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backpacking Hillary S.

The Preservation of the World

June 13th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Ed. note: The days are getting longer, at least for another week or so. Here is a piece from a former graduate student to inspire you to get out there, both to the big-W wilderness as well as the wilds just outside your door.

By Hillary Schwirtlich

Glacier Peak Wilderness

We huddle from the driving wind under the protection of a band of stunted subalpine firs on the ridgeline near White Pass. My rain jacket is soaked through, again. The clammy synthetic material clings heavy to my arms and I can feel the cold rain seeping through my shoulders and wrists. My bare legs are numb. We ducked under these trees for a moment because we haven’t stopped walking for hours, but we know we can’t stop long or we’ll start to shiver. We’re attempting Glacier Peak for the second time tomorrow. Our first attempt, almost exactly a year earlier, was thwarted by a combination of lack of fitness and a spectacular storm of the kind that creeps like a blanket over the peaks of the Cascades in late summer. We hope our training will help us this time. We walked here from Mexico, we tell ourselves incredulously. The longest approach on a mountaineering trip ever. We can do this.

We stand up and start toward the pass, where the Pacific Crest Trail turns left toward the newly built bridge over the Suiattle River and our detour takes us left through a marmot colony toward Foam Creek. After so long away from cities, our eyes are tuned to pick out anything that doesn’t fit in this landscape, and we spot an orange lump on our route, then two strange figures, brown and white. “What is that?” I ask, and Chris replies, “Llama?”

view of White Pass Hillary S.A green view of White Pass: What the author imagines when she thinks of Glacier Peak Wilderness. Photo by author.

We’ve become a little wild ourselves by this point, and we approach warily. When we get close, the orange dome tent spits out a beanie-topped man, older than us, with a steaming cup in his hand. “Hi!” he beams, and since the rain has let up for a moment, we stop to chat. He’s a hunter, up for the high hunt. He hasn’t seen a single deer or elk, but he says he’s just happy to be where he is. “I’ve been coming to this country for a long time, and these hunts are just an excuse for me to be here, really.” We nod, we know what he means, we’re here for the same reasons. The Glacier Peak Wilderness was — and still is — the landscape my heart escapes to in its daydreams.

Movement has been our default for the last five months and the sun is setting earlier these days, so our restless legs tug us onwards. We wish each other good luck and Chris and I push on, our eyes trained upwards for our path over the ridge, a familiar notch. We leave the cupped, underused trail, climb up and over, then back down, up and down, our steps tracing ancient lava flows from the white giant over the ridge. Finally, we see it: our campsite, a windy plain of moonrock. Then farther, when the clouds clear for an instant, past a patchwork field of rock and snow: a lake of milky greenish water, beside the dirty remains of the White Chuck Glacier. We have been expecting this view, having been temporarily turned around on our previous trip, our climbing party arguing briefly over whether we were in the right basin. The USGS-made map dated from the 1970s showed a blue field of ice where a lake and rubble now was. This was the first place climate change, which I’ve now come to see as the grief, challenge and opportunity of my generation, hit me as something more than just a contested abstract concept.

panorama glacier Hillary S.Panorama of White Chuck Glacier (left) and the lake where it used to span (right). Photo by author.

We set up camp, giddy to be here, apprehensive about the morning’s weather. We fall asleep to the sound of wind howling across newly exposed glacial deposits. In the morning, the wind is stronger, and though fitness is no longer a factor and the sky clears, we reach a point a thousand feet below the summit when the wind severs my connection with the ground. I find myself flat on my belly, heart pounding, hugging the narrow ridge to keep from being blown away. Only slightly disappointed, we turn around. We still have Canada to look forward to, and this place will always be here.

On our way back down, a deafening roar rumbles from behind and we glance back in time to watch a fighter-jet contour up the white edge of glacier and barrel roll, only feet from the summit. Our legs go wobbly and we feel lightheaded with vertigo. “What if we were up there?” we ask.

coming down Hillary S.Coming down the mountain. Glacier Peak looms bright in the background. Photo by author.

