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Creative Residency: Paul Willis

June 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

by Paul Willis

Last fall I was lucky enough to serve as an artist-in-residence for North Cascades National Park. They gave me a room in the ranger cabin at the entrance to the Newhalem Campground, and most days I was out hiking around, fishing for poems. Most of them swam into being on the trail, not at my desk, a sort of literary version of plein air painting. As Rebecca Solnit has said, the mind works best at three miles an hour.

As an English professor for the last thirty years in New York and California, I have missed the Northwest. I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, across the Willamette Valley from the shining peaks of the Cascades. My brother and I began to explore them in high school, and the mountains planted something inside us that has remained. He now lives near Ashland, Oregon, and was one of the prime movers for the designation of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. While in graduate school at Washington State University, I did my part by helping to gain protection for the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, the last home of the mountain caribou in the lower forty-eight.

But unlike my brother, I did not find pleasure in the dogfights of politicking for wilderness. Writing about it has felt much better to me, first in a series of eco-fantasy novels now published as The Alpine Tales, and more recently in the occasional essay and the more frequent poem. So my brother and I have slipped into a symbiotic relationship: he does the dirty work of fighting for wilderness preservation, and I do the easy work of actually enjoying the wilderness. I would like to think, however, that the things I write are some sort of encouragement to him, so that’s my side of the symbiosis. Our mutual friend David James Duncan, the novelist, complained to me that he feels torn between his activist side, wanting to save rivers, and his contemplative side, wanting to write novels. What you need, I said, is a brother who saves the rivers for you.

But back to last fall in Newhalem. The Park Service did want me to earn my keep by offering a couple of writing workshops for visitors. One I led at the Newhalem Visitor Center, and another at the Environmental Learning Center. The latter workshop was part of an adult weekend organized by Katie Roloson and Chris Kiser of the North Cascades Institute. These two young women were extraordinarily adept, I thought, at gently leading us into situations of discovery. No information dumps. Just tact, patience, and the right word at the right time. I found that I liked these people.

So when the opportunity came to return to the North Cascades this spring as a creative resident here at the Institute, I was very happy to do so. It is now the end of May, and I have been here for a month. The berries of fall have been replaced by the flowers of spring, all begging to be written about. I have gone on a couple of five-day saunters, one on the East Bank Trail to Desolation Peak, and one down Bridge Creek to Stehekin. On the Bridge Creek Trail I met a total of two people and five bears. A pretty good ratio, actually.

Here at the ELC I have enjoyed eating meals, washing dishes, and swapping stories with the staff. Such youth! Such energy! Such devotion! Their lively presence sweetens my days. We all did a hike-ku together one afternoon, writing down a few things in response to our surroundings, and a few days later I gave a talk to the grad students on John Muir’s theology of glaciers, complemented the following week by a very substantive lecture given by Jon Riedel on glaciers of the North Cascades. In another couple of days I will give a farewell reading of some of my work-in-progress at an afternoon staff meeting. And already I dread my departure. There might be a better sabbatical in the world, but I cannot imagine one.

As a sample of that work-in-progress, I’ll leave you with the draft of a poem I happened to catch two weeks ago:

Pyramid Creek

Clearest stream, you wander here
from gravel bed to gravel bed,
napping in pools along the way.

You lave the roots of dusky cedars,
leaning with age, and reassure them
they have many years to leave.

Thick green moss describes your banks,
saplings of hemlock, little hands
of soft vine maple raised in air.

They want to ask if there is any other
place you’d rather be, but off you go,
down to the river, down to the sea.

                       —Ross Lake National Recreation Area

Paul J. Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and a former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His most recent collection is Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013). Learn more at pauljwillis.com.

ancient places nisbet

Northwest Bookshelf: Ozette, Orcas and Ancient Places

June 8th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Ancient Places: People and Landscape in the Emerging Northwest

Jack Nisbet (Sasquatch Books)

Spokane-based writer Jack Nisbet is a treasure for anyone interested in the ways natural history, landscape and human cultures intersect in the Pacific Northwest. His previous books have traced the route of Northwest fur agent and geographer David Thompson, profiled pioneering naturalist David Douglas and his many discoveries and meditated on the unique flora and fauna of the dry side of Cascadia. His latest title journeys around the Inland Empire in search of “genesis stories,” events from long, long ago that shape our world today.

