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Jack Kerouac’s first morning on Desolation

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

Catching up with Jack Kerouac, who served as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak in the North Cascades 60 years ago this summer. In this passage from his classic novel The Dharma Bums, he awakens on his first morning alone on the mountaintop and marvels at his surroundings:

Lo, in the morning I woke up and it was beautiful blue sunshine sky and I went out in my alpine yard and there it was, everything Japhy [Gary Snyder] said it was, hundreds of miles of pure snow-covered rocks and virgin lakes and high timber, and below, instead of the world, I saw a sea of marshmallow clouds flat as a roof and extending miles and miles in every direction, creaming all the valleys, what they call low-level clouds, on my 6600-foot pinnacle it was all far below me. I brewed coffee on the stove and came out and warmed my mist-drenched bones in the hot sun of my little woodsteps. I said “Tee tee” to a bug furry cony and he calmly enjoyed a minute with me gazing at the sea of clouds. I made bacon and eggs, dug a garbage pit a hundred yards down the trail, hauled wood and identified landmarks with my panoramic and firefinder and named all the magic rocks and clefts, names Japhy had sung to me so often: Jack Mountain, Mount Terror, Mount Fury, Mount Challenger, Mount Despair, Golden Horn, Sourdough, Crater Peak, Ruby, Mount Baker bigger than the world in the distance, Jackass Mountain, Crooked Thumb Peak, and the fabulous names of the creeks: Three Fools, Cinnamon, Trouble, Lightning and Freezeout. And it was all mine, not another human pair of eyes in the world were looking at this immense cycloramic universe of matter. I had a tremendous sensation of its dreamlikeness which never left me all that summer and in fact grew and grew, especially when I stood on my head to circulate my blood, right on top of the mountain, using a burlap bag for a head mat, and then the mountains looked like little bubbles hanging in the void upsidedown. In fact I realized they were upsidedown and I was upsidedown! There was nothing here to hide the fact of gravity holding us all intact upsidedown against a surface globe of earth in infinite empty space. And suddenly I realized I was truly alone and had nothing to do by feed myself and rest and amuse myself, and nobody could criticize. The little flowers grew everywhere around the rocks, and no one has asked them to grow, or me to grow.

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» Continue reading Jack Kerouac’s first morning on Desolation

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Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades

July 4th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Sixty years ago this month, Jack Kerouac left Northern California for the Skagit Valley and North Cascades to begin his summer as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak. We’re having fun tracing his trajectory through his writing found in The Dharma Bums and Lonesome Traveler, as well as John Suiter’s excellent history Poets on the Peaks.

“On the 18th of June, a Monday morning, Kerouac set out for Desolation from McCorkle’s (cabin in Mill Valley), marching off down Montford Road under full pack. In Mill Valley he began hitching north, following Highway 101 through Sonoma and Mendocino and Humboldt counties to Eureka and up into the redwoods to Crescent City. There he turned east to join up with Highway 99 at Grants Pass, Oregon. Now he was in Snyder country, following Gary’s well-worn path up into Portland, across the Columbia, north to Snoqualmie Pass, and beyond — to America’s last and greatest wilderness.”

— John Suiter, Poets on the Peaks

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“At Marblemount the (Skagit) river is a swift torrent, the work of quiet mountains. — Fallen logs beside the water provide good seats to enjoy a river wonderland, leaves jiggling in the good clean northwest wind seem to rejoice, the topmost trees on nearby timbered peaks swept and dimmed by low-flying clouds seem contented. — The clouds assume the faces of hermits or of nuns, or sometimes look like sad dog acts hurrying off into the wings over the horizon. — Snags struggle and gurgle in the heaving bilk of the river. — Logs rush by at twenty miles an hour. The air smells of pine and sawdust and bark and mud and twigs — birds flash over the water looking for secret fish.

As you drive north across the bridge at Marblemount and on to Newhalem the road narrows and twists until finally the Skagit is seen pouring over rocks, frothing, and small creeks come tumbling from steep hillsides and pile right in. — The mountains rise of all sides, only their shoulders and ribs visible, their heads out of sight and now snowcapped.”

—Jack Kerouac, making his way up the Skagit in to the North Cascades, from Lonesome Traveler.

YOU can hike Desolation Peak and visit the fire lookout Kerouac stayed in this summer on our “Beats on the Peaks” class Aug 4-7 ~ info and registration at www.ncascades.org/signup/programs/beats-on-the-peaks-2016.

» Continue reading Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades

Camping at Lightning Creek on Ross Lake

10 favorite things to do in the North Cascades

June 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Saul Weisberg and Christian Martin for The Seattle Times

Canoe the Skagit River
The Skagit is one of the great rivers of the west, supplying nearly 40 percent of the fresh water and wild salmon entering Puget Sound. A multiday trip down the Skagit River is a real gem. Designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1978, the Skagit drains an area of 1.7 million acres, including the most glaciated region in the Lower 48. I like to put my canoe in at Copper Creek in North Cascades National Park and paddle to the mouth where it empties into the Salish Sea. This trip takes three to four days and involves camping on gravel bars and beaches. The river gains momentum after the Cascade, Baker and Sauk rivers add to its flow, and you can finish a great journey by paddling up the Swinomish Channel for dinner in La Conner. Shorter day-trips can be made by paddling from Marblemount to Rockport or Rasar State Park.

 

Copper Ridge by Andy Porter

Backpack from Hannegan Pass to Ross Lake
There are several long backpacking routes in the North Cascades. One of my favorites begins from the Mount Baker Highway, climbing Hannegan Pass and continuing north along Copper Ridge before descending to the Chilliwack River, climbing over Whatcom Pass and finally over Beaver Pass and down Big Beaver Valley to Ross Lake. A fire lookout, incredible views of the Picket Range and one of the best old-growth cedar forests in the range — this trip is hard to beat. Other great long hikes include the Devils Dome circumnavigation of Jack Mountain, or dropping into Stehekin via Bridge Creek from Rainy Pass.

Explore the Methow Valley
There are many different ways to explore this valley flowing off of the east slope of the Cascades. You can look for great birds and butterflies in Pipestone Canyon, cross-country ski in the winter, or mountain-bike on dozens of backcountry roads in the summer. Try Sun Mountain for beginners, Buck Mountain for a challenge.

 

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Paddle Ross Lake and climb Desolation Peak
Perhaps the most famous literary spot in the North Cascades is the fire lookout atop Desolation Peak. This is where writer Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 working for the U.S. Forest Service, an experience he later recounted in “Desolation Angels” and “The Dharma Bums.” The lookout is still there, perched atop the 6,102-foot peak and commanding one of the best views in Washington. The Desolation trailhead on Ross Lake can be reached by canoe, by renting a small powerboat from Ross Lake Resort or by hiking the East Bank Trail from Highway 20. The lookout trail is steep — carry plenty of water — with views around every corner.

Hike to Hidden Lakes Peak
I was a backcountry ranger at Cascade Pass in 1979, and that trail and the view from Sahale Arm are close to my heart. However, to avoid the crowds I like to turn off the Cascade River Road before reaching the Cascade Pass Trail, at the short spur to the trailhead to Hidden Lakes Peak. It’s a beautiful trail to an old fire lookout, which is open to the public, and fabulous views of Cascade Pass and Boston Basin looking east across the valley. Hidden Lakes are surrounded by a veritable rock garden of giant talus boulders. Sibley Pass, accessible by a short scramble from the trail, is an amazing place to watch the fall migration of raptors overhead by the hundreds.

 

Mt. Baker, WA, USA. Mt. Baker Wilderness Area. 10, 778 ft / 3285 m. Coleman and Roosevelt Glaciers. Black Buttes on the right. Lupine and Mountain Bistort Wildflowers on Skyline Divide. 4x5 Transparency ©2000 Brett Baunton

Explore around Mount Baker
There are many ways to explore Komo Kulshan, the northernmost Cascade volcano that looms ever-white over Bellingham and the San Juan Islands. Great trails start from Heather Meadows, but to avoid crowds I suggest you explore the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness or hike the lowland old-growth forest on the East Bank Trail of Baker Lake. Drive a bit farther to access Railroad Grade, the Scott Paul Trail and Park Butte. From this alpine wonderland, you’ll see the Easton Glacier and the Black Buttes up close and personal.

» Continue reading 10 favorite things to do in the North Cascades

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iNaturalist: Preparing for the Bioblitz

May 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Are your candles ready? Because this summer the National Park Service turns 100! Instead of getting America’s best idea a birthday cake or a gift card, they want only one thing for this special occasion: to get all citizens involved with America’s outdoors. One of the easiest ways to get involved is through their BioBlitz:

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible. In 2016, BioBlitz goes national. The cornerstone National Parks BioBlitz: Washington, D.C. will take place May 20-21, with more than a hundred concurrent BioBlitzes happening at national parks across the county. -National Park Service

One of those concurrent BioBlitzes is happening in the North Cascades National Park. We at the North Cascades Institute can’t wait to participate this weekend in the events happening all over the region. On the checklist of preparation are just two things:

  • Sign up to join a BioBlitz species inventory (including but not limited to lichens, fungi, mosses, beetles and squirrels)
  • Download the free iNaturalist app and join the North Cascades National Park 2016 BioBlitz project

When I downloaded the app and explored my own backyard, I was not only preparing for the BioBlitz but also learning something about the place that I have been living at since December.

» Continue reading iNaturalist: Preparing for the Bioblitz

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Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

May 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

While shopping around your local grocery store, you might have seen projects in the organic section with the brand title “Cascaidan Farm Organic: Founded in the Skagit Valley, WA since 1972.” The products can be found in stores nation wide. Last week, however, I took a bicycling adventure to the Roadside Stand of the farm. It serves not only as a great place to get snacks on a long road trip, but also serves as an environmental education tool in the valley.

I’ll let them tell their founding story:

The story of Cascadian Farm begins with the story of our founder, Gene Kahn. 40 years ago, Gene was an idealistic 24-year old grad-school dropout from Chicago, who just wanted to make a difference in the world. He recognized the delicate balance between nature and humans. Inspired by reading “Silent Spring” and “Diet For A Small Planet”, Gene wanted to go back to the land and farm in a way that would not harm the natural beauty of the earth or her inhabitants. So he set out to farm organically on a little stretch of land next to the Skagit River in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. –Cascadian Farm

That farm grew and grew over the years into the powerhouse it is today. You can take a virtual tour of their whole farm to see how they work in and with the landscape.

My little excursion started last Saturday in the bright, sunny afternoon. Biking about eight miles from the Blue House Farm, I reminisced on my first experience with stand; last summer within the first few weeks of my graduate residency. Since it is closed during the winter months, I peddled with great anticipation to experience Cascadian Farm again.

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Blue Berries not quite ready to be picked.

» Continue reading Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

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Prince…the green philanthropist?

April 30th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

As music lovers the world over mourn the passing of Prince ~ the legendary singer, songwriter, musician (he played every single instrument on several of his albums and was a guitarist extraorindaire), movie star and fashion icon who impacted American culture for close to four decades ~ another side of the Minneapolis son is emerging after his untimely death: philanthropist.

Van Jones — the activist, author, former Obama administration official, and current CNN commentator — revealed that Prince had secretly funded causes from public radio to Black Lives Matter to the Harlem Children’s Zone. He also conceived of #YesWeCode, an initiative to train black kids for work in tech. And he supported Green For All, a group working to fight climate change and bring green jobs to underprivileged populations.

 

“I was an Oakland activist giving speeches about the need for green jobs,” Jones told me over the phone, recalling how he first came into contact with the musician 10 years ago. “Prince heard me in the media and sent a $50,000 check to support the work I was doing. But he did all his giving completely anonymously, so I sent the check back. You never know when someone is trying to set you up — it could have been from Chevron or from a drug dealer or whatever. So then he sent the check back and I sent it back again, and then he sent it back and then I sent it back, until finally a representative called and said, ‘Will you please accept this check? I won’t tell you who it is from, but the guy’s favorite color is purple.’ I said, ‘Well, now you have a different problem: I’m not gonna cash this check, I’m gonna frame it.’”

 

Soon after, Prince reached out to Jones, and the two became friends — a friendship that would last until his death. Jones’ role in Prince’s life was, he says, as “his lead guitarist for social impact, for lack of a better term.” Jones helped distribute Prince’s resources when he didn’t want the attention, including providing solar panels for families in Oakland. The families never knew who their benefactor was.

— Grist.org

Prince was immensely charitable — giving away lots of money anonymously. As a Jehovah’s Witness, he was not allowed to boast about his donations. But he helped causes as diverse as public radio, Green For All, the Harlem’s Children’s Zone and Black Lives Matter. More importantly, he made lots of calls behind the scenes to get people to act on causes that needed attention. He would see something in the news, and start calling people — “We need to do something about this.” He was kind of like the 911 of the celebrity class.

 

Jones says that what Prince really cared about was humanity. “He cared about life and love and freedom,” Jones says. “He had a mind that let him see answers — musically, spiritually, even politically. Rather than argue about global warming, he said, ‘Let’s help kids put up solar panels.’”

— CNN

The artist had become interested in Van Jones’ Green Jobs initiative when he saw news reports about young people of color putting up solar panels in Oakland and wanted to help. “He liked the fact that I was bringing it to the hood. He just thought it was an amazing way to create jobs. He was always about economic independence.”

 

It wasn’t easy to define Prince’s politics. He was very concerned about poor people and black people, but he also believed in economic empowerment and uplift. “He wasn’t red, and he wasn’t blue,” Jones says. “He was purple. With one sentence, you would think he was Republican, because he’d be talking about the economy, and with the next, you’d think he’s a liberal Democrat, because he was talking about the need to fight racism. It was a flow of insights and inspiration. At the end of the day, it was purple politically.

 

“His cause is humanity,” Van Jones says. “He cares a lot about people. Nobody went to a Prince concert and said, ‘I don’t belong here. I’m not black. I’m not white. I’m not cool. I’m not straight. I’m not whatever.’ His cause was empowering and uplifting people. That didn’t stop when he walked off the stage or out of the studio. It was a current of genius trying to move the human heart.”

 

“He’s trying to create something that everybody can dance to,” he continues. “Politically, poor kids putting up solar panels? Everybody can dance to that…”

 

 

“I think people misinterpreted him as being cool for cool’s sake, or mysterious for mystery’s sake, or aloof for its own sake,” Jones says. “But that aspect of his personality was him trying to understand the world, the universe, God, people, everything. He was trying to understand the world so he could change it. He wasn’t trying to change it so he could be famous or rich, he’d already achieved that by the time he was 20. So what do you do for the next 30-plus years?

 

“Just like he had a whole roster of musicians, he had a whole roster of intellectuals, a whole roster of political activists, a whole roster of change-makers,” Jones continues. “Just like he was a bandleader on the musical side, he was a bandleader on the social side.”

Rolling Stone

So, amongst all the other gifts Prince gave the world, it turns out he was a very generous donor to many causes, including conservation and green jobs. Gone much, much too soon. Like he sang in one of his songs, “There Will Never B Another Like Me”….

Our communications coordinator Christian Martin is a life-long fan of Prince as well as a DJ and podcaster, and he has mixed up a musical tribute series to Minneapolis’ favorite son available for listening at www.mixcloud.com.

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Great Tide Rising: Toward Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change

April 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Join North Cascades Institute at Village Books in Bellingham on May 3 at 7 pm for a free reading by Kathleen Dean Moore from her new book Great Tide Rising: Toward Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change.

Oregon writer Kathleen Dean Moore founded her reputation as a top-notch writer through several books that gracefully combined natural history, philosophy and meditations on being human, as in Riverwalking, Pine Island Paradox and Wild Comfort. Her focus took an urgent turn in 2011 with Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, a collection of essays she co-edited featuring essays from thought leaders like E.O. Wilson, Thomas Friedman, bell hooks and the Dalai Lama on the moral responsibilities we have for safeguarding Planet Earth.

Moral Ground made the case that the threatened climate catastrophe was a moral catastrophe, and it called for a strong moral response based on our love for the children, commitment to social justice and a reverence for life,” she explained to me recently in an email. “After the book was published, I hit the road [including a reading at the Whatcom Museum during their 2013 “Vanishing Ice” exhibit]. For three years, I spoke in every place that would have me – church basements to town plazas – listening to the people who so deeply cared, wrestling with the questions they asked, watching the world change.”

Her new book Great Tide Rising: Toward Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change is a result of her climate change “listening tour,” a deeply-felt manifesto that ponders, as Moore explained, “How can I bring some clarity to the hard questions? How can we all find the courage and the communities of caring that make it possible to keep trying? How is it possible to open peoples’ hearts without breaking them?”

With sections along the lines of “A Call to Care,” “A Call to Witness” and “A Call to Act,” Moore has written a guidebook for modern day environmentalists and climate activists that is both grave and restorative.

“Writing Great Tide Rising lifted my spirits,” the writer told me, “because when you look for them, there are logical and creative answers to the hardest questions. When you look for them, there are people all around the globe who are standing up to the forces that would wreck the world. And when you look around, you see that there is so much worth saving. These are the stories I wanted to tell.”

Here’s an excerpt from Moore’s new book:

» Continue reading Great Tide Rising: Toward Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change