Home

I used to have a moss garden. On the cement in front of the door of our north-facing, basement apartment, where only recently the weak spring sunlight has begun to stream through the branches of the rhododendron outside the window, the constant Washington wet would drip off the roof and land muffled and splashless on a bed of bright green moss the size of a dinner plate. When we moved in in September I made up my mind to sculpt it into some aesthetically pleasing shape, but that goal was quickly buried in a sea of grad-student to-dos. So there it stayed, ragged and shapeless and lush.

Until the end of February when a snowstorm left the ground white and left the newly arrived robins with no grass to pick at. The snow on our cement path melted faster than the snow on the grass, and the robins went for the only thing green they could find. I didn’t watch them do it — I only knew because the same thing had happened at my professor John’s house when we arrived at class that day. Bits of moss that had grown on his steps were strewn about his front walkway, strewn about by robins looking for insects and grubs and worms to tug out of the grass.

maple buds Hillary S.The little things: Maple tree flowers outside the author’s front door. Photo by author.

Now the snow has melted and the buds are breaking on the maple trees in the front yard. Snowdrops — those small white flowers that always know its spring before I do — have pushed themselves up from the cold soil and spread their frost-colored petals to the sky. The other morning, when the snooze on my alarm clock failed to get me out of bed, curiosity about the source of the trilling, musical song outside my window did. A crow calls twice and ruffles its glossy black feathers from the streetlight across the street, and chickadees scold and buzz from the birdfeeder, their eyes bright and black-crowned heads cocked. Nuthatches perch on the lip of the feeder, wary, then choose the largest seed and flit away to ignore gravity on the trunk of a nearby tree.

house Hillary S.The rhododendron bush and the “moss garden” (see left) helping provide a landscape to love, even in town. Photo by author.

For the last six months we’ve lived on this busy street corner and I’ve walked guiltily past the trash that lays in my yard, left by college students walking downtown and blown in from the streets and parking lots around where I live. But while sitting outside the front door on sunny days and behind my window on the much more common rainy ones, I began to notice. I started picking up that trash, respecting this tiny piece of land, surrounded by asphalt and concrete and filled with non-native plants. Because even though it’s a small thing, I know that this is the way I should treat a place that I love. It’s how I treat wilderness, after all.

-4Maple tree in the fall, setting the author’s front yard on foliage fire. Photo by author.
Leading photo: Not a llama, but a beanie-topped man the author and her partner, Chris, met on their trek through Glacier Peak Wilderness toward the end of their Pacific Crest Trail adventure.
 

Hillary Schwirtlich graduated in March from North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is the Southwest and Sierra Program Coordinator for American Alpine Institute, and lives and gardens in Bellingham, Washington. She loves to read, write, climb, hike, paint and cook, and you will usually find her in the Chuckanuts, at Vital Climbing Gym, bike commuting through Boulevard Park or volunteering. 

 

 

Migratory Birds Erica Keene

Taking Flight at the Migratory Bird Festival

May 22nd, 2014 | Posted by in Field Excursions

By Erica Keene

Smiles, laughter and flapping arms – I mean, wings. Yes, wings. These were the best parts of a sun-filled weekend spent learning about migratory bird species during the fifth annual Migratory Bird Festival at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. On Saturday, April 26, over 120 participants took on the role of migratory birds to learn about the difficulties they face during their winged travels. Their goal? Get safely to their next stop along the migration route.

The first round was easy, no obstacles. In the second round, a hunter was introduced. With each successive round, migration became harder and harder. Habitats began to disappear. Predators started increasing and catching larger numbers of birds. Elders, teens and little ones alike all participated in this lively, competitive game to learn just how many challenges birds face when migrating long distances.

Migratory bird Erica KeeneYouth from Seattle Parks & Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities Program and the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Program attempt to migrate safely to their next location while facing challenging obstacles such as hunters and habitat loss. Photo by author.

Groups rotated through three stations where they learned bird identification techniques, discovered ways to help conserve birds at home and participated in the ever-popular migration game. Each group adopted a bird for the day and spent time at each station learning fun facts about the Mallard, Rufous Hummingbird or the Killdeer. Some participants were even able to spot their bird during the bird identification station.

