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You Are Here : A Weekend of Maps at the North Cascades Institute

March 6th, 2018 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

This post is a guest contribution by Anders Rodin, a cartographer and participant in The Art of Drawing Maps class at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. For the weekend of February 23 – 26th, he learned more about map drawing with the talented artist Jocelyn Curry. You can view a gallery of past artful maps produced in Jocelyn’s class here.

“I sense that humans have an urge to map–and that this mapping instinct, like our opposable thumbs, is part of what makes us human.” – Katherine Harmon

I was driving East on the North Cascades Highway Friday morning through the snow, when I suddenly realized I was further up the road than I had ever been. A sense of excitement came over me. I was exploring, I was on new terrain, seeing things I had only ever seen on maps with my very own eyes. Winding up the road past the rushing Skagit River I finally came to the turnoff for the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center a few miles from the end of the road, and made my way slowly across the Diablo Dam.

Crossing the frozen Diablo Dam; photo by Anders Rodin

Several months before, I had seen a postcard in the Skagit Land Trust office from the North Cascades Institute with a list of the classes and workshops they were offering in the upcoming year. A friend leaned over my shoulder and said, “Look! A map class! You have to take it.” And so I signed up.

The Art of Drawing Maps was a chance for me to spend a weekend in the mountains, focus on creative work, and crank out some maps I had been thinking about making. It turned out to be so much more than I was expecting. Not only did I have the chance to work in a studio with a dozen other incredibly inspiring people, I also had the chance to meet several staff, enthusiastic Base Camp program participants, and resident graduate students on campus. I was happily surprised at the dining hall and the incredible food prepared by the amazing kitchen staff. And I briefly met Elvis, the residential Raven, who laughed at us once we became stranded at the Institute due to an avalanche four miles down the road. I think some of us were a little too adamant about tempting the avalanche as the snow piled up and the avalanche became a real possibility…did we forget to knock on wood?

Art supplies in Sundew; photo by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading You Are Here : A Weekend of Maps at the North Cascades Institute

From Crinoids to Concrete: Sundew Collections Serves as a Window into the Geologic Past

February 28th, 2018 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

At the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, we have an impressive natural history collection on display in our Sundew building. Named after a carnivorous plant that looks like a monster’s toothy mouth, Sundew serves as place for staff, students, and guests to explore the North Cascades Ecosystem through tangible specimens and displays. This year, graduate student Gina Roberti, is acting as the Natural History Collections Assistant for her Work Study position. Her job is to maintain the Learning Center’s Natural History Collection, and to create relevant displays and provide access to collections / trainings for the education team. So far, she has done a wonderful job promoting this valuable resource, and has brought her passion for rocks and geology to the position as well.

Now, in her own words, here is what Gina finds most exciting about the Sundew Collections:

Come explore the Sundew Collections at the Environmental Learning Center to catch a glimpse of life 330 million years ago! Our collections contain an impressive breadth of rock samples formed in a variety of environments representative of the geologic diversity of the North Cascades. This region hosts rocks that were once ancient seafloors, volcanic islands, swampy marshes and underground magma chambers. Here, they have been juxtaposed together, sliced apart, intruded by more magma, and translated hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles along faults in the Earth’s crust. Many of these rocks are also metamorphosed (or “cooked”) under extreme pressures and temperatures, providing evidence for changes in plate tectonic motions in this region in the past. The Sundew Geology Collection provides a window into understanding how this part of North America has changed over time.

Chilliwack Limestone Crinoid Fossils in Sundew Collections

My goal today is to highlight a heavy block of rust-colored rock known as limestone, pictured above. A closer look at this rock reveals tens of tiny screw-shaped features. These are the fossilized remains of ancient ocean organisms called crinoids! Crinoids are commonly called “sea-lilies,” though they are animals, not plants. The most commonly preserved part of a crinoid is its stem. See below a picture of how large crinoids can grow. This fossil along the San Juan River in southeastern Utah was measured approximately five feet long!

