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Echoes from the Dam

January 25th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Imagine yourself standing atop of Diablo Dam in the early morning of a crisp, winter day. Behind you five ravens are circling near a patch of trees lining Diablo Lake. One of the Seattle City Light boats speeds on in the distance quickly becoming quieter and softer. As you open your mouth to let the cool mountain air fill your lungs time seems to slow. When you finally expel the air out you hear this:

Mountain Call

Earlier last week Hannah Newell and I, both students at the North Cascades Institute’s Graduate Program, went atop of Diablo Dam to study how sounds move throughout our mountain corridor. The valley that the Skagit river made over thousands of years is very drastic in our neck of the woods. Toward the mouth of the river the Skagit is met by mostly flat land. As you venture towards the headwaters the surrounding slopes become more and more drastic with hundreds of feet of elevation difference over a very short distance.

Diablo Dam Echoes

Skagit River Valley at Diablo Dam. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

This topography makes for extreme echoes when done in the correct spots. Diablo Dam provides the perfect height and distance from each side so that when the sound moves down valley it has the most room to exist. After experimenting at different spots on and around Diablo Lake, I found the middle outcrop of the dam was the perfect spot for echo calling.

» Continue reading Echoes from the Dam

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) hunting in winter snowfall. Ontario, Canada.

Favorite Nature Art & Photo Books of 2015

December 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

I’m fortunate to get to review books for various regional publications, most often in the Cascadia Weekly. I get the privilege and pleasure of being sent many books throughout the year, usually on “nature topics,” both fiction and nonfiction, as well as poetry, art, photography and conservation issues. Here at the end of 2015, I’ve selected some of my favorite coffee table-style books that present the natural world in all of its glory!  — CM

TheLivingBird_PRINT

The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature
Photography by Gerrit Vyn (Mountaineers Books)

This handsome volume brings to life the work of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a venerable institute that has been researching – and communicating to the public – the complex lives of birds since 1915. Leading chroniclers of the natural world contribute essays, including Barbara Kingsolver, Jared Diamond, Lyanda Lynn Haupt and Scott Weidensaul, but the real star of these pages is photographer Gerrit Vyn. His crisp images of nesting Snow Owls, dancing Greater Prairie-Chickens, migrating Sandhill Cranes, flocking Trumpeter Swans and beachcombing Sanderlings share as intimate a portrait of bird life as has ever been produced. (Top photo of Great Grey Owl by Vyn)


Grizzly 

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Grizzly: The Bears of Greater Yellowstone
Thomas D. Mangelsen (Rizzoli)

Photographer Thomas Mangelson is renowned for his stunning photographs of the world’s wildlife and exotic locales, but for Grizzly, he focuses his lens in on a family of bears in his own backyard: Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This veritable Eden is rich with elk, moose, antelope, bison and other creatures, but the return of brown bears (and gray wolves too) is a recent phenomenon. Beginning in 2006, Mangelsen began creating a “visual journal” of the life and times of Grizzly #399, a matriarch of the Ursus arctos horribilis clans of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Because she inhabits the frontcountry around Grand Teton National Park, she was relatively visible and attracted a legion of admirers. Grizzly intimately chronicles her life and times raising three cubs, hunting elk, playing in wildflower meadows, swimming the Snake River and doing a delicate dance amongst her humans fan club. This large-format book is empathetic and moving tribute to the more-than-human world.


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Pacific Valley

California’s Wild Edge: The Coast in Poetry, Prints and History
Tom Killian with Gary Snyder (Heyday Press)

Writer and woodcut artist Tom Killian conducts a multi-level exploration of California’s Pacific Coast through art, poetry, Native American stories, records of early explorers and varied contributions from writer, bioregional philosopher and Zen Buddhist Gary Snyder. Killian’s 80 stunning, colorful woodblock prints, influenced by the 19th-century Japanese technique of ukiyo-ë, say the most about these places with the fewest words. San Francisco Bay, Pt. Reyes, Bolinas Ridge, Monterey Bay, Pt. Sur, Tomales Bay and other scenic waypoints along the ragged California coast are exquisitely rendered. His carvings blend the accuracy of natural history with the impressionistic imagination of an artist. Striking a fine balance between romantic and representational, his artwork shares what a   landscape viewed through the lens of respect and love looks like.