The day ended with students writing and decorating a postcard to be mailed to them in a few weeks’ time and with presentations on their adopted birds. Groups led interactive presentations on the Killdeer’s broken-wing display and the Rufous Hummingbird’s flight patterns while others absorbed the sunshine and listened.

eldersElders and youth from InterIm Community Development Association learn about migratory bird conservation. Photo by: Jim Chu, USFS.
Migratory Birds Erica KeeneOver 120 participants gathered on Saturday in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day at Camp Casey. Coupeville, WA. Photo by author.

A handful of regional community and environmental organizations participated in this event in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day, including Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities Program (O2), InterIm Community Development Association, North Cascades Institute’s Youth Leadership Adventures and the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Program.

On Saturday evening, 23 youth from Seattle Parks & Recreation’s O2 program and InterIm Wilderness Inner-city Leadership Development (WILD) stayed the night at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island in anticipation of a Sunday stewardship project. Pacific Northwest Trail Association Intern, Noah Pylvainen, took students on a walk along the Pacific Northwest Trail and introduced students to the idea of long-distance backpacking.

Migratory bird fest AnekaYouth Leadership Adventures students showing off their migratory bird postcards. Photo by Aneka Singlaub.

The next morning, students loaded onto the bus for a short trip to Fort Ebey State Park. Upon arrival, Operations Manager Craig Holmquist from the National Park Service introduced them to Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Students were given a demonstration on how to use a weed wrench and learned to identify Scotch broom: a tall, quick-to-spread invasive weed. Their task? Pull as much Scotch broom as possible out of the ground in just under three hours. Many youth had been to this event the previous year and were eager to get started. They looked at the area they cleared last year and when they realized none of it had grown back, huge smiles spread across their faces as the impact they were making started to seem more of a reality. This year, inn less than three hours, 23 youth and their adult leaders cleared nearly an acre of the invasive, yellow-flowered plant, an act of stewardship that will be appreciated by native plant aficionados to come.

migratory bird Erica KeeneZheonte Payne, 15, and Seth Wendzel from O2 share a high five in celebration of removing a particularly large Scotch Broom plant.
migratory bird Erica KeeneAfter nearly three hours of grueling effort, youth celebrate the two trailer loads of Scotch Broom they removed from Fort Ebey State Park. Photo by author.
migratory bird Erica Keene Lewen Chen, 17, from InterIm WILD loads Scotch Broom into a trailer to be removed from Fort Ebey State Park.

Thank you to the US Forest Service, Ebey’s National Historical Reserve, Ebey’s Trust Board, National Park Service, Skagit Audubon Society, Whidbey Audubon Society and all other staff and volunteers who helped make this event possible. We could not have done it without you!

Leading photo: Ximena Beccera, age 9, from the Kulshan Creek Program, learns how to use a spotting scope for the first time at the bird identification station. 
 

Erica Keene is the Youth and Community Engagement Coordinator of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

 

 

 

sherisnowshoeing. John Harter

Quietude

May 11th, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Highway 20 opened last Thursday at noon after six months of being closed — as it is every winter, due to heavy snows and avalanche danger over the pass — between Milepost 134 at Ross Lake and Milepost 178 at the Early Winters Information Center. This year, it took clearing crews almost six weeks to move the snow that had fallen up to 35 feet deep. The opening is a cause for celebration: East side, we’ve missed you! Yet there is also a tinge of lamentation, for the “road closed” season is a unique time in the North Cascades, one characterized by near impeccable silence.

Though those of us at the Environmental Learning Center live, work and play in a remote, backcountry national park, the effects of May through November’s steady stream of vehicular traffic on the acoustic environment is hard to ignore. Through the winter, residents and visitors hear the rhythm of the rain and the schulumps of snow sliding from needled branches above. As we orbit into spring, the sounds of nature change. The road closure’s sustained quiet is perfectly timed with the re-arrival of migrating birds, and the clean air is enlivened with the complicated call of Pacific Wrens, the monkey-like laughter and jackhammering of Pileated Woodpeckers and the dive-bomb buzzing of Rufous Hummingbirds.

