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NCI Snyder SourDough 2

Gary Snyder’s “August on Sourdough, A Visit from Dick Brewer”

November 7th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“August on Sourdough,

A Visit from Dick Brewer”

Poem by Gary Snyder from The Back Country; a reading with Rob Rich

You hitched a thousand miles

north from San Francisco

Hiked up the mountainside     a mile in the air

Thy little cabin – one room –

walled in glass

Meadows and snowfields,     hundreds of peaks.

We lay in our sleeping bags

talking half the night;

Wind in the guy-cables      summer mountain rain.

Next morning I went with you

as far as the cliffs,

Loaned you my poncho –      the rain across the shale –

You down the snowfield

flapping in the wind

Waving a last goodbye      half hidden in the clouds

To go on hitching

clear to New York;

Me back to my mountain      and far, far, west.



Just behind the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, Sourdough Mountain looms. This fabled peak has enjoyed a front row seat to generations of comings and goings in the Upper Skagit: a glacial lake draining, indigenous peoples journeying to quarry ancient sea-floor stones, newcomers paving Route 20 through gorges, your car rumbling through them.

» Continue reading Gary Snyder’s “August on Sourdough, A Visit from Dick Brewer”

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Tim McNulty’s “Night, Sourdough Mountain Lookout”

October 31st, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“Night, Sourdough Mountain Lookout”

Poem by Tim McNulty; a reading with Rob Rich

A late-summer sun
threads the needles of McMillan Spires
and disappears in a reef of a coral cloud.

Winds roil the mountain trees,
batter the shutter props.

I light a candle with the coming dark.
Its reflection in the window glass
flickers over mountains and
shadowed valleys
seventeen miles north to Canada.

Not another light.

The lookout is a dim star
anchored to rib of the planet
like a skiff to a shoal
in a wheeling sea of stars.

Night sky at full flood.

Wildly awake.

Sourdough Lookout

During our recent lunar eclipse, I know an awestruck child who asked that most earnest strain of seven-year old sincerity: “Daddy, where’s earth?” Though I had lacked the courage to so boldly echo her question, I couldn’t help but to smile in agreement. Just how is it that our real experience on this planet be so utterly surprising and mysterious…so unearthly?

» Continue reading Tim McNulty’s “Night, Sourdough Mountain Lookout”

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bears In the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 3)

October 26th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

by Mike Rosekrans

With the near extermination of the grizzly came a tremendous loss to the ecosystem. Grizzlies play an important role in the natural environment as pollinators, seed dispersers, and soil aerators. Grizzlies, by digging with their long claws for grubs and flower bulbs, will upturn many rocks and help to aerate the soil. Through this aeration process, the soil becomes healthier from the turning of nutrients and loosing of the soil, which allows water to flow more freely to the roots of the plants and allowing those plants to better absorb nutrients. By digging and upturning the soil, grizzlies also assist in the pollination and seed dispersal process as well.

The grizzly is what is known as an “umbrella species.” In an article published on The Encyclopedia of Earth website Nathaly Agosto Fillion describes this term, “The concept of an umbrella species has been used by conservation practitioners to provide protection for other species using the same habitat as the umbrella species. As the term implies, a species casts an umbrella over the other species by being more or equally sensitive to habitat changes. Thus monitoring this one species and managing for its continued success results in the maintenance of high quality habitat for the other species in the area. Animals identified as umbrella species typically have large home ranges that cover multiple habitat types. Therefore, protecting the umbrella species effectively protects many habitat types and the many species that depend on those habitats.” (Filion, 2014).

The concept of the grizzly being an umbrella species would provide evidence that the North Cascades Ecosystem is healthy and that other species would be flourishing as well. Having the grizzly bear as a member of the ecosystem and with the anticipated restoration of the fisher, a small carnivore of the weasel family, the North Cascades would be one of only a few North American ecosystems that contain its original carnivore species prior to European settlement (NPS, 2015).

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears In the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 3)

Stinging Nettle 1

Two Burning Houses: A Natural History of Stinging Nettle

October 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

I clearly remember my introduction to the mystery and power of stinging nettle. On a late summer day, I found myself, alongside my graduate cohort, at the Northwest Indian College. Located on the Lummi Indian Reservation in Bellingham, Washington, the college caters exclusively to tribal members across the country and includes a number of programs focused on traditional skills and knowledge. Through their Traditional Plants and Foods program, instructors educate students on native medicine and healing foods. Vanessa Cooper, the program coordinator, spoke to us at length about the healing power of several native plants. I will never forget the transformation of Vanessa’s face when her talk turned to nettle. She became deeply serene and her eyes half-closed as she murmured, “Oh, I just love nettle. She reminds us to pay attention.”

What was it about this much-maligned plant that inspired such reverence in her? What power did this plant hold? I needed to find out.

» Continue reading Two Burning Houses: A Natural History of Stinging Nettle

Jon Reidel

Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist

October 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

What do you do if you are a young midwestern college graduate with a degree in geology and a yearning for adventure, wilderness and outdoor work in the West? “You go to where the action is,” says Jon Riedel, and for him, that meant the North Cascades.

