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Gery Ferguson’s “The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness”

November 12th, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Editor’s note: Gary Ferguson teaches a Nature Writing Workshop for the Chuckanut Writers program at WCC on Nov 18, 9:30-4:30, $75. Co-presented by North Cascades Institute, Ferguson will instruct how to blend natural world, memoir, myths and archetypes in to your own story. More information at www.ncascades.org/signup/programs/nature-writing-workshop-with-gary-ferguson; register at www.whatcomcommunityed.com or by calling (360) 383-3200. Ferguson’s workshop will be followed by a free public reading at Village Books at 7 pm for his new book, The Carry Home. Info at http://www.villagebooks.com/event/gary-ferguson-11/18/14.

By Christian Martin

Gary Ferguson has been a voice for the wilderness for the past 25 years. His steady, sturdy prose has translated the power of wild places in to 22 nonfiction titles like Hawk’s Rest, The Yellowstone Wolves, The Great Divide and Walking Down the Wild.

Combining lyrical images, scientific research and hard-won, first-hand experiences, Ferguson has shown readers how the untamed natural world challenges, informs, inspires and awes us.

In his latest book, The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness from Counterpoint Press, Ferguson explores another dimension of the power of wild places: healing.

Ferguson, Gary (c) Mary Clare

The Carry Home chronicles Ferguson’s quest to scatter his wife Jane’s ashes in several locations that she specified: the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, near a Forest Service cabin in southern Montana, a remote corner of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone and Wyoming’s Absaroka Range.

It is one last adventure in the Great Outdoors for the couple, married for 25 years and bonded through their shared love of exploring, hiking, canoeing and roadtripping (they put 350,000 miles on a 1979 Chevy van).

Ferguson invites us to join him on this intimate journey, and as the tale unfolds, we witness the healing balm that nature provides.

“At first, the journeys broke my heart,” he writes. “Later they helped me to piece it together again.”

Ferguson’s books have excelled at telling other peoples’ stories, like wildlife biologists studying grey wolves or troubled teens in a wilderness therapy program. The Carry Home turns the author’s focus on himself, and his chronicle of grief is unstinting and raw, deftly avoiding maudlin and over-sentimental prose. The reader travels alongside Ferguson — riding shotgun in the Chevy, hiking trails, paddling rivers — as he revisits hallowed ground and meditates on love, wild places and how both came to be braided together in the story of their marriage.

» Continue reading Gery Ferguson’s “The Carry Home: Lessons from the American Wilderness”

CW cover Wild Nearby

The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby

November 4th, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Editor’s note: The following essay is an excerpt from the new book The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby, published this fall by Braided River, a conservation imprint of the Mountaineers Books. Please join North Cascades Institute at one of our book launch celebrations in Mount Vernon or Bellingham this week (with related presentations happening in Twisp, Darrington and Seattle) — details at www.ncascades.org/wildnearby. Read a review of the book in the Everett Herald here and the Skagit Valley Herald here.

By William Dietrich

The North Cascades are surrounded by seven million people, crisscrossed by jetliners, and threaded by highways. Their retreating glaciers have become a barometer of climate change. At the same time, grizzly, wolf, wolverine, and eagle, once shot and trapped, are coming back. There is a new Environmental Learning Center across Diablo Dam, and new philosophies about forest fires, ecosystem management, and outdoor recreation. The North Cascades are exactly the same, and completely different.

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Life in the Pacific Northwest has accelerated. Microsoft and Amazon have supplanted resource-based companies such as Weyerhaeuser as economic drivers. Computers have globalized us. We’ve all become minutemen, with once-a-day mail delivery giving way to minute-by-minute email, Facebook posts, and Twitter feeds. An entire vocabulary of technical jargon has been mastered, society has become more diverse, and newcomers have injected their own take, deciding to call Puget Sound “the” Puget Sound, out of our inexplicable drive to complicate everything. Manual labor has given way to sedentary jobs, and in response camping and backpacking equipment has gone high-tech and recreational choices have exploded. We’re connected, busy, isolated, worldly, and stressed. Accordingly, the North Cascades represent escape and self-fulfillment. They beckon as last-stand glory, temple, and playground.