The absence of murmurings from internal combustion engines offers the opportunity for a heightened level of sensory awareness, whether to auditorily observe the Park with adult ears or to facilitate listening activities for Mountain School students. “What’s the quietest sound you can hear?” instructors often ask trail groups. What about the fir cone scales gnawed away and dropped in a pile by industrious Douglas squirrels, or the various sounds water makes as it flows and dribbles and pools over the landscape? The cracking of a bud’s petals or the birth of a baby bird? “Road Closure” time is the ideal season for “sound mapping,” as well: Choose a spot to sit with pencil and paper, draw an “X” in the middle representing yourself, then listen and draw what you hear, notating it on the page in relation to your sit spot.

deer ears Molly FooteFifth graders from Bellingham’s Wade King Elementary using their “deer ears” to better hear the sounds of nature along the Deer Creek bridge. Photo by Molly Foote.

It is typically trying-slash-impossible to convince trail groups of ten fifth graders to close their mouths for any significant stretch of time with the goal of really listening (and the amount of talking and enforcing that trail instructors usually have to do toward such ends makes these attempts rather ironic). But the forest is a busy place; when one’s ears are opened and the machines given a rest, this becomes immediately apparent, sometimes to the point of epiphany.

Even without Highway 20 traffic, though, we are never far from reminders of the pace, size and sonic magnitude of contemporary existence. Many years ago, I spent 48-hours on a wilderness “solo” near the Dirty Devil River in Utah. While I sunned on slickrock, battling beefy ants and timing my day by the pale pink evening primroses that opened with the setting sun, I also became quickly acquainted with the flight paths of commercial jets. Respite from reminders of human civilization — the subtle or the bludgeoning — are hard to come by these days.

So difficult that Gordon Hempton, a western Washington-based acoustic ecologist, believes there may be fewer than a dozen places left in the United States where one can be for 20 minutes without hearing noise from human activity. He bases his argument, in part, upon his extensive listening experience, including a cross-country “sound tracking” tour in 2010, after which he co-authored One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010). “It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may from it,” Hempton writes on his website. “By listening to natural silence, we feel connected to the land, to our evolutionary past, and to ourselves.”

dark-eyed Junco Alex PatiaCan you hear this Dark-Eyed Junco taking a bath? Photo by Alex Patia.

Hempton also founded “One Square Inch,” an independent research project located in the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park. Here he has identified – you guessed it – one tiny spot entirely free of noise pollution. It is marked by a small, red-colored stone that was given to him by an elder of the Native American Quileute tribe and is now placed atop a mossy log. The idea is that since a loud noise, such as that of a passing aircraft, impacts several of the surrounding square miles, designating a noise-free space, even one just the size of a postage stamp, with have its own rippling effects.

Ironically, one can find directions to this project on the “One Square Inch” website. (the exact coordinates are 47° 51.959N, 123° 52.221W). How long will this acoustically pristine site maintain its quietude as listening hikers pay homage? The scritchy scratch of synthetic hiking pants, the vocal appreciations of friends on trail, the beep of some technology one forget to turn off? A worthy conundrum, indeed.

Noise pollution has become a noted environmental issue over the past couple of decades. Not only do some humans seek solace away from anthropogenic noise, but it is critical for wildlife who depend on auditory signals for survival functions such as feeding, migration and breeding to not be bombarded with extraneous sounds. As Hempton said in a 2010 interview in The Sun: “The problem is that humans are often oblivious to the natural balance of sounds that has been established since the beginning of time. Imagine we’re gathered to hear a symphony, and a handful of people are running vacuum cleaners or perhaps playing their own instruments without any regard to the orchestra. That’s how human sounds often come across in a wilderness environment.”

Where is the quietest place you can think of? What are the sounds that impact it? Is it secure in its silence, or threatened? What are your favorite sounds?

As I join the party and drive to the east side, revisiting my favorite places in the Methow Valley, I’ll remember to consider my own contributions to the acoustic ecology, and try to open my ears ever wider to catch nature’s callings over the clamoring cars.

on the eastside.Elissa KobrinThe author on the east side in the fall, demonstrating how to communicate the presence of something especially cool in nature without making a sound. Photo by Elissa Kobrin.
Leading photo: Sheri Harter explores the closed side of a wintertime Highway 20 on snowshoes. Photo by John Harter.

 

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She likes to Enjoy the Silence: All I ever wanted/All I ever needed/Is here/In my arms.

