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You Are Here : A Weekend of Maps at the North Cascades Institute

March 6th, 2018 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

This post is a guest contribution by Anders Rodin, a cartographer and participant in The Art of Drawing Maps class at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. For the weekend of February 23 – 26th, he learned more about map drawing with the talented artist Jocelyn Curry. You can view a gallery of past artful maps produced in Jocelyn’s class here.

“I sense that humans have an urge to map–and that this mapping instinct, like our opposable thumbs, is part of what makes us human.” – Katherine Harmon

I was driving East on the North Cascades Highway Friday morning through the snow, when I suddenly realized I was further up the road than I had ever been. A sense of excitement came over me. I was exploring, I was on new terrain, seeing things I had only ever seen on maps with my very own eyes. Winding up the road past the rushing Skagit River I finally came to the turnoff for the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center a few miles from the end of the road, and made my way slowly across the Diablo Dam.

Crossing the frozen Diablo Dam; photo by Anders Rodin

Several months before, I had seen a postcard in the Skagit Land Trust office from the North Cascades Institute with a list of the classes and workshops they were offering in the upcoming year. A friend leaned over my shoulder and said, “Look! A map class! You have to take it.” And so I signed up.

The Art of Drawing Maps was a chance for me to spend a weekend in the mountains, focus on creative work, and crank out some maps I had been thinking about making. It turned out to be so much more than I was expecting. Not only did I have the chance to work in a studio with a dozen other incredibly inspiring people, I also had the chance to meet several staff, enthusiastic Base Camp program participants, and resident graduate students on campus. I was happily surprised at the dining hall and the incredible food prepared by the amazing kitchen staff. And I briefly met Elvis, the residential Raven, who laughed at us once we became stranded at the Institute due to an avalanche four miles down the road. I think some of us were a little too adamant about tempting the avalanche as the snow piled up and the avalanche became a real possibility…did we forget to knock on wood?

Art supplies in Sundew; photo by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading You Are Here : A Weekend of Maps at the North Cascades Institute

Mark Scherer: Artist in Residence

January 26th, 2018 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Mark Scherer participated in the Creative Residence Program at the North Cascades Institute this December, joining the tradition of poets, naturalists, dancers and researchers who have participated in the past.

In Mark’s own words:

My home is Stehekin, Washington. The medium I work with most often is wood. I’m not a carver except in the most rudimentary way. I think of myself as a “shaper”. I use saws, files, sanding tools, and sometimes paint and glue to make my sculpture. Here are two examples of past work.

“Feets” 4′ diameter. Photo by Mark Scherer

“Twice” 17″ x 6″ x 2″. Photo by Mark Scherer

At the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, I’m working with ideas that are new to me, ideas addressing climate change. I like to make things that are pleasing and humorous. Climate Change isn’t pleasing or humorous. It scares me. If art has the power to move us, to change perceptions, to give us insights we might not otherwise see, then why not use whatever “art power” I can muster to encourage thoughtful consideration of our individual and shared culpability for where we’re taking the climate? During my Creative Residency I’m beginning tentative, “baby steps” toward that goal. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

» Continue reading Mark Scherer: Artist in Residence

Photo by Pablo McLoud

Pablo McLoud: Artist in Residence

November 22nd, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Pablo McLoud participated in the North Cascades Institute’s Creative Residence Program this October, joining the tradition of poets, naturalists, dancers and researchers who have participated in the past.

Pablo is self-described as “an amateur photographer using Canon cameras.” He prides himself on taking photographs from a perspective and vantage point that many find original. For some of his photos, his unique “slant” on ordinary subjects elicits responses like “Wow! I’ve never seen a picture like that before.” Without the use of digital manipulation in a majority of his work, Pablo’s images deliver the purity of the event in a special moment in time.

Pablo’s mantra is “If you don’t explore, you’ll never discover.”

And he definitely took the time to explore during his Residency experience! Below are some of his beautiful photos from around North Cascades National Park and surrounding wilderness areas.

Photo by Pablo McLoud

Leave Me Be; photo by Pablo McLoud

» Continue reading Pablo McLoud: Artist in Residence

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!

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

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VOCALIZE: A Natural and Cultural History Project

June 20th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Emily Ford, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

“VOCALIZE” attempts to share the Natural and Cultural History of the Loon through multiple ways of knowing. This project blends Indigenous Education and Scientific Study through the following list of topics, in order to create an ecological and social learning platform for all: Etymology, Art, History, Biography, Archeology, Astronomy, Taxonomy, Phylogeny, Poetry, Geology, Mapping, Natural History, Anthropology, Biology, American Literature, Conservation Studies, Storytelling, Indigenous Education and Pedagogy, and Place-Based Learning.

The multidisciplinary nature of Natural History allows both cultural and scientific knowing to be shared and valued. The Common Loon (Gavia immer), is not only the focus in this project, but also provides a lens to investigate Environmental and Social Justice, especially as it pertains to North America’s Native First Peoples. The Loon’s hauntingly visceral “call of the wild” has spoken to humans throughout the centuries, and offers a vessel for silenced cultural perspectives to come to light.