A woman ascends a rocky ridge in the South Picket Range, North Cascades National Park, Washington.

There is the reality of the mountains, that difficult terrain wracked by evolving change. “It is incredibly wild,” says Chip Jenkins, a former North Cascades National Park superintendent now serving as deputy regional director. “It is raw. It is physically and psychologically demanding.” And there is the ideal of the mountains, a place frozen into a calendar photo. The North Cascades are besieged and yet sacrosanct. They are eternal, and yet their purpose is constantly being reinvented in our minds.

Tucked into the fourth corner of the United States, these mountains were the last to be explored. They are still remote, jungle-dense on their western slopes, and relatively unknown. Fjord-narrow lakes wind into the mountain fastness; it is a fifty-five-mile boat trip from Chelan to the mountain hamlet of Stehekin in Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, at the southeastern edge of North Cascades National Park. The North Cascades Highway, opened in 1972, brings three-quarters of a million people through a corridor between the two halves of that park each summer season, but only twenty-six thousand walk far enough from their cars to enter the park proper. Gettysburg Battlefield gets more visitors in a busy weekend than the halfmillion- acre park gets in a year. It is deliberately roadless. You have to seek it.

Cars drive Highway 20 at night over Washington Pass, North Cascades Scenic Highway Corridor, Washington.

The park is also truncated. Because of political compromise, Mount Baker is outside the national park “complex” (which technically includes the park lands and adjacent national recreation areas). So is the other glaciated volcano in the range, Glacier Peak. There is a bewildering patchwork of land designations, a contentiously debated road network, and a consortium of agencies.

Which brings us to peril. Visionaries protected this range over many decades of political battle in the twentieth century. What one sees today from the summit of Mount Baker—craggy Mount Shuksan, the fanged Picket Range, the ice cream mound of Glacier—now needs a new generation of stewardship. How shall we manage these crags? Can their complex succession of ecosystems be sustained? Will salmon survive in the rivers? Will grizzlies, wolves, and wolverines roam? How can the North Cascades be resilient in the face of climate change? Since 1915, average air temperatures at Diablo Dam on the Skagit River have risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit, global warming shrinking the average snowpack. Can an alpine environment thrive if adjacent lowlands are paved over? Can we help native plants and organisms resist invasive species? How can a growing and aging urban population visit this landscape without overpowering it? What does wilderness mean when it abuts a megalopolis of thickening development that stretches from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon?

A hand rests on the trunk of an old-growth western redcedar (Thuja plicata) in Mount Baker National Forest, Washington.

In a frenzied world, the North Cascades are a refuge of calm. In a warming world, they are a remnant of the Ice Age. In a homogenous world, they remain exotic. In a crowded world, they are empty.

They are best befriended on foot.


 

Excerpted from The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby (Braided River, an imprint of Mountaineers Books, Sept. 2014). Mountains photo by Steph Abegg; climber, night photos and tree by Ethan Welty.

Dalai_Lama_Vancouver_kids1

Educating the Heart

October 31st, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

North Cascades Institute has always believed that the route to conservation passes through the head and the heart — “we take children outside to fall in love with the world,” Saul Weisberg, our executive director, has remarked, “so that they learn to care, and take care, of this special place they call home.” With this is mind, our communications coordinator attended the Heart-Mind Summit last week in Vancouver to learn about efforts underway in BC schools to “educate the heart” of young students. As the Vancouver Sun reports, “It turns out that children who learn to be kind and resolve conflicts, who live free of fear and anxiety, who are compassionate and present in the moment, grow up to be happier, healthier and more productive in nearly every way that social science and psychology can measure.”

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Attending the Youth Dialogue session at John Oliver Secondary School, our staffer Christian Martin expected to learn more about the new Heart-Mind Index, to be inspired and perhaps get a peek at one of his heroes, the Dalai Lama, who was in town to promote these efforts. What he didn’t expect was this encounter in the school library!

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Read more about BC’s Heart-Mind education experiment at www.vancouversun.com.

Heart-Mind Online provides resources and activities that build capacity in parents and educators so they in turn can support the children in their care in areas such as anxiety, stress, managing conflict, friendship and other key domains of a child’s Heart-Mind well-being.