A highlight is the essay “Meltdown,” which flows across vast stretches of time to reach an understanding of how the cycles of ice ages and epic floods shaped much of Eastern Washington and, in turn, our habitation in and movements across the land.

From the Colville Valley to Lake Pend Oreille, Okanagan Highlands to Grand Coulee, Nisbet deftly connects past to present, human to nature.

Jack Nisbet reads from Ancient Places at Village Books in Fairhaven on Wed, June 10 at 7 pm; free!

 

Ozette-Kirk

Ozette: Excavating a Makah Whaling Village

Ruth Kirk (University of Washington Press)

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Makah’s whaling village at Ozette emerged from the mud in the far northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Richard Daugherty came across the site while surveying the wild Pacific Coast for archaeology sites as a UW graduate student. The subsequent decade of excavation by Dr. Daughtery and his team unearthed one of the richest troves of Northwest native artifacts ever discovered: clubs and combs made from whalebone, net sinkers and knives from stone, mussel-shell harpoon blades, beaver-teeth carving tools and a myriad of useful and ceremonial items made from the Tree of Life, Western Red Cedar. Their research also discovered entire houses inhabited by the Makah hundreds of years ago, close to perfectly preserved by being encased in a mudslide.

» Continue reading Northwest Bookshelf: Ozette, Orcas and Ancient Places

NorthwestCoast-Holm

Northwest Bookshelf: Native Art, Native Trees and a Journey to the North

June 2nd, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Northwest Coast Indian Art
Bill Holm (University of Washington Press)

From blankets to gambling sticks, coffins to rain hats, spoons to shaman’s paraphernalia, seemingly every material aspect of the indigenous cultures of the northern Pacific Coast was decorated with representations of the natural world, usually animals. Salmon, bear, raven, wolf, whale, seal, beaver: the wild creatures of the British Columbian and southeast Alaskan coastlines and islands are memorialized in bold strokes of black and red by Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit artists from time immemorial.

The definitive study of the visual language of Northwest Coast Native art is back on bookstore shelves in a 50th anniversary edition that includes new color photographs, illustrations and reflections from contemporary artists on the impact of Bill Holm’s landmark book.

Holm is credited with decoding the hidden structures of the complex and highly stylized art form, helping “unravel the secrets of Northwest Coast art,” according to one artist. He made his findings in a systematic study of hundreds of artifacts housed in the University of Washington’s Burke Museum as a graduate student.

“I realized there was a sort of grammar or syntax to it not unlike a written language,” Holm writes in a new preface. “There were ‘rules’ that transcended tribal and linguistic boundaries on the northern coast, and these rules were followed with remarkable uniformity by artists of all the tribes in the area.”

Considered one of the most advanced art forms in the world, Holm demystifies the schematics of Northwest Coast Indian Art while also allowing that it is the individual artist’s sensibilities that make the sum of elements greater than the parts.

Even with his deep comprehension of the art, Holm acknowledges mystery too: “It is difficult to understand how these Indian artists, scattered among the inlets of the rugged northern coast, mastered the complexities of the design system to such a degree that only an occasional piece in the vast museum collections of today deviates from that system.”

» Continue reading Northwest Bookshelf: Native Art, Native Trees and a Journey to the North

Uplift Group

Uplift: Youth in Action for the Colorado Plateau

May 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

One of the pillars of North Cascade Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. graduate program is a “sense of place.” This can be hard to define, but often includes an understanding of the natural landscape, knowledge of cultural history, and the feeling of community. Over the past nine months, the mountains of the North Cascades and the shore of Diablo Lake have become a second (or third, or fourth) home. There is another place that has always felt like home: the Colorado Plateau. The Colorado Plateau is a 130,000 square mile area that spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. It is home to ten National Parks, 17 National Monuments, the Colorado River, and mountains standing up to 11,000 feet high.

The Colorado Plateau gave me my most rewarding employment and confirmed for me that I am destined for a life outdoors and many years of teaching. It was there that I first developed a deep connection with land and learned innumerable lessons about myself. So, I when I heard about the Grand Canyon Trust holding a conference in mid-April, I knew I had to go. With the blessing of all the staff at North Cascades Institute, I flew to Flagstaff, AZ on April 17th.

» Continue reading Uplift: Youth in Action for the Colorado Plateau

SalishSea

The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest

April 14th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

As part of our “Nature in Writing” series, Joseph K. Gaydos and Audrey DeLella Benedict read from The Salish Sea, Thursday, April 16, 7 pm, in the Readings Gallery at Village Books in Bellingham. Free!

We paddle and sail on it, comb its beaches, stroll its shores. We are drawn to it for fishing, birdwatching, tidepooling, crabbing, sunset gazing and occasionally even swimming. The Salish Sea defines life in the Fourth Corner, providing not only livelihood and sustenance but also opportunities for relaxation, play, adventure and spiritual nourishment.

A new title from Sasquatch Books, written by the Chief Scientist for the SeaDoc Society and the founder of Cloud Ridge Naturalists, aims to educate Pacific Northwesterners about the intricate ecosystem of our inland sea. Joseph K. Gaydos and Audrey DeLella Benedict combine engaging science writing with an array of stunning photographs to produce The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest.

Several local photographers provided images for the book, including Brett Baunton, John D’Onofrio, Jessica Newley, John Scurlock, Art Wolfe and the Whatcom Museum archives.

The idea for grouping together the Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca and Strait of Georgia under one moniker originally came from Bert Webber, a retired professor of environmental and marine science at Western Washington University. Thinking of the interconnected, transboundary waters as one cohesive whole — the Salish Sea — helps citizens to “think like a watershed” and better strategize international management of the ecosystem and its wealth of resources.

Wise management is crucial as approximately eight million people live in the Salish Sea ecosystem, with another million projected to settle here over the next ten years. The impacts from extensive human development of the shorelines and uplands are being felt throughout the region.

The Health of the Salish Sea Report, issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada, gives our treasured inland sea mixed grades.

What they’ve found: 113 marine species and sub-species are formally listed as being at risk or vulnerable to extinction, including 56 birds, 37 fish, 15 mammals, three invertebrates and two reptiles. Also, marine-dissolved oxygen is in long-term decline, and the last few decades have seen steep declines in iconic orca whales and Chinook salmon. Ten of the 17 rivers studied show strongly significant decreasing summer flow trends due to lower snowpacks in the mountains, surface and groundwater withdrawals, and other issues.

On the positive side, air quality has been improving, freshwater quality is general holding steady, nearly 4,00 acres of previously closed shellfish beds in Puget Sound have re-opened due to improvements in water quality and levels of PCBs and PCBEs are declining in harbor seals.

This new book — which is divided into sections that explore different ecological niches like “Life at the Edges,” “Denizens of the Deep” and “Bizarre and Beautiful Fish” — takes the approach of saving the Salish Sea by educating people about it.

“Once people know a place…they become connected to it,” the authors write. “And once people connect to an ecosystem, it becomes personal and they want to protect and restore it.”

Through maps, charts, satellite imagery, nature photography and writing, Benedict and Gaydos concoct an engaging presentation of the natural history of our “jewel of the Pacific Northwest.”  Their mantra of “know, connect, protect and restore” is a hopeful way forward in to a challenging future.

Read the Health of the Salish Sea Report at http://www2.epa.gov/salish-sea/marine-species-risk

Colin-headshot-by-Martin Olslund

Colin Haley: Cascadian Climber

April 6th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

North Cascades Institute welcomes Colin Haley and his presentation “From Shuksan to Cerro Torre” to the Mountaineers Seattle Program Center April 10, 2015 at 7 pm as part of The Mountaineers BeWild Speaker Series. See bottom of the post for a special discount code!

Colin Haley was born in Seattle in 1984 and grew up on nearby Mercer Island. For as far back as he can remember, he’s been exploring the Cascades, hiking and skiing, always looking upward, drawn to the summits of the high peaks.

At the age of twelve, Haley ascended the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak in the North Cascades—named one of the “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America”—with his father and older brother. It was the beginning of a new life.

“I had climbed Mount Hood the year before,” he remembers, “but Forbidden was my first technical climb. It had all the elements that make alpine climbing such a memorable pursuit: ascending a steep ridge that scared the crap out of me, rappeling the last several pitches down in the dark, getting back to camp completely exhausted. It was a taste of the physical and mental hardships that climbing mountains often puts you through and from then on, I was hooked. That’s all I wanted to do with my life.”

Alpine climbing became “by far the overriding focus” of Haley’s life, and once he got his driver’s license at age sixteen, he was in the mountains every chance he could get. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty, he figures he logged more days in the American Alps than any other climber.

Colin_0273-by-MickeySchaefer

“Everything I learned,” he says, “I learned in the North Cascades.”