 

 

IMG_8145

SPECIAL EVENT!: Evolution of the Genus Iris ~ Robert Michael Pyle Reading, Bellingham 5/10

May 5th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Evolution of the Genus Iris
A reading by Robert Michael Pyle
Saturday, May 10, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham
Free!

 “What a record we might have of the world’s hidden beauty if field scientists and poets routinely spent time in one another’s company.” — Alison Hawthorne Deming, from “Attending to the Beautiful Mess of the World” in The Way of Natural History

What better than a portable book of poems for a quick fix, one-way guarantee to reconnect with this hidden beauty which Deming conjures? A few stanzas, maybe just a handful of syllables, of sensory salvation for the time stressed, the pressed, those who have renounced staring dumbly at a screen or watching, heaven forbid, televised talking heads.

All Things Considered

Two river otters fished the Salmon,

diving and rising side by side, almost

down to the surf. Watching

their sleek and pointy loop-de-loop,

over and over and over,

I managed to miss

the evening news.

In his first full-length book of poetry, Evolution of the Genus Iris (Lost Horse Press, 2014), Robert Michael Pyle brings us the real news, live and uncensored from the natural world. A naturalist, lepidopterist, writer and field-class teacher at the North Cascades Institute, Pyle interprets the wild field with the eyes and notebook of both a scientist and a poet, as fellow writer Alison Hawthorne Deming wishfully imagines. The union is powerful. But Pyle does more than report from the web of life. He simultaneously offers solace from the verdant house of the holy by penning poetry that keeps us in the present, with feet grounded in the mud and moss. As he asks, also in the aforementioned book, The Way of Natural History, “Isn’t it enough that the pursuit of deep natural history is one of the surest paths toward an entirely earthly state of enlightenment?”

IMG_8236It is hard to ignore the genus Iris. (This is an heirloom bearded specimen from Alcatraz Island, part of another national park.)

Pyle’s Evolution gives a resounding “yes”. Before exploring the book’s ecological innards, though, its cover alone is stunning enough: Purple Fire by artist Lexi Sundell, a painting of a bearded iris with brush strokes from lightest lavender to midnight plum. This tantalizing botany, in tandem with a blank first page of royal violet, is the paper portal into a majestic realm of words, wings and petals. Mimicking pollinators, let’s dive into the center.

IMG_9462The beautiful mess of the natural world: Can you spot the three small invertebrates snug in this lupine? From left to right: An unidentified tan spider, a bumblebee carrying huge sacs of tangerine-colored pollen, a crab spider. So much habitat in one inflorescence!

I like/butterflies/quite a lot./But flies/(minus the butter)/abound,/and few/folks notice/except to/swat. So Pyle writes in “Dip-tych,” raising the banner for those less pretty, feces-loving insects even most naturalists seem to routinely kill without remorse or question. In another poem, “Releasing the Horseflies,” he becomes a screen-door naturalist: ….I can’t stand/frustration in any animal,/and a big fly battering a screen/is the very definition of frustration./And, oh! their stripéd silken eyes/are beautiful. Speaking up for the voiceless and the underdogs (or flies, in this case) is a specialty of both ecologists and poets. Pyle, embodying both, effortlessly lends his own integrity to this tradition.

The use of beautiful natural phenomena to elucidate hateful cultural shortcomings is another of Pyle’s talents as an author and a thinker. “Pink Pavements,” for example, uses the shattered blush blossoms of cherry trees to connect daily life across America to daily life in occupied Iraq. Or take Blues,” which tracks the constancy of azure-winged butterflies and jays across twenty years while, during that same time, 58,022 names were added to the stone wall-list of fallen soldiers. Freedom may not be free, so some chant, but taking flight as bird, insect or flower petal seems the epitome of this cherished concept.

IMG_6243How the sidewalks flush and run/when cherries, crabs, and apples shed/their petal pelts. –from “Pink Pavements”

Pyle finds freedom in the quiet revolution of “The Librarians,” as well (The walnut will drop its leaves, and one of these nights/the spider will freeze. Books too will die,/they say. But don’t believe it.), and in the unencumbered play of children, as described in “The Girl With the Cockleburs in Her Hair:”

We were talking about how children don’t

get out any more. She showed me

her daughter on her cell phone:

big pout, and four big burs

caught up in her hair.

that girl, I said, is

going to be

okay.