Graduate M.Ed. candidate Gina Roberti poses by a large crinoid stem outcropping in the Hermosa Formation limestones, accessible by white water rafting in the upper San Juan River canyon (formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument).

» Continue reading From Crinoids to Concrete: Sundew Collections Serves as a Window into the Geologic Past

You’re Never Too Old to be a Junior Ranger

February 7th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Recently, graduate student Marissa Bluestein became a volunteer at Rockport State Park. She also earned her Junior Ranger badge and learned about old growth forest ecology. Below are her words on the experience:

I stood with my right hand raised in the converted maintenance shed serving as the Discovery Center at Rockport State Park and repeated after Ranger Amos:

“As a junior ranger, I promise to protect the environment, pick up trash, explore the outdoors and protect state parks for current and future generations.”

It was my first day volunteering at Rockport State Park, and I’d just went on my first guided hike. Within 45 minutes, I learned that Rockport has one of the last remaining old growth forests in the Skagit Valley, with some trees as old as 500 years. The Park’s camping is now forever closed due to diseases invading these old trees, causing them to die and fall.

The forest is made up of salmon. Salmon hatch in freshwater and make their way to the ocean where they eat food containing Nitrogen 15. Nitrogen 15 is only found in the ocean, and as salmon make their way back up their river of origin to spawn, they carry that chemical makeup with them. After salmon die, their bodies are taken from the river by eagles, which sometimes drop carcasses in the forest, or they are drug into the forest by bears and other wildlife. Salmon remains are left on the ground. The decaying fish enrich the soil with Nitrogen 15 which help trees grow taller faster and are more resilient to drought and parasites.

Photo of Rockport State Park by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading You’re Never Too Old to be a Junior Ranger

Naturalist Notes: See the Super Blue Blood Moon of 2018

January 29th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

On January 31st, 2018 humans across the west will witness a special convergence of three astronomical events tied to the full moon. It’s something so special it deserves its own notable name: the Super Blue Blood Moon. But what’s in a title? 

Here’s a Naturalist Note by graduate student Gina Roberti about what is most exciting in our upcoming super-blue-blood moon.


To get emotionally hyped for the Blue Moon portion of this celestial trifecta, we recommend you listen to the song Blue Moon by The Marcels (a throwback to the year 1961).

The full moon on January 31st will be the second full moon to occur in one month, an event known as a blue moon. A full moon occurs roughly every 29.5 days, and our calendar months are 30-31 days long. On the occasion that the full moon falls in the first two days of the month, it is likely that a Blue Moon will occur at the end of the month (except perhaps in leap years!). The expression “once in a blue moon” is not as rare as it implies, as this phenomenon occurs regularly every thirty-two months.

It is possible for the moon to literally appear blue, but this has nothing to do with an event on our calendar. In 1883, the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in Indonesia threw enormous plumes of ash into Earth’s atmosphere. Some of the ash particulates were exactly large enough to scatter red light and let other colors to pass through (slightly wider than 1 micron). Through this veneer, the dominant red wavelengths of the sun’s light will instead appear blue. Since the moon reflects light from the sun, it also can appear blue. It is common to see a blue-colored moon after the eruption of any large volcano. Blue moons were reported after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in 1983 (Mexico), Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

Volcanic eruptions in Indonesia have been some of the largest recorded in modern history. The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 led to an unexpected outcome: the invention of the bicycle! The year 1816 was called “the year without a summer” as Tambora’s release of such large volumes of ash persisted for years. The bicycle was introduced as an alternative to horse and buggy because without crops, horses became too expensive to feed. Image and info courtesy of UNESCO.

» Continue reading Naturalist Notes: See the Super Blue Blood Moon of 2018

Mark Scherer: Artist in Residence

January 26th, 2018 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Mark Scherer participated in the Creative Residence Program at the North Cascades Institute this December, joining the tradition of poets, naturalists, dancers and researchers who have participated in the past.

