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Catching Alaskan salmon for the Learning Center

July 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

As part of our Foodshed initiative, North Cascades Institute strives to deliver the highest quality meals for all participants at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center because the food choices we make impact not only our bodies, but our planet too. The methods by which food is grown, processed, transported and prepared has consequences on the air and water that all of life depends on, as well as issues of social justice, local economics and community well-being. That’s why we seek out locally-grown and produced produce, meat, dairy products, grains, herbal tea and seafood, including the amazing Alaskan salmon caught, processed and delivered by Nerka Sea. Here’s a recent report sent to us by Tele Aadsen from the Nerka in southeast Alaska

Greetings from Sitka, Alaska, where Southeasterly winds currently have the good ship Nerka snug in her stall. It’s hard to believe the Nerka is already one-third of the way through her salmon season. We’ve successfully completed two trips, the July king opening and our first coho delivery. Both have been good, very good, with this year’s runs of both species appearing abundant and strong. 

Nerka 2

Joel and I did our best: rising at 3 AM for 19-hour days, hooks shimmying through the Gulf of Alaska’s legendary Fairweather Grounds. I wish you could see the furrows on Cap’n J’s brow through those days, the shadows beneath his eyes as he agonized over every decision, so anxious not to make a wrong call during our limited opportunity. And I wish, too, that you could see the humpbacks breaching alongside us, their breath hanging over the ocean, catching rainbows in the sun, and that you could hear the wolves howling in Lituya Bay, the glacial-walled sanctuary where we rested up before the opening. We didn’t plug the Nerka in those five days, but came back to Sitka with a respectable share of black-mouthed beauties, a good variety of fat-bellied torpedos and long-bodied racers.

Nerka 4

Joel and I have always prided ourselves on the care we devote to our catch. All conscientious fishermen do. What differentiates us from others is that it’s just the two of us on board, a pair of boat kids who grew up doing this work, knowing salmon as something far greater than mere product or paycheck. We’ve cleaned salmon side-by-side in the Nerka’s cockpit for ten years now; we have a synchronicity and routine that vessels with fluctuating crew simply can’t achieve. That difference was never more evident to me than at the end of this trip, when I glazed those kings.

Nerka 1

Bundled to withstand three hours in the Nerka’s -40 degree fish hold, individually dipping every fish into the sea water bath that preserves the just-landed quality unique to frozen-at-sea salmon, I personally inspected every king we’d caught. I checked for bloodless veins and spotless collars. I was so proud of those fish, the obvious care they’d received, I couldn’t help choking up a bit. This wasn’t the biggest load of kings we’ve ever delivered, but it was the most beautiful. That was because of you. Forty-five miles offshore, you were with us. It shows. I’m so glad you’ll get to know these fish as we did, as glorious in your hands as they were in life.

Nerka 5

Words and images © Tele Aadsen.

Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 6

April 4th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Much of the opposition to the recovery efforts of the grizzly in the North Cascades stem from hikers, climbers, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who fear recreating in grizzly country. Where hiking in grizzly country brings more risk, hikers in the Northern Rockies and Alaska will tell you that it brings a new thrill and sense of wildness to the outdoor experience.  Being aware of how to responsibly recreate in grizzly country can greatly reduce some of the risks involved with hiking and fishing in bear country. There are many resources available on how to recreate in grizzly country from the National Park and Forest Services as well as many non-profit organizations such as; Western Wildlife Outreach, The Great Bear Foundation, and The International Grizzly Bear Committee.

What people also fail to realize is that even if the North Cascades were to start recovery of the grizzly population, it would be 25-50 years before people started to see them, and another 100 years before the population recovered completely, due to how slowly grizzlies reproduce.

The problem in the Pacific Northwest as stated above is that we have never had to deal with grizzlies unlike the people in the Northern Rockies. The only thing we know about the grizzly is from what we have seen from American culture, and unfortunately American culture has not painted an accurate portrayal of the grizzly bear. If the North Cascades is to effectively implement its recovery strategy it needs to succeed on two levels; first it needs sound science to back it up, which it has, and secondly it needs support from the public, and the only way that the public will become okay with the grizzly bear walking around in the Cascades is if we begin to tear down these false images of the grizzly and start to properly educate people.

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 6

Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 5

March 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

People in Montana and Northwestern Wyoming have been living and recreating in close proximity to grizzlies upon settlement. In Washington nobody has seen a grizzly in nearly 20 years. For those who do not live in grizzly country it is an animal associated with danger and fear. Common misconceptions and ignorance about grizzlies are major reasons why they have nearly gone extinct and may have an even tougher time recovering in The North Cascades. In Grizzly Wars David Knibb states, “Ignorance breeds fear. Ironically, because people around the Cascades lack firsthand experience with grizzlies, they are more afraid and thus more likely to oppose recovery efforts” (Knibb, 50).

People that do not live in grizzly country and those who have never encountered a grizzly before, like those of us living in the Pacific Northwest, are going to have the preconceived notion that the American culture has created about the grizzly, a culture created by the media to make a fixed story in our minds about what to believe about something. I have yet to see a Hollywood movie where the lost children or the lonesome cowboy come across a grizzly eating berries as it glances up noticing the people and simply returns to eating berries. Instead of this natural occurrence, the bear almost always attacks, only to have the children rescued by a brave outdoorsman or the cowboy besting the monster by pumping multiple gunshots into its pelt. This all too often scene has been played out hundreds of times through the American public’s television screens and feeds into the notion that man has dominion over all of nature. Wilderness is the antagonist and needs to be tamed and subdued by man, and nothing speaks of wilderness more than animals like wolves and grizzlies.

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: Part 5

Grizz with cubs

Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 4)

January 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Recovery came swiftly to the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems, unfortunately the same could not be said of the North Cascades. Like the glaciers that move so slowly, grinding their way through the high country, the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE) Recovery Plan has moved no faster than the glaciers. One could even argue that with the increased melting of the glaciers due to climate change the glaciers are now moving faster than the grizzly recovery project.

The North Cascades Recovery Zone differed from Yellowstone and Glacier because when the recovery zones were established, the North Cascades had much fewer numbers than the other two parks in the recovery zone. As stated above the last grizzly sighting on the American side of the North Cascades was in 1996. Occasionally a track in the mud will be found, but it is estimated now that ten or fewer bears inhabit the North Cascades Ecosystem.

This lack of a viable population presents several problems for potential recovery. Grizzlies are very slow reproducers with an average life expectancy of 25 years. One may think that 25 years is a rather long lifespan in comparison to most wild mammals, giving them plenty of chances each year to reproduce. But when looking at some of the evolutionary habits of the grizzly we start to see that 25 years might not be enough to increase the population.

A female grizzly will not start mating until the age of 5 – 8 years. When the female finally does mate, she will spend 3 to 4 years with her cubs. The average female bear will only mate 2 or 3 times in her life. Survival of cubs is yet another concern. A female grizzly will normally have two cubs of which, under typical environmental circumstances, only one will survive. Grizzly cubs have to face the challenge of eluding other predators such as cougars, wolves, and even other male grizzlies. Male grizzlies have been known to kill cubs that aren’t theirs in order to ensure that their own offspring carries on. Also, in an ecosystem where there may be less than 10 other grizzlies it can be very difficult just to find a mate, considering that grizzlies have a large range of up to 500 square miles.

» Continue reading Grizzly Bears in the Pacific Northwest: A Natural History (Part 4)


Hooked!: Saying Farewell to Our New Friend Tele Aadsen

March 3rd, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Crewing on a commercial fishing boat during prime salmon season isn’t exactly conducive to writing a memoir.

“No writing happens on the boat except on my arm,” said Tele Aadsen, a fisherman, writer, Alaskan and most recent Writer-In-Residence at the North Cascades Institute.

But to write a complete log from the Gulf of Alaska, and then some, sentences via forearm and rare moments of rest would not suffice. With a manuscript due by the end of May 2014, Aadsen needed space, time and distance if she were to finish writing her memoir, Hooked: A Season of Love, Sex, and Salmon.

Fortunately, Aadsen was friends with Betsy Delph, a returning sous-chef at the Institute and the daughter of the Institute’s Administrative Assistant, Anne Hubka. Through them, she heard about the residency opportunity and was accepted in June 2013, spending the rest of the summer watching the long Alaskan days tick by until she could trade a salmon knife for a pen come mid-November.

Aadsen’s next three months living at the Environmental Learning Center were productive, but not always blissfully easy, as most artists under deadline to get into “the flow” likely understand. On a recent night in February, Aadsen gave a farewell presentation to the Learning Center community detailing the opportunities, highlights and challenges of her residency. She described it, in part, as an exercise in “forced accountability,” saying, “I have backed myself into this corner that I’ve spent the past 17, 18 years strenuously avoiding.

Even at the young age of 18, fellow fisherfolk had been asking Aadsen when she was going to write a book, to which she’d respond, a little sheepishly, that she would like to……someday. Though she’d been told by teachers and friends since elementary school that writing was a craft at which she excelled, this encouragement did not necessarily translate into a talent that was automatic or without struggle. At age 21, she left the fishing life, and Alaska, at a point when she was, as she recalled, “very angry and bitter.” She spent the next six years as a social worker in Seattle, helping homeless youth. “I bounced from crisis to crisis to crisis,” she remembered. She didn’t write for the entire six years.

Tele and Besty Photo Joel Brady-Power
Aadsen and Betsy Delph, a sous-chef at the Environmental Learning Center, spent a summer catching salmon together, which included hanging out in the fish hold. Photo by Joel Brady-Power.

But living in a city, passing days punctuated by stress and misery, was hardly sustainable. Aadsen was called back to fishing, a lifestyle she’d known since she was seven when her parents built a 45-foot sailboat, the Askari. At the same time, she was called back to writing: Her story, which she’d spent years trying to ignore, grew louder and more insistent while back on the water.

And then one of those perfect, serendipitous events occurred, the kind that practically force one to believe in fate. In 2010, Aadsen was visiting Bellingham, where she stopped by the independent bookstore and community hub, Village Books. The author giving the reading that evening was Cami Ostman, a former social work colleague of Aadsen’s from a decade previous. “’Someone I know wrote a book!’” Aadsen thought, surprised and delighted. After the reading, her old friend told her that non-fiction books can be sold on proposal, unlike fictional novels, which have to be fully completed. Within three years, under Ostman’s tutelage and encouragement, Aadsen had finished a 100-page proposal for Hooked. Her agent sent it out.

Four of the ten publishers to whom the proposal was pitched wanted to talk about turning it in to a book. All of them were in New York. “None had ever been near a fishing boat, XtraTuf boots or Alaska,” Aadsen laughed. Each publisher singled out a different piece of the story that spoke to them, yet only one, Riverhead Books, identified that there was a feminist component in Aadsen’s life as a female in a male-dominated industry. This was important to Aadsen, and she went with Riverhead, ready to join the ranks of writers such as Anne Lamott and Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Tele presentation photo K. RenzAt Aadsen’s presentation to the community, she posted a beautifully-crafted timeline of the progression of Hooked around the Dining Hall. How could any creatively-driven person not find solace and empathy in the top quote: “As a kid, I’m always writing. Teachers say I’m a good writer, which I internalize to mean that writing should come easily to me.” Photo by Katherine Renz.

Now came the hard part – getting her whole story on paper – a task accompanied by even trickier questions: How does one tell their own stories – ones that are funny, sordid, emotional and everything in between — when they involve other people? At what point is the line drawn between characters in a book and friends in real life? With memoirs, does such a line even exist?

The residency offered Aadsen a freedom impossible to access while in proximity to her loved ones, whether working at sea or landed at her permanent home in Bellingham where her partner, Joel Brady-Power, and cat, Bear, held down the proverbial fort until the season began again. Up at the Learning Center, if she wanted to tell a story that could potentially offend a friend or family member, well, so be it. Aadsen could shrug off the concern. “It doesn’t matter, they’re down river,” she’d remind herself, and start writing.

Aadsen also wrestled with issues of shame. Not only was this a theme in her memoir – What does it mean to be faithful? To love? To delve deeply into one’s own secrets? – but it was also an issue with the luxury of a residency itself. With the constant reflection so characteristic of writers, Aadsen wondered, “Who gets to run away for three months to write a book?”

Part of the answer was found in one of the dozens of letters friends and fans sent her during her three months, some of which she shared during her presentation. As one woman wrote, “You valuing your work gives me permission to value mine.” The humanity of Aadsen’s task became apparent, as a model for others wanting to embrace their creative goals but also in considering how to take Hooked to a deeper, more universal level. “How can I make this no longer my story only?” she asked herself, chapter by chapter. With the popularity of memoirs over the past decade or so, with authors like Cheryl Strayed agonizing over love and loss on the Pacific Crest Trail or Elizabeth Gilbert traipsing all over the world to find herself, this format has often been criticized for its narcissistic tendencies. Aadsen’s intention was to escape this inherent pitfall as much as possible, to craft a story in which readers can better understand their own experience through her experience.

As a graduate student and year long resident at the Environmental Learning Center, welcoming Aadsen into our lean wintertime community was a sweet opportunity. I remember the autumn afternoon when Anne Hubka mentioned we would have a writer-in-residence, the same woman who provides all the salmon we serve in our kitchen. An author? I thought. A real live writer? Who is also a feminist? YES! My initial assumption to jump for joy proved correct as we got to know Aadsen over the next few months. Though she was, most of the time, diligently locked in her apartment organizing words, Aadsen always made time for her new family, including leading an all day writing workshop for the graduate students, one of the highlights of our educational experience. I can’t count the number of times I heard her say, “There’s a book in you….,” extending the encouragement she’d received along her own journey to the writers among the graduate cohort and staff.

Tele Aadsen became and remains part of our community and part of our story as, we hope, we are a part of hers. We’re hooked.

Tele writing on arm/joel brady powersMemoirs are an internal story, but sometimes they’re external, too: Aadsen doing her daily ritual on the boat, pre-residency, transcribing her inspired notes-on-forearm into a more permanent journal. Photo by Joel Brady-Power.
Leading photo: Aadsen and the graduate students (collectively known as “Cohort 13”) pose for a farewell photo. Obviously, we wish she could be our constant writer-in-residence. From L to R: Sarah Stephens, Annabel Connelly, Katie Komorowski, Samantha Hale, Katherine Renz, Tele Aadsen, Elissa Kobrin, Kaci Darsow, Tyler Chisholm. Photo by Liz Blackman.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program and co-editor of Chattermarks. When not doing homework or blogging, she is dreaming of being a writer-in-residence. 





Tele & Joel w fish, edited

Fisherman, Writer, Artist-in-Residence: Thankful

November 29th, 2013 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Ordinarily, the fourth Thursday of November isn’t a big deal for me. I am a fisherman – if you’ve enjoyed salmon at the Environmental Learning Center, it was coho my partner, Joel, and I caught on our troller, the Nerka – so my celebration falls in mid-September, when Alaska’s salmon season comes to a close. Fishermen’s Thanksgiving. A group of us gather on someone’s back deck (admittedly, we’re the more left-listing, green-hearted members of our fleet), share a potluck feast and give thanks for our season’s harvest, praising the ocean’s mercy and her bounty. It’s become my tradition, ringing true to me in a way that the November date never did.

But this November is different. I will be giving thanks – from Dogwood 2, my new winter home as North Cascades Institute’s Artist-in-Residence. As a writer with a manuscript deadline looming on spring’s horizon, I’m extremely grateful to be here. I give thanks to Anne Hubka, the Environmental Learning Center’s Administrative Assistant who, upon hearing that I needed a quiet, beautiful place to write my book, became my residency’s greatest champion. I give thanks to the students and staff who have made me feel so welcome in my first few days on campus. (Including Chandra Ruble, who took the time to organize a glorious rainbow of spices when she prepared D2. It makes me smile every time I open the drawer.) I give thanks to the administrators who chose to extend this generous opportunity.

Nerka with Mt FairweatherNerka trolling off Mt Fairweather. Photo by Jeff Thomas.

I wonder if this seems a strange partnership to some, a fisherman granted artistic refuge in the North Cascades Institute. But I am a tree hugging, tofu eating, public radio listening fisherman, and our missions are not contradictory. We share love and respect of wild places, and we are front row witnesses to the changing climate and oceans. We readily shoulder our responsibilities as guests, stewards and, in some cases, harvesters. One way I carry those responsibilities is by writing. Using personal essays, blog posts and now memoir, I strive to share a way of life – in all its bloodshed and beauty – that few people will otherwise know.

That’s the story I’m here to tell. Hooked: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and Salmon follows Joel and me through a season aboard the Nerka, as we chase salmon through the waters of Southeast Alaska. Salmon: carrying the scent of their natal rivers so deep within them, they fin thousands of miles before – inexplicably, instinctually – the urge to reproduce compels them home. Home… As if they’d never left. So unlike my own migratory childhood, where “home” was loosely defined and the only constant was my family’s slow disintegration. How did my parents fail in their partnership, and how can Joel and I choose to be different? What does it mean to be faithful – to a person, to a place, to a life? If salmon are, as artist Ray Troll says, “the fish that die for love,” what can they teach us?

My task is to produce a complete first draft by the time my residency concludes on February 15. It’ll be a busy winter, but you’ve given me the sanctuary to make this goal possible. While “thank you” is an important thing to say, gratitude is often better expressed through action. I look forward to giving back to NCI’s community, getting to know all of you and sharing some writerly time together. (Further appreciation: to everyone who’s made suggestions about possible workshop/group/reading ideas, these ideas help me tremendously. Stay tuned for what we end up offering.)

From Dogwood 2 to you, my heartfelt, true-ringing thanks.

Tele Writing on Anchor, editedTele writing on anchor. Photo by Joel Brady-Power.
Leading photo: Tele and Joel with Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon. Photo by Martin Gowdy.


Tele Aadsen is NCI’s Artist-in-Residence, where she is writing her first book, Hooked: A Season of Love, Sex, and Salmon (Riverhead Books, 2015). You can follow her work at, and find writing-related resources on her Facebook page. Her name is pronounced “Tell-ah,” and she is overly fond of corvids.



Journey through the Arctic with Debbie Miller

October 16th, 2012 | Posted by in Field Excursions

North Cascades Institute presents “Journey through the Arctic with Debbie Miller:” A multimedia presentation and book release party
Wed, October 17: Walton Theatre at the Mount Baker Theatre, Bellingham, 7pm
Thurs, October 18: Skagit Transit Hub, Mount Vernon, 7 pm
No advanced tickets required; donations accepted at door. Details at

Debbie Miller is on a mission.

Having spent considerable time in the far reaches of Arctic Alaska, she’s found a wilderness wonderland that most of us have never heard of. It is a landscape of superlative natural riches — the largest herd of caribou in America, the highest concentration of grizzly bears in the Arctic, millions of nesting migratory birds, beluga whales, polar bears, walruses, salmon, spotted seals, the list goes on and on. It is, like most untouched places, under threat of resource extraction and industrialization, and that is where Miller’s mission comes in to focus: spreading the gospel about this unspoiled terrain that belongs to each and every American.

So, why haven’t most of us heard about this special place? Call it bad branding.

“The National Petroleum Reserve” is not a name that inspires wonder and awe. It sounds like the place you’d stop to fill up the gas tank on your way to the much more famous Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which lies to the east.

And yet, this reserve — larger than the state of Maine, ten times as big as Yellowstone National Park — is the largest unit of public lands in the US. Its 23 million acres are home to the largest river (Colville) and lake (Teshekpuk) in Arctic Alaska, the aforementioned riches of wildlife and migratory bird habitat, the most prolific site of dinosaur fossils of any polar region on earth and more than 10,000 years of native inhabitation and history.

It also, not surprisingly, holds oil and natural gas resources, and neighbors the 1000-square-mile industrial oil-field development of Prudhoe Bay and other North Slope complexes.

While there are designated “special areas” within the Reserve  — denoting exceptional wildlife, recreational, subsistence, historical and scenic values — not a single acre has permanent protection.

Miller’s new book On Arctic Ground: Tracking Time Through Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve aims to change that. She is traveling around the country giving multimedia presentations that combine photography, soundscapes, scientific findings and storytelling, bringing her journeys through the Reserve to life.

She hopes to win over the hearts and minds of Americans, introduce them to this hidden gem and inspire actions towards protecting the best, most profound places within the Reserve.

» Continue reading Journey through the Arctic with Debbie Miller