(Also, semi spoiler-alert: Post-Evolution, it will be difficult to consider a baby bird or a tulip exclusive of each other again.)

Pyle’s 54 poems travel from Tajikistan to Yellowstone, yet some of the best honor local Pacific Northwest celebrities: banana slugs, salmonberries, Lookout Creek. It is exciting to read the names of various species and regional landscapes, like seeing a roster of old friends with their names illuminated on the marquee, our critterly comrades and natural wonders getting the recognition they deserve. There’s pipsissewa and oxalis and varied thrushes and more, many more — a huge sampling of local biodiversity bound in one celebratory book.

banana slug K. RenzA Pacific Northwest gastropod celeb and famous decomposer, the banana slug.

My personal favorite, though, was the collection’s last. “Notes From the Edge of the Known World” is made up of three meaty stanzas telling the story of the whole grand cycle, from birth and life to death and decomposition. This printed poem itself was enough –  it was Every Thing after all, time and matter and space, the whole she-bang. But I’m a sucker for the Acknowledgements page, which followed, for who knows what connections and sweetnesses are to be found in the lists of helpful friends? Evolution‘s was no exception. I noticed that Pyle thanked Krist Novoselic, the bass player of a band from Aberdeen called Nirvana that rose to massive, worldwide popularity in September 1991. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? Nirvana was the band that put Washington state on my map when I was twelve years-old. The Vision! Not only did their lead singer teach me the word “empathy,” which I now use almost daily in writing and teaching about the natural world, but had I not been obsessed with running away to Seattle as soon as I got my driver’s license (which didn’t happen), I probably wouldn’t be here now, going to graduate school 19 years later.

So imagine this editor’s surprise and delight to discover that Pyle and Novoselic — who these days is busy with political activism, farming, writing and still, music — teamed up to present “Notes From the Edge of the Known World.” Pyle reads, Novoselic fingerpicks an acoustic guitar and youtube gives viewers easy access to a video interspersed with both the performers and ecological scenery (including a rough-skinned newt!). The writer and the musician are both active in organizing the Grays River Grange, in the Lower Columbia region of southwest Washington. The tune was recorded and mixed by Jack Endino, who also did Nirvana’s 1989 debut album, Bleach.

Good poetry the same as good ecology, and good music: It makes the fallible, all-too-conscious human feel not so alone in the world. Whether drawing out our kinship with a horsefly or with hanging blue cotton panties drying in the wind, Pyle shows, once again, that relationships are everywhere inescapable.

IMG_3868A monarch caterpillar munching on an Asclepias, or milkweed. This plant supplies monarchs with alkaloids that make them toxic to predators.

PLEASE JOIN NORTH CASCADES INSTITUTE AND VILLAGE BOOKS IN WELCOMING ROBERT MICHAEL PYLE:

BPYLE.Benjamin Drummond

The poet himself.

Evolution of the Genus Iris
A reading by Robert Michael Pyle
Saturday, May 10, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham
Free!

Leading photo: Graduate student Tyler Chisholm takes a break from teaching Mountain School to read some color-coordinated poetry in the woods.
 

Photo of Robert Michael Pyle by Benjamin Drummond. All other photos by the author.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Though she rarely watches the Smells Like Teen Spirit video anymore, when she does she’s filled with regret that she failed to commandeer her high school’s cheerleading team.

 

 

 

big dolosse k. renz

The Skagit River Permanent Restoration Project

April 25th, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Whoa! Wha….?!

Sometimes one’s path is rerouted as they are traveling upon it.

Or so it can seem. It was early January, and we graduate students had recently returned to the Environmental Learning Center from a month away at various winter vacation destinations. We were crammed into a North Cascades Institute mini-van, traveling west on Highway 20 to our organization’s down valley headquarters at Sedro-Woolley. Suddenly, just east of Rockport near milepost 100, the road turned beneath our tires. Instead of rolling past the front of the Cascadian Farms stand at 45mph, we realized we were driving behind it. We checked to make sure we were still on the asphalt, hadn’t off-roaded into neatly planted rows of now leafless berry vines. The two Cascadian Farms structures with the whimsically sweeping roof lines were still there, but we had been re-routed for a different perspective. The whole carload of us did a double-take: Had we all collectively gone mad?