SOW-Cover

Soul of Wilderness: Mountain Journeys in Western BC and Alaska
John Baldwin & Linda Bily (Harbour Publishing)

» Continue reading Favorite Nature Art & Photo Books of 2015

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A Call to Education toward Resilience

December 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

by Liz Blackman, Cohort 14, Institute Master of Education candidate

The shift was abrupt. It came with little warning. As smoke billowed up the Newhalem Gorge and filled the tiny mountain town of Diablo, I had 20 minutes to grab everything I could. I felt an adrenaline rush unlike anything I have ever experienced: a heart-pumping, exhilaration-fueled energy that poured out like a shield against the danger all around me.

The Goodell Wildfire started out small, but on a hot and dry day in August, winds picked up and fanned the flames into the canyon toward Diablo and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. The order to evacuate came sudden, and for the first time in my life, I was a refugee from natural disaster, an increasingly common occurrence as our global climate continues to change. I evacuated from my home of over a year with everything I owned piled in my car.

Along with a caravan of other evacuees who were now blocked from heading west on Highway 20, I traveled east over Washington Pass, and into evacuation zone after evacuation zone with much of central Washington on fire. I didn’t slow down enough to feel scared until I woke up in Seattle the next morning, far from my North Cascades home, and realized all that was still in jeopardy.

With long hours, and living far away from other people and services, we had become like family at the Learning Center – working, learning, playing, crying, laughing and growing together. During the fire, this family of mine was scattered to the wind, our roots shaken as the flames closed in. It didn’t feel right to be away from this home even though my graduate school residency was scheduled to be over and I would soon be moving to Bellingham anyway. So I drove back up Highway 20 until I reached the comforting basecamp that was the Marblemount Blue House.

61008 HWY 20

The Institute purchased this old ranch house on the Skagit River to house five staff and graduate students. The Blue House was now buzzing with frenzied activity. As I approached I saw sixteen recently arrived graduate students from Cohort 15 standing in a circle along with several Institute naturalists, Learning Center operations staff and the program team. The relief that flooded me at the sight of so many members of my community was immense.

A busload of stuff

The Blue House was now an anthill of human activity. The hayfield turned into a gridlocked parking lot of Subarus filled with haphazard piles of well-loved odds and ends. Blue House residents like Max and Dylan served as comforting leaders and a welcoming hospitality team. They directed bathroom traffic, weed-wacked to create camping sites, streamlined kitchen and living spaces for communal use and generally guided the rest of the wide-eyed refugees through the logistics of close-quarters life. Kitchen staff Coleen, Derrick, Kristi and Kent breathed comfort into the food they produced with the tenderness all of us craved in our time of disorientation. Kevin, Lindsey and Joshua on the program team alternated between taking charge and meeting the infinite needs of a bevy of homeless staff and students.

Honey Do

Maps

Never in my life have I seen such resilience as it emerged during those first few days following the fire. The extended North Cascades Institute “family” offered homes, supplies and endless messages of support. Sedro-Woolley office staff worked late into the night developing contingency plans for fall programs and getting information out to the public. And our crew at the Blue House improvised spectacularly.

» Continue reading A Call to Education toward Resilience

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Kristin Musgnug: Artist in Residence

December 4th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Kristin Musgnug

I am a landscape painter whose goal is to make paintings of the kind of places that don’t usually show up in landscape paintings – places that are not conventionally beautiful. While I thoroughly enjoyed the extraordinary beauty of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center’s surroundings, it was a particular challenge to find places that evoked other responses.