In Mark’s own words:

My home is Stehekin, Washington. The medium I work with most often is wood. I’m not a carver except in the most rudimentary way. I think of myself as a “shaper”. I use saws, files, sanding tools, and sometimes paint and glue to make my sculpture. Here are two examples of past work.

“Feets” 4′ diameter. Photo by Mark Scherer

“Twice” 17″ x 6″ x 2″. Photo by Mark Scherer

At the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, I’m working with ideas that are new to me, ideas addressing climate change. I like to make things that are pleasing and humorous. Climate Change isn’t pleasing or humorous. It scares me. If art has the power to move us, to change perceptions, to give us insights we might not otherwise see, then why not use whatever “art power” I can muster to encourage thoughtful consideration of our individual and shared culpability for where we’re taking the climate? During my Creative Residency I’m beginning tentative, “baby steps” toward that goal. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

» Continue reading Mark Scherer: Artist in Residence

Graduate Students Visit Concrete Elementary!

January 22nd, 2018 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

On January 17th, graduate students in the 17th Cohort visited Concrete Elementary School to teach naturalist lessons. As part of our Curriculum Design course, our main goal was to engage the local community in lessons about the environment, and develop a stronger connection with the school and its teachers.

This Curriculum course is taught by Lindsey MacDonald, the Graduate Program Coordinator at the North Cascades Institute. She strategically designed this experience as a way for us grads to practice our coursework in a meaningful way.

In her own words:

Graduate students have been learning about, analyzing, and developing curricula from a theoretical, and lived experience, perspective throughout this course. This opportunity to co-develop and implement a lesson in Concrete served to ground theory in practice, engage with our neighbors, and just have a little bit of fun with real live kiddos. It can be easy to forget why we spend so much time developing and adapting curricula. These practical teaching experiences provide a good reminder of the value and impact of all the behind-the-scenes, detail-oriented work.

For a few weeks leading up to our visit, we worked in teaching pairs to write our own lesson plans from scratch, incorporating Next Generation Science Standards for the assigned grade levels. We communicated with teachers and gathered as many fun props and animal specimens as we could find in our Sundew Collections to share with students. The results? The kids had a great time and we gained more teaching experience!

A student’s drawing of beavers in a wetland; photo by Eric Buher

Each teaching pair visited a classroom and taught for about an hour, sharing fun facts about the North Cascades Ecosystems, watersheds, and local animals. Below, Eric Buher shares his account of the day.

“It was such a pleasure to meet the wonderful students in Ms. Beazizo’s Kindergarten class at Concrete Elementary. They were very excited to learn about beavers and their habitat. They went to great efforts to show how much they had learned with some excellent pictures. We learned a lot about meeting the students where they are, the importance of effective lesson planning, and always being sure to give encouragement for burgeoning artistic talent!”

» Continue reading Graduate Students Visit Concrete Elementary!

An Open Letter to Secretary Zinke: National Parks Should be Affordable

December 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

North Cascades Institute has joined 15 organizations of great diversity and depth in Washington state to keep entrance fees to Olympic and Mount Rainier affordable and to support a better way to fix the repair needs of the national parks.

This proposal has gathered a lot of attention across the country, and almost every reaction is negative. For more backstory on the proposed changes to entry fees, you can listen to this clip from NPR’s “Takeaway” which ran recently.

Photos of Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park courtesy of the National Park Service

Below is our official group letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke:

Dear Secretary Zinke,

Our organizations represent tens of thousands of outdoor and national park users in Washington state. Two national parks in Washington, Olympic and Mount Rainier, have been proposed for significant new seasonal fee increases which are of great concern to our members and supporters.

We are concerned that the fee hike 1) is too steep and would price people out of parks they own, 2) is coupled with a budget proposal that would undermine additional fee increases, and 3) would not raise revenue of the scale required to adequately address the backlog, so we urge the Administration to support the National Park Service Legacy Act.

» Continue reading An Open Letter to Secretary Zinke: National Parks Should be Affordable