York, courtesy UC Davis Wildlife Health Center.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
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.
 
 
 
 

 

IMG_8855

Getting ready for summer: Gear repair day with McNett

May 15th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

As summertime approaches, Aneka, Matt and Amy — our amazing Youth Leadership Adventures team — have a lot to get ready for. After several months of outreach and promotion of this unique backcountry stewardship and leadership program for high school students, they’ve received over 120 applications to fill 11 trips. Next up, they’ve been working closely with resource and recreation managers on Ross, Baker and Diablo lakes to develop engaging itineraries for completing volunteer stewardship projects, developing outdoor leadership skills, and learning about environmental issues. Another crucial step in getting ready for the upcoming summer is to attend to our cache of gear that we loan the students on the trips — many of the young people have never camped, paddled or backpacked before so are in need of outdoor equipment like tents, waterproof clothing and backpacks.

photo 2

Matt sorts through new outdoor gear donated to Youth Leadership Adventures by McNett.

The McNett Corporation, an outdoor equipment company based in Bellingham, has been a crucial supporter of Youth Leadership Adventures over the past years. They’ve helped us by reaching out to other equipment companies to solicit gear — last week they dropped off a huge load of tents, sleeping bags, rain gear, cooking equipment, rain boots, fleece hats, Nalgenes, and sunglasses — as well as working directly with our staff to keep the gear we have in good shape. Utilizing McNett’s Gear Aid care and repair products like ReviveX boot cleaner, FreesoleTenacious Tape, Seam Grip and ReviveX Durable Waterproofing, our team spent a day with their staff at McNett headquarters repairing boots, sewing clothing, sealing jackets and other important maintenance. Reduce, reuse and recycle in action!

IMG_8848

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IMG_8849

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IMG_8841

Here is a report from the McNett Gear Aid blog:

Everyone dreams of attending summer camp.  The fresh mountain air, crystal clear lakes, and the friendships formed along the way.  For many kids North Cascades Institute helps make those dreams a reality. Through NCI Mountain School, kids learn to be better stewards of the environment as well as learn valuable outdoor skills like hiking, backpacking, and Leave No Trace principals.  Many of the kids who attend programs at NCI aren’t equipped with the appropriate outdoor gear or have little to no outdoor experience. NCI provides gear for all of those who can’t afford to bring their own. Things like boots, backpacks, and tents take a beating.  Buying new gear every year would be a huge expense for NCI. That being the case, McNett® has stepped up to provide NCI with the training and repair products to help get their gear back on the trail. Last week NCI brought us their entire stock of beat-up boots, broken backpacks, torn stuff sacks, and even their rain jackets. We spent the afternoon out in the sun chatting up their staff about how to make various repairs in the field, while working hands-on to repair the things they brought with them.

Read the rest at https://www.mcnett.com/gearaid/blog/repair-day-with-north-cascades-institute.

Watch a video of this transformative backcountry program for high school students at http://youtu.be/26Lwq6gfufk.

Photos courtesy of McNett, except for photo of Matt sorting gear by Aneka Singlaub.

IMG_8145

SPECIAL EVENT!: Evolution of the Genus Iris ~ Robert Michael Pyle Reading, Bellingham 5/10

May 5th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Evolution of the Genus Iris
A reading by Robert Michael Pyle
Saturday, May 10, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham
Free!

 “What a record we might have of the world’s hidden beauty if field scientists and poets routinely spent time in one another’s company.” — Alison Hawthorne Deming, from “Attending to the Beautiful Mess of the World” in The Way of Natural History

What better than a portable book of poems for a quick fix, one-way guarantee to reconnect with this hidden beauty which Deming conjures? A few stanzas, maybe just a handful of syllables, of sensory salvation for the time stressed, the pressed, those who have renounced staring dumbly at a screen or watching, heaven forbid, televised talking heads.

All Things Considered

Two river otters fished the Salmon,

diving and rising side by side, almost

down to the surf. Watching

their sleek and pointy loop-de-loop,

over and over and over,

I managed to miss

the evening news.

In his first full-length book of poetry, Evolution of the Genus Iris (Lost Horse Press, 2014), Robert Michael Pyle brings us the real news, live and uncensored from the natural world. A naturalist, lepidopterist, writer and field-class teacher at the North Cascades Institute, Pyle interprets the wild field with the eyes and notebook of both a scientist and a poet, as fellow writer Alison Hawthorne Deming wishfully imagines. The union is powerful. But Pyle does more than report from the web of life. He simultaneously offers solace from the verdant house of the holy by penning poetry that keeps us in the present, with feet grounded in the mud and moss. As he asks, also in the aforementioned book, The Way of Natural History, “Isn’t it enough that the pursuit of deep natural history is one of the surest paths toward an entirely earthly state of enlightenment?”

IMG_8236It is hard to ignore the genus Iris. (This is an heirloom bearded specimen from Alcatraz Island, part of another national park.)

Pyle’s Evolution gives a resounding “yes”. Before exploring the book’s ecological innards, though, its cover alone is stunning enough: Purple Fire by artist Lexi Sundell, a painting of a bearded iris with brush strokes from lightest lavender to midnight plum. This tantalizing botany, in tandem with a blank first page of royal violet, is the paper portal into a majestic realm of words, wings and petals. Mimicking pollinators, let’s dive into the center.