My project while at theEnvironmental Learning Center involved close up painting of the forest floor, particularly in the lush undergrowth of old, wild forests. This project’s emphasis on intact, mostly un-interfered-with location represents a bit of a departure for me. For years my work has investigated the relations between humans and the natural world by painting in places where the results of this interaction were visible. Much of my work has been generated by considering such questions as: how our attitudes towards nature affect our actions towards it, how and why we shape the environment, and how we in turn are shaped by it. To do this I have often focused on landscapes shaped by a particular type of land use, such as campgrounds, parks, gardens, logged forests, parking lots and miniature golf courses.

» Continue reading Kristin Musgnug: Artist in Residence

Pacific Wren

Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

November 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

By Rob Rich

I came to the Pacific Northwest for many reasons, but one of them was, well, for the birds. Were those harlequin ducks for real? What was so special about the Pacific wren? And oh, how I longed to see the red-shafted Northern Flicker! These were some of my last thoughts before finally chasing the sun towards the Salish Sea. But since most birds don’t migrate from East to West, I knew I’d need a guide to set me straight.

Thankfully, I’d planned North Cascades Institute’s Spring Birding to be my first stop upon arrival. That’s right, I signed up from 3,000 miles away, tossed out my moving boxes in Bellingham and settled first things first: learning birds in the field with Libby Mills.

If you too feel like a lost goose at times, do not fear. Spring Birding is back, as are a host of other older Institute favorites – and some new ones that look out of this world. Literally. Where else but North Cascades Institute can you take a class that is astronomically synchronized for the nighttime awe of photographers? And where else can you hang out with snake experts, or decipher the clues of wildlife tracks in our precious winterscapes? As always, the great unveiling of the Institute’s January-June courses will expose natural curiosities you never knew you had. Experienced and emerging naturalists alike will both be forced to reckon with a growing list of reasons why the North Cascades are where it’s at.

Night photo

» Continue reading Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

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Gary Snyder’s “August on Sourdough, A Visit from Dick Brewer”

November 7th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“August on Sourdough,

A Visit from Dick Brewer”

Poem by Gary Snyder from The Back Country; a reading with Rob Rich

You hitched a thousand miles

north from San Francisco

Hiked up the mountainside     a mile in the air

Thy little cabin – one room –

walled in glass

Meadows and snowfields,     hundreds of peaks.

We lay in our sleeping bags

talking half the night;

Wind in the guy-cables      summer mountain rain.

Next morning I went with you

as far as the cliffs,

Loaned you my poncho –      the rain across the shale –

You down the snowfield

flapping in the wind

Waving a last goodbye      half hidden in the clouds

To go on hitching

clear to New York;

Me back to my mountain      and far, far, west.

 

Snyder_print

Just behind the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, Sourdough Mountain looms. This fabled peak has enjoyed a front row seat to generations of comings and goings in the Upper Skagit: a glacial lake draining, indigenous peoples journeying to quarry ancient sea-floor stones, newcomers paving Route 20 through gorges, your car rumbling through them.

» Continue reading Gary Snyder’s “August on Sourdough, A Visit from Dick Brewer”

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Tim McNulty’s “Night, Sourdough Mountain Lookout”

October 31st, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“Night, Sourdough Mountain Lookout”

Poem by Tim McNulty; a reading with Rob Rich

A late-summer sun
threads the needles of McMillan Spires
and disappears in a reef of a coral cloud.

Winds roil the mountain trees,
batter the shutter props.

I light a candle with the coming dark.
Its reflection in the window glass
flickers over mountains and
shadowed valleys
seventeen miles north to Canada.

Not another light.

The lookout is a dim star
anchored to rib of the planet
like a skiff to a shoal
in a wheeling sea of stars.

Night sky at full flood.

Wildly awake.

Sourdough Lookout

During our recent lunar eclipse, I know an awestruck child who asked that most earnest strain of seven-year old sincerity: “Daddy, where’s earth?” Though I had lacked the courage to so boldly echo her question, I couldn’t help but to smile in agreement. Just how is it that our real experience on this planet be so utterly surprising and mysterious…so unearthly?

» Continue reading Tim McNulty’s “Night, Sourdough Mountain Lookout”