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Walking Washington’s History

August 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Four villages — Whatcom, Sehome, Bellingham, and Fairhaven — grew along the waterfront of Bellingham Bay and rode every boom and bust that swept the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Whatcom surged on sawmills and a gold rush; Sehome boomed on a coal mine and railroad hopes. They merged in 1891 to become New Whatcom. The next village south on the bay, Bellingham, had a brief fling with coal but was swallowed up by Fairhaven to the south, which had visions of railroads and ended up with canneries. In sequence, they inhaled opportunity, exhaled optimism, and built long docks into the bay.

Bellingham is one of 10 Washington cities that Bentley provides brief but engaging historical overviews for, along with walking routes that explore our region’s past on foot (or bicycle). Seattle, Olympia, Walla Walla, Everett, and Yakima are other destinations that Bentley—who also wrote the bestselling Hiking Washington’s History—explores and interprets for her readers.

Each tour is a loop from two to seven miles long, with each city chosen to represent a distinct chapter in the post-European settling and development of the Evergreen State: Vancouver as the earliest significant settlement in the Pacific Northwest, Port Townsend as an important port of call for sailing ships in the mid-1800s, Spokane symbolic of urban renewal and reinvention efforts of the 1970s, and so forth.


Bellingham, in a chapter subtitled “Reluctant City,” is symbolic of the many frenzied waves of resource extraction that created booms and busts throughout our region: coal, gold, timber and salmon.

» Continue reading Walking Washington’s History

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


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)


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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.


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.


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

too high too steep Williams 3

“Too High and Too Steep”: David Williams’ new book on reshaping Seattle

September 14th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Guest post by David B. Williams

Williams’ reads from his new book Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography at Village Books in Bellingham on September 16 at 7 pm as part of our Nature of Writing Fall Speaker Series; free!

More so than most cities, Seattle has shaped itself to suit its needs. The citizens of Seattle have dug up, dug into, dumped upon, and carted away its original topography as few other cities have. They eliminated hills, cut canals, killed rivers, replumbed lakes, and built islands, in the process completely reshaping many parts of the landscape. And they did most of this within 75 years of the settlers’ landing. Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography explores these unprecedented engineering projects by weaving together history, geology, and on the ground exploration.

As Michael Upchurch wrote in a Seattle Times review: “Williams does a marvelous job of evoking the cityscape that used to be. He clues us in to the spirit of civic ambition that drove Seattle’s geographical transformations. He methodically chronicles the stages by which its regrade, canal and landfill projects were accomplished. And he’s meticulous about placing his readers on present-day street corners where they can, with some sleight of mind, glimpse the hills, lake shores and tide flats that vanished. (Maps, illustrations and archival photographs help.)”

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Building Seattle – A few tidbits on interest discussed in Too High and Too Steep.

  • Filling in the tideflats of the Duwamish River created approximately 2,500 acres of new land.
  • No dirt from Denny Hill went into making Harbor Island.
  • The largest single hill regrading took place around Jackson Street when 56 blocks were regraded between 1907 and 1909.
  • Nearby was the Dearborn Street regrade, which created the valley now spanned by the Jose Rizal Bridge on Twelfth Avenue.
  • When Lake Washington was lowered by nine feet with the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, it led to the loss of 90 percent of the lake’s wetlands.
  • Building the locks and canal resulted in the establishment of one of the final whaling fleets in the United States, which overwintered in Meydenbauer Bay.
  • Total dirt moved during the city’s various engineering projects was at least 75 million cubic yards.
  • The regrades were paid for by people who lived in the regrades, not by the city.
  • One failed project called for a canal through Beacon Hill to connect Elliott Bay with Lake Washington.
  • Seattle’s first big tunnel under the city, which runs for a mile, was cut by hand and completed on time.
  • When the Alaskan Way Viaduct was completed, the Seattle P-I labeled it the “royal necklace across the bosom of the Queen City of the Pacific Northwest.”

» Continue reading “Too High and Too Steep”: David Williams’ new book on reshaping Seattle

ancient places nisbet

Northwest Bookshelf: Ozette, Orcas and Ancient Places

June 8th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Ancient Places: People and Landscape in the Emerging Northwest

Jack Nisbet (Sasquatch Books)

Spokane-based writer Jack Nisbet is a treasure for anyone interested in the ways natural history, landscape and human cultures intersect in the Pacific Northwest. His previous books have traced the route of Northwest fur agent and geographer David Thompson, profiled pioneering naturalist David Douglas and his many discoveries and meditated on the unique flora and fauna of the dry side of Cascadia. His latest title journeys around the Inland Empire in search of “genesis stories,” events from long, long ago that shape our world today.

A highlight is the essay “Meltdown,” which flows across vast stretches of time to reach an understanding of how the cycles of ice ages and epic floods shaped much of Eastern Washington and, in turn, our habitation in and movements across the land.

From the Colville Valley to Lake Pend Oreille, Okanagan Highlands to Grand Coulee, Nisbet deftly connects past to present, human to nature.