The North Cascades’ superlative features would excite any geologist: it’s the most glaciated region in the Lower 48, with the most vertical relief; the bedrock floor of Lake Chelan sits more than two thousand feet below sea level; dozens of ice ages and glaciations have contorted the landscape into an infinite number of “problems” waiting to be solved. And better yet, the region had largely been ignored by geologists due to its remoteness and difficult access. Riedel found his calling and soon landed a job with North Cascades National Park as a geologist.

“The deductive approaches used in geomorphology—the study of the earth’s surface—caught on with me,” he explains.“The ability to read the landscape and see into the past was intoxicating.”

Coming from the Midwest, Riedel found that everything in the North Cascades was different: the brush was thick and the slopes steep, making exposed rock difficult to find and study sites challenging to get to. So Riedel focused on more easily visible surficial geology features such as alluvial fans, floodplains, terraces, moraines, valleys, and of course, glaciers. With persistence and many miles underfoot, Riedel began to understand what makes the North Cascades unique.

» Continue reading Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist


Ana Maria Spagna’s “Reclaimers”

October 6th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Guest post by Ana Maria Spagna; an excerpt from the Prologue “The Low Ground” to Reclaimers, (UW Press 2015)

Spagna reads from her new book at Village Books in Bellingham on Thursday, October 8, at 7 pm as part of our Nature of Writing Fall Speaker Series; free!

When I started telling friends about my interest in reclamation, everyone had a story. Did I know about High Line Park in New York City on a reclaimed elevated freight rail? How about Seattle’s plan to reclaim wasted heat from data centers, the so-called Cloud, to power nearby neighborhoods? Reclaiming appeared everywhere, out of nowhere; it seemed to be, in some ways, the backdrop of our time. Nearly every major American city has a re-store where would-be remodelers can buy lumber and hardware salvaged from demolished buildings. Most watersheds have seen restoration, and some—the Hudson, the Cuyahoga—have been nothing short of miraculous. Even small-scale dam removal, it turns out, was nothing new. The nonprofit river advocacy group American Rivers estimates that in the past century 925 dams have been removed from rivers.
Then there were Native Americans. If reclamation—at least the way it interested me—had to do with land and water, the original inhabitants were the ones with the most at stake. For the past fifty years, I’d learn, all across the country Indian tribes have been taking back what’s been stolen from them: the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, the Menominee in Wisconsin, the Passamaquoddy in Maine, the Colville in Washington.
At the beginning, I didn’t know any of this. I wouldn’t until I left home.

So I did. I took a long solo trip—or more precisely a series of them—spurred by curiosity and hemmed by my own geography and finances. Over three years, I’d yo-yo up and down the west edge of the continent on either side of the long strip of mountains—Panamints, Sierras, Cascades—that have defined my adult life and alongside rivers that have, in literal ways, sustained me—the Feather, the Columbia, the Stehekin—in an aging Buick along a zigzagging dot-to-dot route that loosely connects where I grew up in a desert suburb of Los Angeles to where I’ve landed in the North Cascades. I’d walk over sand dunes past lime green mesquite and follow game trails among dormant oaks, watch steelhead through glass and befriend a single red fox. I’d talk to elders and activists, bureaucrats and lawyers and small town mechanics. I’d tell everyone my three part theory of reclaiming, and if their eyes occasionally glazed over at “taking back” and “making right”—weary perhaps of the eternal moral tug-of-war—by the time I got to “make useful” they had some things to say. And I tried to listen.



The sign approaching Death Valley that names it “Homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone”

» Continue reading Ana Maria Spagna’s “Reclaimers”


Poetry: Rhythm and Reflection in the North Cascades

September 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes



Fingers of smoke from wildfires
reach down Big Beaver and Pierce Creek valleys
and cover the deep blue of Ross Lake
like a quilt.

The drift mingles with other smokestreams
from Ruby and Thunder creeks,
where mountains, too,
have been touched by the sky.

Smoke clouds curl around Sourdough Mountain,
where I sit in the clear blue center
of this gesture: mudra
of the mountain Buddhas.

Waft of incense from a world renewed,
forests / meadows
rained into soil.
The teachings come round again.

Tim McNulty, from Through High Still Air: A Season at Sourdough Mountain



The cries of migrating swans
stitch the clouds together,
white on white.

Rain yesterday,
sun this afternoon,
cold trees shedding leaves.

In the brown reeds
a red-winged blackbird
remembers his summer song.

Each stroke of my paddle
brings me closer
to those I love.

— Saul Weisberg, from Headwaters: Poems & Field Notes

Join Institute founder and executive director Saul Weisberg and poet & essayist Tim McNulty September 25-27 for a fall weekend in the North Cascades exploring poetry and the outdoors; registration includes instruction, organic meals and overnight accommodations on Diablo Lake. Details at…/programs/poetry-with-tim-and-saul and (360) 854-2599.