“Heart-Mind Online is a really exciting project,” says Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, interim director of the University of British Columbia’s Human Early Learning Partnership.  “It is so important for parents and educators alike to have a place where they can find practical resources and tools, rooted in science, that really educate the heart. These competencies, like empathy, altruism and compassion, are so critical not only in childhood, but also later in life.”

Top two photos by Christian Martin; bottom photo by Thandi Fletcher/Metro Vancouver.

Wild Nearby book cover

The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby

October 15th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

We’re excited to introduce you to a new book that explores the natural and cultural history of the North Cascades in lyrical words, informative maps and awesome photographs: The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby, by Braided River, a conservation imprint of Mountaineers Books. We are celebrating with several book launch presentations in and around Cascadia: Seattle, the Methow Valley, Everett, Leavenworth, Bellingham and at the Learning Center, with more events to come over the fall and winter!

Dietrich Romano Martin

In its colorful pages, Pulitzer Prize–winning author William Dietrich takes an imaginary hike through the region, explaining the rich natural and cultural history of the region while also examining future challenges facing this remote yet accessible ecosystem; Christian Martin profiles local folks who live, paint, write, study, recreate and educate in the North Cascades, including Fred Beckey, Saul Weisberg, Libby Mills, Bill Gaines, Molly Hashimoto and Ana Maria Spagna; prolific guidebook author Craig Romano offers routes to getting out and exploring the region, detailing day hikes, bicycle rides, paddling expeditions, ski outings, and car-camping options on both sides of the border. Other elements of this one-of-a-kind book include excerpts from Gary Snyder’s 1957 fire lookout journal, an inspirational foreword by Richard Louv, essays on native peoples, early explorers and pioneers of the North Cascades, a detailed conservation timeline and bibliography, lots of maps and — last but certainly not least — inspiring color photographs by the likes of Steph Abegg, Paul Bannick, Benj Drummond, John Scurlock, Andy Porter, John D’Onofrio, Brett Baunton, Paul Bannick, Ethan Welty and Art Wolfe and many other leading nature photographers.

October 10: The Mountaineers Program Center, Magnuson Park, Seattle

October 11-12: North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, Diablo Lake

October 15: Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Auditorium, Everett Community College, Everett

November 4: Twisp River Pub, Methow Valley

November 5: Skagit Station, Mt. Vernon

November 6: Syre Center, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham

November 7: Wenatchee River Institute, Leavenworth


Ticket prices and times vary; please visit ncascades.org/wildnearby or call (360) 854-2599 for details.

hemlock and doug fir

Op Ed: The Education of an Environmental Educator

September 4th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Editor’s note: Mountain School is about to start back up for its fall season! After teaching two seasons and hundreds of students last year, I thought a lot about how the field of environmental education might be even more useful to participants and the world at large.

It was quite an event, the day the Great Spirit handed out cones to all the trees in the forest. Red alder was given a tiny bouquet of them, befitting its important role as a quick and efficient pioneer in new forests as a nitrogen-fixing species. Douglas fir was bestowed with robust, two-inch long ones. They were decorated with characteristic “mouse tails”, like celebratory ribbons trailing between each thumbnail-sized scale. They provided a main source of food for the squirrels that scampered through the forest. Western hemlock, however, was impatient and pushed its way to the front of the line, eager for the best cones. As punishment for hemlock’s haste, the Great Spirit gave it the smallest cones in the forest. Feeling forever badly about being chastised, hemlock hung its head in shame.

Though I am unsure of this story’s origins, it has undoubtedly evolved over the years as a tale that environmental educators in the Pacific Northwest often share. It is a way to remember, amidst all the trees in the dense forest, that Western hemlocks are the ones possessing small cones and a drooping leader.