Jack Nisbet reads from Ancient Places at Village Books in Fairhaven on Wed, June 10 at 7 pm; free!



Ozette: Excavating a Makah Whaling Village

Ruth Kirk (University of Washington Press)

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Makah’s whaling village at Ozette emerged from the mud in the far northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Richard Daugherty came across the site while surveying the wild Pacific Coast for archaeology sites as a UW graduate student. The subsequent decade of excavation by Dr. Daughtery and his team unearthed one of the richest troves of Northwest native artifacts ever discovered: clubs and combs made from whalebone, net sinkers and knives from stone, mussel-shell harpoon blades, beaver-teeth carving tools and a myriad of useful and ceremonial items made from the Tree of Life, Western Red Cedar. Their research also discovered entire houses inhabited by the Makah hundreds of years ago, close to perfectly preserved by being encased in a mudslide.

» Continue reading Northwest Bookshelf: Ozette, Orcas and Ancient Places


Northwest Bookshelf: Native Art, Native Trees and a Journey to the North

June 2nd, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Northwest Coast Indian Art
Bill Holm (University of Washington Press)

From blankets to gambling sticks, coffins to rain hats, spoons to shaman’s paraphernalia, seemingly every material aspect of the indigenous cultures of the northern Pacific Coast was decorated with representations of the natural world, usually animals. Salmon, bear, raven, wolf, whale, seal, beaver: the wild creatures of the British Columbian and southeast Alaskan coastlines and islands are memorialized in bold strokes of black and red by Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit artists from time immemorial.

The definitive study of the visual language of Northwest Coast Native art is back on bookstore shelves in a 50th anniversary edition that includes new color photographs, illustrations and reflections from contemporary artists on the impact of Bill Holm’s landmark book.

Holm is credited with decoding the hidden structures of the complex and highly stylized art form, helping “unravel the secrets of Northwest Coast art,” according to one artist. He made his findings in a systematic study of hundreds of artifacts housed in the University of Washington’s Burke Museum as a graduate student.

“I realized there was a sort of grammar or syntax to it not unlike a written language,” Holm writes in a new preface. “There were ‘rules’ that transcended tribal and linguistic boundaries on the northern coast, and these rules were followed with remarkable uniformity by artists of all the tribes in the area.”

Considered one of the most advanced art forms in the world, Holm demystifies the schematics of Northwest Coast Indian Art while also allowing that it is the individual artist’s sensibilities that make the sum of elements greater than the parts.

Even with his deep comprehension of the art, Holm acknowledges mystery too: “It is difficult to understand how these Indian artists, scattered among the inlets of the rugged northern coast, mastered the complexities of the design system to such a degree that only an occasional piece in the vast museum collections of today deviates from that system.”

» Continue reading Northwest Bookshelf: Native Art, Native Trees and a Journey to the North

Nature of Writing Fall 2015 Poster

The Nature of Writing Speaker Series * Spring 2015 in Bellingham

March 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends


Join Village Books and North Cascades Institute in welcoming our region’s most gifted writers on the natural world to Bellingham. From wildlife in the city to botany, local marine ecology to poetry inspired by our Wild Nearby, you’ll learn more about our wondrous planet when these gifted writers share their latest literary works.

Friday, April 3, 7 pm
John Marzloff’s Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife

We all know that human development is threatening our environment. Runoff pollutes our streams. Homes and businesses encroach on wilderness habitat. Energy use warms the planet. Too many species are in decline. And yet, for some of our most charismatic wild creatures, suburban and urban habitats offer surprising opportunities to thrive. Our suburbs and city parks are often remarkably rich in bird diversity—holding more species than either wilderness areas or urban centers. In fact, suburbs may play a key role in preventing loss of species in the face of the dramatic disruptions of climate change and other human impacts. Welcome to Subirdia shows us how. This event is part of our Nature of Writing series, in partnership with North Cascades Institute. John Marzluff is James W. Ridgeway Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington, where he teaches classes in ornithology, urban ecology, conservation and field research. His previous books include In the Company of Crows and Ravens (with Tony Angell), Dog Days, Raven Nights (with his wife Colleen) and Gifts of the Crow (with Tony Angell). He is teaching the class In the Company of Corvids at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center June 26-28.

Friday, April 11, 7 pm
Thor Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History

Seeds are everywhere. From our morning coffee to the cotton in our clothes, they give us food and fuels, intoxicants and poisons, oils, dyes, fibers, and spices. Without seeds there would be no bread, rice, beans, corn or nuts. They support diets, economies, lifestyles, and civilizations around the globe. And yet, despite their importance in nature and their role in human survival, their awesome story has never fully been told.