Within the project booklet, you will learn about the appearance, habits, and vocalizations of the charismatic Common Loon. Dive beneath the water, and you will also experience the emotions, voices, stories, and values held by the Loon. As we observe and interpret the Loon’s being, we must also recognize the human context of engaging with nature. “VOCALIZE” serves as an example and call to action for all readers to be open minded, aware, and inclusive of diverse human experience and beliefs.
It demonstrates the importance of listening to and valuing every voice, including the voice of the Earth, as we come to realize our interrelations.

For example, I examine the word “vocalize,” often used to describe the loon’s various calls. In English, “Vocalize” means to articulate, or to sing vowel sounds, and comes from the root ‘call out’, or ‘cry.’ I pair this with the many Ojibwe definitions, in order to value their language and roots of their words. This serves as an example of how language is a form of power, and it is important to present more than just one perspective. I also use this word to reiterate the layered metaphors of indigenous oppression throughout the project. A loon’s call in the night comes out of the silence, and echoes with a wounded mournfulness, yet stands strong in people’s memory of wilderness and beauty. Paired with these concepts, I also include scientific studies of the four loon calls and their adaptive uses for communication.

Similarly, I investigate the bird’s many names. Loon’s scientific name is Gavia immer, from Scandinavian roots. In Ojibwe, “Loon” and “brave” are the same word: “Maang.” I then share the creation story of the loon, from astronomy, to Indigenous creation stories, to evolution and archeology.  

My poetry is scattered throughout the booklet to reinforce the subject topics and include my own reflections and voice. This poem follows the investigation of our naming of the loon and its vocalizations, as well as a discussion of layered metaphors about the power and oppression of language use. Accompanying the poem is art by Ojibwe artist Jackson Beardy who fought as an activist, educator, and artist, for the rights of Canada’s First Peoples and the revitalization of woodland cultures.

» Continue reading VOCALIZE: A Natural and Cultural History Project


Winter Musing in an Alpine Refuge: Creative residency January 18-30, 2016

May 30th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Véronique Robigou – Artist, Geologist, and Natural Science Illustrator.

At the start of the year, I was very fortunate to join the legion of artists, naturalists, and scientists who before me have benefited from the North Cascades’ Institute Creative Residency Program. A retreat as artist-in-residence in the remote, alpine setting of the North Cascades Learning Center! An escape from my city routine with all the comfort of a chalet in the forest, the support of the center staff, and the intellectual stimulation of interacting with graduate students that study environmental education at the center. What an ideal way to start the year!


In winter, the Diablo lake landscape is not as colorful as alpine peaks and meadows blooming in Spring nor as glorious as the golden forests of the Fall but… the dark gray skies, the perfectly still surface of the lake, and the snowy trails are conducive to quiet and creative reflection – a luxury that I rarely have time for in my daily life.  I relished long, silent walks through the forests, and along the lakeshore, and many hikes up the snow-covered, mountain trails. The seemingly, dormant nature was amazingly vibrant with mosses and mushrooms thriving in the constant rain. And plants, bushes and trees were nurturing intricate, delicate buds. Buds that my eye had never quite noticed in the same way before. As I explored the area for the first time, I discovered nature in a season during which I usually don’t sketch in “plein air”. Hiking silently through towering Douglas firs, Sitka alders, and Ponderosa pines gave me an opportunity to muse and dream up new projects. Immersed in the subdued colors of winter, my sketches were infused not only by my observations in the natural world but also by the pitter-patter of rain, the raucous call of a solitary raven or the occasional rock fall on the mountain slope. Sounds became elements of my visual musings. Sounds became colors.


When the rain would not take a break, I found refuge in the cozy center’s library to read and do research. Focusing on local, topographic maps, reports about the construction of the hydroelectric dams on the Skagit River, history of the Diablo lake region and natural history guides of the area, I unearthed fascinating ingredients that will feed new artworks. Over the next few months, all this new information, my observations and my impressions will gradually coalesce into new ideas to express with colors on paper and reflecting my time at NCI.

My discussions with the talented staff and students at the center have been some of the brightest moments of my stay. Sharing meals, life experiences and stories, art and science insights, and teaching strategies enriched my reflective time with energy from a youthful and dedicated group of people that enthusiastically share their passion for the environment. The atmosphere that they create and nurture at the center is a priceless addition to any creative endeavor. I also spent time facilitating an “Art of Map” workshop for the graduate students who literally transformed a gloomy, rainy day into “Liquid Sunshine”. Read more at

As much as I thrive in the intensity of traveling afar, I may have found that a local, creative haven at the North Cascades Learning Center. How thrilling to have access to this refuge just a few hours from my studio! I look forward to future explorations at and around the center in all seasons.

Véronique is an artist, natural science illustrator, geologist, and educator at Ocean et Terra Studio in Seattle, WA. Learn more at