Here is another version, adapted from a re-vamping by graduate student and co-editor of Chattermarks, Elissa Kobrin. Her story is different, but still told with the goal of leaving learners with the ability to distinguish common local trees. It begins similarly, with red alder and Douglas fir receiving their cones. Both trees wanted to be the first ones in the forest, and to shoot up toward the sky faster than all the others. Western hemlock, however, waited patiently in line. This patience represents hemlock’s role in the forest community as one of the last species in forest succession, for it thrives in the shade of the canopy other, faster growing species. Hemlock was given cones that, though comparatively small, are very ornate and beautiful, like the rosebuds of the forest. Its head, or “leader”, is always bent over to get a better look at its tiny, pretty cones.

hemlock cone K. RenzA macro rendition of the 3/4″ tall hemlock cone, at home amidst the miniature world in a bed of moss. Note the chartreuse pollen that settled in the scales, details that make the natural world go round. Photo by author.

Which story do you prefer? When I first heard the former, I immediately thought, “Wow, I will never tell this story to students.”  Was I just being overly sensitive, another stringently politically correct tree-hugger quibbling over words? In one sense, the first story is simply an engaging way to remember why a hemlock has a drooping leader and small cones. But in the context of a world where shame and bullying are rampant, and shadow who children become as adults, could it also serve, even in a slight way, to perpetuate the idea of lifelong self-denigration and insecurity? That small is bad, and we are expected to atone for our mistakes for the entirety of our lives?

Such reservations are not to advocate for sheltering our children from reality. We graduate students-slash-Mountain School instructors often discuss, with a lot of concern, the tendency over the last 30 years or so towards “protecting” children from anything deemed negative or risky in this world of unknowns. Even something as intrinsic as play, for example, has been made scary and restricted.

Yet as an editor who has been steeped in media criticism, it is hard to ignore the messaging we’re bombarded with from all directions, even from stories told in the woods. Reinforcing ideologies and paradigms that I consider part of the problem, especially in an ecologically-minded community in which we’re constantly emphasizing the interconnectivity of everything, is problematic. Words are powerful. Looking at all the way we teach kids, both explicitly and implicitly, is fundamental.

Admittedly, it is a little hard for me to write this. I really don’t want to seem uptight, and such reservations prompt me to feel a mite self-conscious and embarrassed. At the same time, though, it baffles me that we are not more self-critical sometimes.

Holly Hughes closeupA fifth grade Mountain School group is an engaged audience as instructors help them “travel back in time” to when Native Americans gathered Hozomeen chert, cured skin ailments with Douglas fir pitch and traveled through the North Cascades via Cascade Pass. Photo by Molly Foote.

» Continue reading Op Ed: The Education of an Environmental Educator

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The art of teaching in an unfamiliar ecosystem

August 30th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

In the middle of May, I moved halfway across the country, to a state I’d never been to, to play at a wetland with five- and six-year-olds. After three long days in a car, I landed in Boulder, Colorado. I moved into my tiny studio apartment across the street from Colorado University, and jumped into training with the folks at Thorne Nature Experience.

Now, I’m going to tell you a secret. Though I’ve taught and been involved with Environmental Education for the past six years, I’ve only worked for one organization. North Cascades Institute had been my home as far back as I can remember, and when I realized that I wanted to try my hand at teaching, it was a logical place to start. And then I stayed. I used to joke that I’d never leave. And that was true until I finished the M.Ed program through North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University this past March. I decided it was time, though I was (and still am) deeply rooted in the Pacific Northwest, to get some experience elsewhere.

Elsewhere, it turned out, was a city with 300 or so sunny days every year. (I’m really more of a rain person.) Thorne is a pretty cool place. They’ve been around since 1954 and are located on a beautiful piece of “open space” land just east of Boulder proper called Sombrero Marsh.

-9“Come look, I found something! It’s in my net!”
-1No nature center is complete without plenty of dip nets for catching macroinvertebrates! Most commonly we find damselfly larvae, although early in the summer we found quite a few dragonfly nymphs and on one field trip a huge bullfrog tadpole!

I was a little nervous about moving to a city that sits higher than 5,000 ft, after living for my entire 27 years at or within 1,500 ft of sea level. But where Bellingham has hills all over town, Boulder is flat. My commute to work is 4 ½ miles and I can bike there no problem in about 30 minutes, half of it on the Boulder Creek Path that runs east-west all the way through town.

» Continue reading The art of teaching in an unfamiliar ecosystem

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.