In The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History, award-winning conservation biologist Thor Hanson explores the story of seeds by asking a simple question: why are they so successful? Seed plants have become so abundant that it’s hard to believe that for much of evolutionary history, they did not even exist. Hundreds of millions of years passed where other plant life dominated the earth – first algae, and then spore plants like quillworts, horsetails, mosses, and ferns. Once they evolved, though, seeds became an incredibly efficient mechanism for plants to reproduce, protect themselves, and travel long distances. The evolutionary history of seeds shows not only why they have been able to thrive in nature, but also why they are so vital to human survival.

Blending expert, yet understandable, explanations of science with humorous first-person reportage and fascinating historical anecdotes, The Triumph of Seeds deftly traces the history and science of seeds. From a mountaintop overlooking the Dead Sea to 300 feet below an Illinois coal mine, from an encounter with vipers to a misguided attempt to crack and ironclad nut, Hanson takes readers on a fascinating scientific adventure through the wild and beautiful world of seeds.

Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Guggenheim Fellow, Switzer Environmental Fellow, and member of the Human Ecosystems Study Group. The author of Feathers and The Impenetrable Forest, Hanson lives with his wife and son on an island in Washington State.

Thursday, April 16, 7 pm
Audrey DeLella Benedict & Jospeh K Gaydos’s The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest

The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest combines a scientist’s inquiring mind, breathtaking nature photography, and wondrous stories. Straddling the western border between Canada and the United States, this unique ecosystem is brought to life on the page with a lively narrative that looks at the region’s geology, fauna, and history.

Audrey DeLella Benedict is a biologist, a writer, and a passionate advocate for the conservation of the global ocean and Arctic and alpine environments the world over. She is founder and director of Cloud Ridge Naturalists and is currently a member of the board of the SeaDoc Society.

Joseph K. Gaydos is Chief Scientist for the SeaDoc Society, a marine science and conservation program focused on the Salish Sea. He is a licensed wildlife veterinarian and has a PhD in wildlife health. For over a decade he has been studying the fish and wildlife of the Salish Sea.

April 18, 2015
Saul Weisberg’s Headwaters: Poems & Field Notes

North Cascades Institute is excited to announce the forthcoming publication of selected poems of Institute Founder and Executive Director Saul Weisberg!

» Continue reading The Nature of Writing Speaker Series * Spring 2015 in Bellingham

Portraits of Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Naomi Klein’s manifesto on “capitalism vs. the climate”

February 9th, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

By Christian Martin

(Originally published in the Cascadia Weekly, Jan 2015)

In the same week that the Republicans put all of their political muscle in to pushing the Keystone XL Pipeline, the New York Times reported the alarming news that 2014 was the “warmest year ever recorded on Earth.” Another story the next day noted “humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.” The lead author of the new research warned, “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event.”

Amidst the unwelcome news, Vancouver-based author and activist Naomi Klein has published the most important book of her career, not to mention “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring,” according to the Times. But be warned: much like reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States of America or Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, once you read it, you can never go back to seeing the world the same way as you did before.


This Changes Everything is a progressive manifesto, as well as the definitive manual for our warming planet: how we got here, what we’re doing (or not doing) now, and what we need to do next. Klein weaves together climate science, economics, international relations, sociology, geopolitics, psychology, history and more in this fascinating, often dizzying journalistic investigation.

“Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” Klein states plainly in the introduction. “Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Klein builds her case for the need to reign in and transform neoliberal free-market capitalism chapter by chapter, page by page, line by line. She zeroes in on three elements of the modern economy that need radical realignment — privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector and lower corporate taxation paid for with cuts to public spending –- and excoriates the legacy of free trade and globalization as promoted by the WTO.

Her approach is methodical, and the evidence that she marshals in support of her arguments becomes overwhelming: peer-reviewed scientific studies, public opinion polls, academic research, economic accounting, interviews with experts and activists from around the world. Eventually the reader feels piled on, so overwhelming and frightening are Klein’s findings and prescribed remedies.

But, surprisingly, her main mission with this tome seems to be to deliver hope.

Rather than leave readers with an apocalyptic doomsday vision, Klein writes that global climate change offers us “a catalyzing forces for positive change”:

“It could be the best argument progressives have ever had to demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies; to reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence; to block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones; to invest in starving public infrastructure like mass transit and affordable housing; to take back ownership of essential services like energy and water; to remake our sick agricultural system into something much healthier; to open borders to migrants whose displacement is linked to climate impacts; to finally respect Indigenous land rights – all of which would help to end grotesque levels of inequality without our nations and between them.”

The last third of Klein’s book is devoted to explicating hopeful signs that positive changes are not only possible, but already underway. She cites the growing fossil fuel divestment movement, reinvigoration of Indigenous sovereignty, growth of renewable and community-owned energy projects and on-the-ground resistance she dubs “Blockadia.”

“Can we pull it off?” Klein, like her readers, wonders. “All I know is that nothing is inevitable. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.”


ReSources in Bellingham is offering a free six–part workshop series on “Energy & Climate: the defining issue of our time,” Thursdays 6:30-8 pm through February 26. Info at

Other useful online resources for learning about solutions to Climate Change: