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Restoring Our Treasured Landscapes

November 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Written by Master of Education graduate Sasha Savoian

Blue Lake and Maple Pass Loop are two of the most heavily-visited trails off Highway 20 in the North Cascades range, offering Chinese Teapots access to the unique subalpine ecosystem blanketed in blooming heather in the late summer months.

On the eastern flank of the mountains, the trail to Blue Lake winds through engelmann spruce forest singing with golden crowned kinglets and dark-eyed juncos, into a meadow thick with clustered white valerian, dangling meadow rue, purple lupine, and bell-shaped jacob’s-ladder. It then crests above treeline with spectacular views of Liberty Bell Mountain, Cutthroat Peak and Whistler Mountain toward the northwest. As altitude-loving larch trees appear, pink and white mountain heather pierce the edges of rocks along the trail leading to the aptly-named Blue Lake, where mountain goats are often spotted grazing on subalpine foliage 6,200 feet above sea level, a mere 2.2 miles from the trailhead.

Maple Pass in the North Cascades. Photo by Sasha Savoian

Maple-Heather Pass Loop travels 7 miles from the trailhead and back again through a shady forest of subalpine fir and spruce trees. Pacific wrens sing to an open with talus fields catering to furry hoary marmots and peeking pika. Grey crowned rosy finch and clark’s nutcracker songs slide through larch trees above while hearty heather beckons below, filling gaps between rocks among dotted saxifrage, bugle-shaped penstemon, splayed phlox and deep red indian paintbrush atop 6,600-foot rocky Maple Pass–one of the best views of the North Cascades.

But this dynamic alpine ecosystem is fragile! With their woody stems and short growing season, heather is easily crushed. It takes only 50 booted steps to destroy plants that take upwards of 1,000-5,000 years to establish as a successful colony. Heather plants stabilize soil, prevent wind and water erosion, trap nutrients and control temperature in the soil to promote growth of other alpine vegetation.

Restoration projects on Blue Lake and Maple Pass Loop began in 2012 when the Methow Valley was chosen as one of 14 designated sites as part of the National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences established to connect people and their communities to their forests and watersheds through community engagement and collaboration.

» Continue reading Restoring Our Treasured Landscapes

Fred Beckey: Mountaineer and Author (1923-2017)

October 31st, 2017 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

“Man used to put himself on the line all the time. Nowadays we’re protected by the police, fire, everything. There’s not much adventure left. Unless you look for it.” — Fred Beckey

Perhaps no living human is more associated with the untamed allure of the North Cascades— a blend of fear, awe, agony and ecstasy— than mountaineer Fred Beckey.

In the celebratory, life-spanning book Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs, his friends and climbing partners from the last seven decades lavish Beckey with accolades: “The most prolific mountaineer of the last 100 years,” “the undisputed sovereign of American dirtbag climbers” and “grandfather of the road trip.” These claims would be unbearably rich were they not actually true.

Beckey immigrated to Seattle from Germany with his family in 1925 and began climbing the mountains visible from the city with the Boy Scouts and local mountaineering clubs. He ascended Boulder Peak in the Olympic Mountains by himself at age thirteen, beginning his life’s trajectory of climbing remote rock—and later achieved the summit of Mount Olympus with his troop.

Beckey began exploring the North Cascades next, making first ascents up Mount Despair in 1939 and Forbidden Peak in 1940—rugged mountains deemed unclimbable by the local mountaineering club. Over the ensuing summers, he pioneered routes up dozens more Cascadian peaks, sometimes with his brother Helmy in tow. Staring out across the sea of peaks, Beckey recounts feeling “a kinship with the noble almost unbelievable peaks and tumbling glaciers.”

In 1942, the brothers made their way towards Mount Waddington in British Columbia’s Coast Ranges, a dark, sulking massif cloaked in glaciers and surrounded by miles of impenetrable coastal rainforest. After weeks of rain, snow, rockfall and avalanches, the two teenagers achieved the summit, only the second humans to stand atop the peak, and the first up the foreboding south face approach.

Mt. Waddington from the north, by John Scurlock

» Continue reading Fred Beckey: Mountaineer and Author (1923-2017)

Colors of the West: Free online workshop with painter Molly Hashimoto

October 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

“Putting a brush in the hands of new artists, young and old, heightens their awareness of the power and beauty of nature.” – Molly Hashimoto

Join North Cascades Institute and The Mountaineers Books October 24, at 7pm for the next Mountaineers Books Web Series event with Molly Hashimoto, author of the new book Colors of the West: An Artist’s Guide to Nature’s Palette. Molly is an award-winning artist and art teacher. In her book, Molly explains techniques for creating successful watercolor paintings en plein air, a French term meaning literally “in the open air.”

In this presentation, Molly will:

Discuss outdoor paint palettes and how to “see” color depending on time of day, season, atmosphere, and more
Offer tips to improve your nature painting skills or begin this as a fun new hobby—whether you regularly go into the backcountry or just want to sketch and paint the natural beauty in a park down the street
Steeped in the natural world, Molly has sketched in the outdoors and worked as a plein air artist and teacher for more than 20 years. In that time she has filled more than 40 sketchbooks with landscapes, vignettes, studies of flora and fauna, and natural history notes—all created while visiting some of the West’s most stunning landscapes.

Click here to register >>

You can attend from any web-connected computer or device. Register even if you can’t attend the evening and we will email you a recording of the webinar to listen to whenever it’s convenient!

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