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Weekly Photo Roundup: January 8, 2017

January 8th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Photo by Jihan Grettenberger

On Monday, graduate M.Ed student Ash Dina Kunz, got creative in her transport methods from the parking lot to graduate housing at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.

Photo by Hanna Davis

With winter in full swing, we’ve sectioned off portions of the Institute ELC due to ‘roofalanche’ risk. The sign reads “Roofalanche Zone-Trail Closed”, just in case you weren’t sure!

Photo by Melissa Biggs

Graduate student, Melissa Biggs, had to dig her car out from the Institute ELC parking lot after leaving it for several weeks while she travelled to Maryland for winter break.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 8, 2017

30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

December 31st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

As today marks the last day of 2016, what better place than Chattermarks to look back at the memories and highlights of the year here at the North Cascades Institute. I have only recently joined as a contributor to the blog and many of the posts this past year were submitted by guests, naturalists, C15 graduate students and Ben Kusserow – our previous blog editor who left intimidatingly large shoes to fill! Before I started the graduate residency program, I frequently came to Chattermarks to get a better idea as to what my life would be like in the upper Skagit and the work being done by the Institute. The first hand narratives, naturalist tidbits, and expertise of all these contributors painted a rich picture, helping to prepare me for this year of living in the North Cascades. I hope you’ve found their contributions as helpful and informative as I did. Enjoy this look back at 2016!

Mountain School

One last group photo before these 5th graders head back to Bellingham after three days of Mountain School.

In my mind there isn’t a program at NCI that can compete with the energy and enthusiasm of Mountain School. Hundreds of students from all over the state participate in the program during fall and spring, spending three to five days exploring the trails and learning about mountain ecosystems through interdisciplinary activities.

  • We always hope that when the students leave, they are taking with them positive and lasting memories. This year, instructors shared some of the letters they received from students in the post, “Dear Mountain School,” affirming our hopes.
  • In October, we were all excited to see Mountain School in the cover story of National Geographic. The article highlighted the importance of getting young people and people of color into our National Parks.


Naturalist Notes

Photo courtesy of Ben Kusserow, from his natural history project on bats in the North Cascades National Park.

2016 was full of educational opportunities here on Chattermarks. If you feel like your naturalist skills could use a brush up or you just want to learn something new, look no further. This year seemed to have a little bit of everything, from fungi to fire lookouts.

» Continue reading 30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

Outline of a Hollow Bird: Poems by Evan Holmstrom

December 20th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

As is evidenced by the rich cadre of writers who have found inspiration in the North Cascades, this region is almost eerily conducive to writing. Maybe it’s the short, bright blinks of summer or the fog and rain always promising mystery. And not only writing, but simply reflection on life in its splendor, difficulty, and variety is greatly facilitated by the natural character of this area.

This year as a Naturalist Educator turned Creative Resident I’ve been fortunate to develop a familiarity with the North Cascades. Through teaching we deepen our own relationship to the subject and the particular spirit of learning that we teach 5th grade students here is one of wonder and curiosity. What a convenient way to remind ourselves of that essential inclination. In my instruction I encourage not just creative expression, but creative im-pression as well. That is, I always remind students to be aware of just how much they’re taking in as they go about Mountain School. As a creative person, that causes me to accumulate mountains of inspiration alongside the students.

For my residency I’m finishing a book of poems called Outline of a Hollow Bird. It’s essentially my poetry journal for this year refined into a chapbook. My hunch is that it documents some personal growth and transformation. There is a great trove of wonder just beyond the grasp of our words. As a poet, that provides me with a zesty challenge. My book is intended to begin in the trope of the solitary wilderness poet, flap its wings through transformative moments, and then to bring the reader to something unfamiliar, just beyond logic.

Many thanks to NCI for employing me this year, and granting me a residency. It’s been quite a year. What I’ve accomplished here adds a rich line to the poem of my life.

The following is a piece taken from ‘Outline of a Hollow Bird’.

