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Joshua Winter 2016

Graduate Winter Natural History Retreat: Class in the snow!

March 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

As the snow is melting and Spring is is coming in full force, winter’s grasp is quickly fleeting from our minds. It’s hard to imagine that just a month ago the 15th Graduate Cohort of the North Cascades Institute was on their Winter Natural History retreat in the Methow Valley, then a winter wilderness! The retreat was the second retreat we had taken this year, in which we delve deep into the natural landscape to get first hand experience with our local wilderness. In this particular trip we learned about astronomy, wolverines, avalanche science and even tracking. Our whole trip had us centered at the Skalitude Retreat Center located in the Methow Valley.

Skalitude Retreat Center

Skalitude

Skalitude Retreat Center located in the heart of the mountains.

After traveling for seven hours into the Methow Valley, for Washington Pass is closed in the winter, the road into Skalitude was the definition of a remote mountain road: covered with animal tracks, steep, and windy. The whole road was encased in a thick forest. As soon as we reached the retreat the trees opened up to showcase the excellent valley and the pristine snow! Living in Western Washington this winter made me forget how much I had missed feet of clean, beautiful snow.

Good meals

Good friends and good food! Photo courtesy of Aly Gourd.

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Mount Rainier Milky Way

Starstruck: One Grad’s Perspective on the Night Sky

March 19th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

by Lauren Ridder, M.Ed. Graduate Student

There are only a couple of things that can stop me in my tracks. When clouds part to reveal a night sky full of stars, my gaze is irresistibly drawn upwards, and I feel my perspective shift. My breathing slows and my awareness sharpens, as my mind races far away from the Earth’s surface to find those familiar patterns in the sky.

What I love about constellations is that I could be anywhere in the world, feeling lost and overwhelmed by the chaos of everyday life, but as soon as I spot those sparkling forms high above my head, I feel re-oriented. It feels like an ancient connection to not only centuries of human folklore, but also to pages in stars’ life stories that are long gone as their light travels through all the layers of time and space to reach Earth.

I have several favorite constellations to search for including: Orion, Delphinus, Cygnus, and Andromeda. Orion is the first constellation that I can remember identifying on my own, and I’ve loved tracing its path across many night skies throughout my life. As a winter constellation, Orion appears in the Northern Hemisphere in late November. Orion is usually portrayed as the Great Hunter charging across the sky with shield in one hand and sword in the other. Another more seasonally linked version of the story comes from the Ojibwe people who name this star group, Biboonkeonini the Wintermaker. The prominence of the three stars that make up Orion’s Belt leads to this constellation’s familiarity across cultures. Alnitak, the leftmost star in the Belt, means “the girdle” in Arabic; Alnilam in the middle, translates as “string of pearls”; and Mintaka, on the right, means “the belt”. On March 6 of this year, Orion was due south, standing upright at his highest.

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The two most recent additions to my constellation library, Cygnus and Delphinus, are located near each other in the northern early summer and mid-autumn skies. Cygnus swims along the Milky Way with Delphinus leaping out near the swan’s left wing. Cygnus is easy to spot on a clear night with the bright star, Deneb, marking the swan’s tail, and four other prominent stars within its body that form a grouping also known as the Northern Cross. Delphinus is harder to pick out and requires a softening of the gaze and a little patience. Once the little Dolphin makes itself known though, it’s hard to forget.

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Red Moons, Meteors and Mars! Oh My!

April 17th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Kaci Darsow

By one thirty in the morning, my beer was empty, my hands were numb and the dimly lit but distinctively red moon was sinking fast into the trees, making it difficult to view from my porch. Though the astronomical show would go until 2:30 am and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon had only played halfway through, I decided to call it a night. The others had made that decision nearly an hour ago. Maybe I should try to get at least some sleep this week. Goodnight, strange moon.

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