» Continue reading Colin Haley: Cascadian Climber

Nature of Writing Fall 2015 Poster

The Nature of Writing Speaker Series * Spring 2015 in Bellingham

March 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

A SERIES OF FREE NATURAL HISTORY AUTHOR READINGS AT VILLAGE BOOKS / 1200 11 STREET, BELLINGHAM

Join Village Books and North Cascades Institute in welcoming our region’s most gifted writers on the natural world to Bellingham. From wildlife in the city to botany, local marine ecology to poetry inspired by our Wild Nearby, you’ll learn more about our wondrous planet when these gifted writers share their latest literary works.

Friday, April 3, 7 pm
John Marzloff’s Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife

We all know that human development is threatening our environment. Runoff pollutes our streams. Homes and businesses encroach on wilderness habitat. Energy use warms the planet. Too many species are in decline. And yet, for some of our most charismatic wild creatures, suburban and urban habitats offer surprising opportunities to thrive. Our suburbs and city parks are often remarkably rich in bird diversity—holding more species than either wilderness areas or urban centers. In fact, suburbs may play a key role in preventing loss of species in the face of the dramatic disruptions of climate change and other human impacts. Welcome to Subirdia shows us how. This event is part of our Nature of Writing series, in partnership with North Cascades Institute. John Marzluff is James W. Ridgeway Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington, where he teaches classes in ornithology, urban ecology, conservation and field research. His previous books include In the Company of Crows and Ravens (with Tony Angell), Dog Days, Raven Nights (with his wife Colleen) and Gifts of the Crow (with Tony Angell). He is teaching the class In the Company of Corvids at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center June 26-28.

Friday, April 11, 7 pm
Thor Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History

Seeds are everywhere. From our morning coffee to the cotton in our clothes, they give us food and fuels, intoxicants and poisons, oils, dyes, fibers, and spices. Without seeds there would be no bread, rice, beans, corn or nuts. They support diets, economies, lifestyles, and civilizations around the globe. And yet, despite their importance in nature and their role in human survival, their awesome story has never fully been told.

In The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History, award-winning conservation biologist Thor Hanson explores the story of seeds by asking a simple question: why are they so successful? Seed plants have become so abundant that it’s hard to believe that for much of evolutionary history, they did not even exist. Hundreds of millions of years passed where other plant life dominated the earth – first algae, and then spore plants like quillworts, horsetails, mosses, and ferns. Once they evolved, though, seeds became an incredibly efficient mechanism for plants to reproduce, protect themselves, and travel long distances. The evolutionary history of seeds shows not only why they have been able to thrive in nature, but also why they are so vital to human survival.

Blending expert, yet understandable, explanations of science with humorous first-person reportage and fascinating historical anecdotes, The Triumph of Seeds deftly traces the history and science of seeds. From a mountaintop overlooking the Dead Sea to 300 feet below an Illinois coal mine, from an encounter with vipers to a misguided attempt to crack and ironclad nut, Hanson takes readers on a fascinating scientific adventure through the wild and beautiful world of seeds.

Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Guggenheim Fellow, Switzer Environmental Fellow, and member of the Human Ecosystems Study Group. The author of Feathers and The Impenetrable Forest, Hanson lives with his wife and son on an island in Washington State.

Thursday, April 16, 7 pm
Audrey DeLella Benedict & Jospeh K Gaydos’s The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest

The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest combines a scientist’s inquiring mind, breathtaking nature photography, and wondrous stories. Straddling the western border between Canada and the United States, this unique ecosystem is brought to life on the page with a lively narrative that looks at the region’s geology, fauna, and history.

Audrey DeLella Benedict is a biologist, a writer, and a passionate advocate for the conservation of the global ocean and Arctic and alpine environments the world over. She is founder and director of Cloud Ridge Naturalists and is currently a member of the board of the SeaDoc Society.

Joseph K. Gaydos is Chief Scientist for the SeaDoc Society, a marine science and conservation program focused on the Salish Sea. He is a licensed wildlife veterinarian and has a PhD in wildlife health. For over a decade he has been studying the fish and wildlife of the Salish Sea.

April 18, 2015
Saul Weisberg’s Headwaters: Poems & Field Notes

North Cascades Institute is excited to announce the forthcoming publication of selected poems of Institute Founder and Executive Director Saul Weisberg!

» Continue reading The Nature of Writing Speaker Series * Spring 2015 in Bellingham