Unfelt Wind

ash later paradise is drier

so we      brought fruit

              to burn


reclaimed bellyaches while standing against    air

flying air carrying bits of new desert


   slash the tether       moist promise

   calling us or maybe just you up

   to mix juice with the dust


paradise darkening our faces    we sliced

thinly the vitality to keep

pack the hymnals in alongside

 then in that moment

               where             you’re tottering


        rocks purple with seawater

    skyline fractures      it runs into you filled

  with a sudden vacancy     your shards falling

tide takes them in

out of the gap in the sound

rhythmic blanks

somebody’s eyes crackle    force light

into themselves    battered ribs   battered recollections


the beach aches

    aligns itself

       under the whiteness remembering its mandate

 remade this time of sand

 eroding with the hush       hush

 piled on each other visit our old

                    realm in the reeds

   no longer easier on our bodies

   than kelp and foam

  walking as they do

  from old gates in the trees of legged things

  will they see in the sound

robbed of dimension in that way

we carried out rites

to draw their skin to our currents


Written by Evan Holmstrom. Title photograph courtesy of Angela Burlile.

About Evan Holmstrom

No stranger to stunning landscapes, Evan Holmstrom has spent time in Alaska (where he is originally from) and Montana before making his way to the North Cascades. His initial arrival placed him in the upper Skagit, where he spent several months at a meditation center. He then joined the North Cascades Institute to work as a Naturalist Educator last spring. A man of innumerable talents, his skill and knowledge greatly contributed to programs like Mountain School, Conferences and Retreats, Base Camp and Family Getaways. You can find a copy of his work, ‘Outline of a Hollow Bird’, in the Wild Ginger Library at the Environmental Learning Center.  

confluence garden 1

The Confluence Garden: A Space For Growing Community

December 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

Here at the Confluence Garden we’re gearing up for winter. That means bringing in the irrigation hosing, tucking in the garlic bed with a blanket of straw, building row cover structures to protect our more tender perennials, and battening down the hoop house hatches to enable some winter planting. It also means starting to think about next spring. And, let me tell you, we’ve got some big plans for next spring! We’re hoping to ramp up production in order to supply some veggies to programs at NCI’s Environmental Learning Center, to support the summer graduate program, and to provide fresh produce to the Marblemount Food Bank. We’ll also be expanding our educational programming—working with community partners in the valley and with NCI programs to welcome more students and community members into the garden space than ever before.

confluence garden 2

Graduate students construct a bamboo row cover for the herb garden.

confluence garden 3

Gathering up the irrigation hoses for winter.

confluence garden 4

The Confluence Garden hoop house.

We hope that you join us at one of our community work parties this Spring! Because this garden is more than just a space for growing food and teaching hands-on lessons about food systems, gardening practices, and plant biology. It’s first and foremost a space for growing community, for getting our hands a little dirty as we build connections between one another and the land here in the upper Skagit.

confluence garden 5

The Blue House and Confluence Garden space in Marblemount.

Thank you for your support! Stay tuned to ChatterMarks for more about what’s happening at the Confluence Garden!

Title photo includes Rachael Grasso and Dan Dubie picking herbs during the fall harvest party at the Confluence Garden. 

Written by Alexei Desmarais, Cohort 16 Graduate Student. All photos courtesy of Angela Burlile

Patty Dirienzo 2

Connecting the Dots: An Interview with Creative Resident Patty DiRienzo

December 12th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

As his time at Mountain School comes to an end, 10-year-old Avi writes a letter to himself reflecting on his time in the North Cascades wilderness. Two weeks later students will open these letters at school and remember what was special about their time away from home and out in nature.

All photographs and captions by Patty DiRienzo

This photo was just one of the many images Patty DiRienzo captured during her Creative Residency at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. As a photographer, Patty focuses on capturing a person’s connection to environment through relationships with land and community. For her residency, she collected a series of photographic vignettes for her project, “Connecting the Dots”, with the goal of showcasing the relationships that develop between individuals and the North Cascades. Many of her portraits were of 5th grade students participating in the Mountain School program this fall.

I was able to speak with Patty about her residency and work and have transcribed our conversation below. If you would like learn more, please visit her website or Facebook page.

Was there anything in particular about the North Cascades Residency Program that influenced your decision to come out here?

When I lived in Washington, I had always heard about the park and seen pictures and knew it was rugged and a true wilderness. I had initially looked into the National Park Service, they used to have an artist in residency program, and then my research brought me to the ELC Residency. I like the idea of what you all are doing here, bringing and introducing children and adults to this wilderness. Giving them the opportunity to come out and to raise awareness on what they can do to preserve it-that’s why I was interested in coming to the North Cascades Institute. 

Patty Dirienzo 1

Mountain School student Nigel says ‘I love hiking and being out in nature —I think I’m becoming my grandmother. She loves windstorms. And she’s not even afraid of spiders!’

Can you tell me about your history with photography and how you started out?

Photography really started out as my career, over twenty or thirty years ago. I began using film as a newspaper photographer and that’s why I still enjoy telling a story with my pictures. It’s been a transition of course, with photography. I like relating it now more to a community. I also like turning some of my images into more nostalgic looking watercolor type prints. Along the way, I’ve also tried some fine art techniques like handcoloring, black and white pictures, and now polaroid image transfers. I enjoy using these techniques because they all give you different effects and can put a kind of stamp on the work you do. Mine is trying to show how even the past and present can look alike sometimes and those different techniques help me accomplish that. 

Patty Dirienzo 4

“A naturalist leads Andrew and his classmates in a game of ‘camouflage’ during a forest hike at Mountain School. After playing this educational version of hide and seek students come away with a better understanding of the role of predators and prey in the forest.”


Patty Dirienzo 3

Isaiah, a fifth-grader from Bellingham, WA listens to a naturalist while on a hike during Mountain School in the North Cascades. “I like getting to learn things about the animals and trees.”

» Continue reading Connecting the Dots: An Interview with Creative Resident Patty DiRienzo

Pyramid Peak Sunrise

NCI Weekly Photo Roundup: December 4 2016

December 4th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Sunrise on Pyramid Peak, taken from the Environmental Learning Center parking lot. Photo by Angela Burlile

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Kay Baker 4 Kay Baker 3 Kay Baker 1

Photos by Kay Gallagher

Last Monday, Kay Gallagher, Becky Moore, and Melissa Biggs of C16, drove up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area for some winter recreating. Only an hour and a half away for those of us living in the Upper Skagit, I expect plenty more trips in the future.


Confluence Garden 1 Confluence Garden 2 Confluence Garden 3

Photos by Alexei Desmarais

On Tuesday, C16ners came together to help Alexei Desmarais build bamboo structures for the Confluence Garden on the Blue House property in Marblemount. Not only does Blue Heron Farm in Rockport consistently supply NCI with organic produce, they also supplied Alexei with the bamboo for the garden project.

» Continue reading NCI Weekly Photo Roundup: December 4 2016

thunder arm november 26th 2016

Weekly Photo Roundup: November 27 2016

November 27th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

This is the first of a weekly photo roundup series I will be posting here on Chattermarks. These photos are collected from various NCI graduate students and staff, highlighting the happenings of our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.


National Park burning debris at ELC

Photo by Angela Burlile

Early last week, the National Park arrived to the ELC to do some controlled burning of debris piles around campus.

Calvin climbing guillatine-1

Photo by Calvin Laatsch

On Sunday, Conference and Retreat Coordinator, Calvin Laatsch, was spotted heading up a brand new climbing route on Diablo Wall called “Guillotine” 5.12a.


Photo by Angela Burlile

A few of us remained up valley for the holiday. Rachael Grasso, Dan Dubie and Angela Burlile (of C16), Joshua Porter (Graduate Program Director), Evan Holmstrom (Creative Resident and former Naturalist) and Justin Daniels (NCI Chef Extraordinaire) shared a Thanksgiving meal at the Blue House in Marblemount.

marblemount chum

Photo by Chris Fisher

The Skagit River runs through the Blue House backyard in Marblemount. This week I got ‘chum’my with my aquatic neighbors!


Photos by Rachael Grasso

On Friday, Rachael Grasso of C16 headed up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area for opening day on the mountain. As you can see from the photo, she was clearly pleased by all the fresh snow to be found.