IMG_9462The beautiful mess of the natural world: Can you spot the three small invertebrates snug in this lupine? From left to right: An unidentified tan spider, a bumblebee carrying huge sacs of tangerine-colored pollen, a crab spider. So much habitat in one inflorescence!

I like/butterflies/quite a lot./But flies/(minus the butter)/abound,/and few/folks notice/except to/swat. So Pyle writes in “Dip-tych,” raising the banner for those less pretty, feces-loving insects even most naturalists seem to routinely kill without remorse or question. In another poem, “Releasing the Horseflies,” he becomes a screen-door naturalist: ….I can’t stand/frustration in any animal,/and a big fly battering a screen/is the very definition of frustration./And, oh! their stripéd silken eyes/are beautiful. Speaking up for the voiceless and the underdogs (or flies, in this case) is a specialty of both ecologists and poets. Pyle, embodying both, effortlessly lends his own integrity to this tradition.

The use of beautiful natural phenomena to elucidate hateful cultural shortcomings is another of Pyle’s talents as an author and a thinker. “Pink Pavements,” for example, uses the shattered blush blossoms of cherry trees to connect daily life across America to daily life in occupied Iraq. Or take Blues,” which tracks the constancy of azure-winged butterflies and jays across twenty years while, during that same time, 58,022 names were added to the stone wall-list of fallen soldiers. Freedom may not be free, so some chant, but taking flight as bird, insect or flower petal seems the epitome of this cherished concept.

IMG_6243How the sidewalks flush and run/when cherries, crabs, and apples shed/their petal pelts. –from “Pink Pavements”

Pyle finds freedom in the quiet revolution of “The Librarians,” as well (The walnut will drop its leaves, and one of these nights/the spider will freeze. Books too will die,/they say. But don’t believe it.), and in the unencumbered play of children, as described in “The Girl With the Cockleburs in Her Hair:”

We were talking about how children don’t

get out any more. She showed me

her daughter on her cell phone:

big pout, and four big burs

caught up in her hair.

that girl, I said, is

going to be

okay.

(Also, semi spoiler-alert: Post-Evolution, it will be difficult to consider a baby bird or a tulip exclusive of each other again.)

Pyle’s 54 poems travel from Tajikistan to Yellowstone, yet some of the best honor local Pacific Northwest celebrities: banana slugs, salmonberries, Lookout Creek. It is exciting to read the names of various species and regional landscapes, like seeing a roster of old friends with their names illuminated on the marquee, our critterly comrades and natural wonders getting the recognition they deserve. There’s pipsissewa and oxalis and varied thrushes and more, many more — a huge sampling of local biodiversity bound in one celebratory book.

banana slug K. RenzA Pacific Northwest gastropod celeb and famous decomposer, the banana slug.

My personal favorite, though, was the collection’s last. “Notes From the Edge of the Known World” is made up of three meaty stanzas telling the story of the whole grand cycle, from birth and life to death and decomposition. This printed poem itself was enough —  it was Every Thing after all, time and matter and space, the whole she-bang. But I’m a sucker for the Acknowledgements page, which followed, for who knows what connections and sweetnesses are to be found in the lists of helpful friends? Evolution‘s was no exception. I noticed that Pyle thanked Krist Novoselic, the bass player of a band from Aberdeen called Nirvana that rose to massive, worldwide popularity in September 1991. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? Nirvana was the band that put Washington state on my map when I was twelve years-old. The Vision! Not only did their lead singer teach me the word “empathy,” which I now use almost daily in writing and teaching about the natural world, but had I not been obsessed with running away to Seattle as soon as I got my driver’s license (which didn’t happen), I probably wouldn’t be here now, going to graduate school 19 years later.

So imagine this editor’s surprise and delight to discover that Pyle and Novoselic — who these days is busy with political activism, farming, writing and still, music — teamed up to present “Notes From the Edge of the Known World.” Pyle reads, Novoselic fingerpicks an acoustic guitar and youtube gives viewers easy access to a video interspersed with both the performers and ecological scenery (including a rough-skinned newt!). The writer and the musician are both active in organizing the Grays River Grange, in the Lower Columbia region of southwest Washington. The tune was recorded and mixed by Jack Endino, who also did Nirvana’s 1989 debut album, Bleach.

Good poetry the same as good ecology, and good music: It makes the fallible, all-too-conscious human feel not so alone in the world. Whether drawing out our kinship with a horsefly or with hanging blue cotton panties drying in the wind, Pyle shows, once again, that relationships are everywhere inescapable.

IMG_3868A monarch caterpillar munching on an Asclepias, or milkweed. This plant supplies monarchs with alkaloids that make them toxic to predators.

PLEASE JOIN NORTH CASCADES INSTITUTE AND VILLAGE BOOKS IN WELCOMING ROBERT MICHAEL PYLE:

BPYLE.Benjamin Drummond

The poet himself.

Evolution of the Genus Iris
A reading by Robert Michael Pyle
Saturday, May 10, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham
Free!

Leading photo: Graduate student Tyler Chisholm takes a break from teaching Mountain School to read some color-coordinated poetry in the woods.
 

Photo of Robert Michael Pyle by Benjamin Drummond. All other photos by the author.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Though she rarely watches the Smells Like Teen Spirit video anymore, when she does she’s filled with regret that she failed to commandeer her high school’s cheerleading team.