Nope. Rather, we were in the midst of a Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) project to repair the Skagit River shoreline. Oh.

The “Skagit River Permanent Restoration Project” is a $10.2 million effort to attempt to permanently remediate the unstable river bank, an issue the state categorizes as a “Chronic Environmental Deficiency”. During five previous years – 1993, 1994, 2004, 2006 and 2007 – emergency rock buffers were installed temporarily as a quick fix. But WSDOT seeks a long-term solution to this problem of massive erosion, and they have a plan.

» Continue reading The Skagit River Permanent Restoration Project

joye drops joye barnes

Every Day

April 22nd, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

An American female, on average, has a life span of 81 years. This equates to 29,565 days. And for the males? They live an average of 76 years, or 27,740 days. Minus childhood (ages 0-18), these numbers still compute to a hefty 22,995 and 21,170 days, respectively.

A ridiculous amount of opportunities to do something, anything, helpful for the planet, no? That orb supporting our every breath, our every dollar exchange, our every swig of beer, our every kiss, our every mouthful of fried calamari, our every status update and win at Call of Duty: Black Ops. Or, if we’re tired or bummed or stuck in a Groundhog’s Day rut and not feeling especially fired up and go-get-em, at least there is a constant chance to do less harm, trod a little softer and have an effect simply by not impacting so forcefully.

EarthDay calendar K. RenzThe daily to-do list, as dictated by the forest and fern fronds. Photo by author.

Earth-Day-the-official-holiday began on April 22, 1970 in the wake of catalyzing events, notably the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River catching on fire in 1969 because the water was filled with industrial chemicals. This first celebration was largely credited with launching a new movement to protect the natural world. Environmental legislation that is easily taken for granted now, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, became policy soon afterward.

» Continue reading Every Day

Milwakee ticket Kim Hall

Tales from a Greyhound Bus: From Goodbyes to New Beginnings

April 14th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

By Kimberly Hall

March 28th, 2014

10:38 am

Somewhere in South Seattle

We n’de ya ho

We n’de ya ho

Win de yah

Win de yah ho ho ho ho

He ya ho he ya ho

Ya ya ya

This was my absolute favorite song to share with students as they prepared to head home after their experience at Mountain School. We n’de ya ho is a traditional Cherokee song used to greet the morning, a song about new beginnings. So why, you ask, would I choose to sing about commencement with Mountain School students as they wrap up their time in the North Cascades?

For me, the three-day Mountain School experience is not resigned to this one isolated event. Instead, it is the beginning of something bigger, the start of a new phase in life. I hope that, with this experience, many of our students can now see the world with fresh eyes, with a fresh start, one overflowing with hope and opportunity.

It is this song that has been running through my head all day. I stare out a plate glass window on an east-bound Greyhound bus heading from Seattle, Washington to Louisville, Kentucky, humming Win-de-ya-ho.

I just finished up my two-year graduate program at Western Washington University with a year-long residency at the North Cascades Institute and spent the past few days tearfully saying goodbye to this place that has become my home and the people who have become my family. Like the song says, while I close one chapter of my life and am departing from the North Cascades, I am embarking on a new adventure full of amazing people that I have yet to meet and amazing adventures that are sure to be had. Within a week, I will be starting a job as program coordinator for a non-profit in Ithaca, New York.

But before I can even consider accepting my new beginning and this next season of my life, I need time, time to say goodbye, to come to terms with what I am leaving behind in order to truly embrace the road ahead. And what better way to give myself ample time and plenty of opportunities to process and reflect than to undertake a 60-plus hour Greyhound bus ride across the country?

So here I find myself, preparing for the physical and mental journey ahead of me with a poster of the North Cascades mountain range in one hand and a bag full of peanut butter sandwiches in the other. My trip begins with my eyes glued to the window. I watch as the tireless rain permeates the entire city. I watch as Seattle disappears from view. I watch as my home is slowly enveloped by rain, fog and a pair of misty eyes. All I can do is sit here, staring out the Greyhound bus window, and watch as everything I love grows farther and farther away.

» Continue reading Tales from a Greyhound Bus: From Goodbyes to New Beginnings