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TriumphofSeeds

The Triumph of Seeds: An Excerpt

April 9th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from The Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson. It comes from Chapter Eight: By Tooth, Beak, and Gnaw.

By Thor Hanson

“Oh rats, rejoice!
The world is grown to one vast drysaltery!
So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!”

Robert Browning
The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1842)

Appendix F of the International Building Code stipulates requirements for keeping rats and other rodents out of all habitable dwellings. These include two-inch (five-centimeter) slab foundations, steel kick-plates, and tempered wire or sheet-metal grating over any ground- level opening. Conditions for grain storage or industrial facilities can be even stricter, involving thicker concrete, more metal, and curtain walls buried two feet below grade. In spite of all this, rats and their relations still consume or contaminate between 5 and 25 percent of the world’s grain harvest, and regularly gnaw their way into important structures of all kinds. In 2013, a trespassing rodent shorted out the switchboard at Japan’s ill-fated Fukushima nuclear plant, sending temperatures in three cooling tanks soaring and nearly setting off a repeat of the 2011 meltdown. The story made headlines around the world, with journalists, bloggers, and TV commentators all wondering what makes rats so interested in electrical wires. But the real question isn’t about what rodents like to eat; it’s about how difficult it is to stop them. Why on earth should a rat be able to chew through concrete walls in the first place?

The name “rodent” comes from the Latin verb rodere, “to gnaw,” a reference both to the way rodents chew and to the massive incisors that help them do it so well. These teeth evolved in small mouse- or squirrel-like creatures approximately 60 million years ago. That’s approximately 60 million years before the invention of concrete, Plexiglas, sheet metal, or any of the other manmade materials that rats and mice now chew through. Experts still argue about the exact origin of rodents, but there is little doubt about what those big teeth were good for. While the family tree now includes oddballs like beavers, who chew wood, and naked mole rats, who use their teeth for digging, the vast majority of rodents still make much of their living the old-fashioned way: by gnawing seeds.

Rodents

» Continue reading The Triumph of Seeds: An Excerpt

6.26.15 Corvids E Petrovski

Welcome to Subirdia: Q&A with John Marzluff

April 1st, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

As part of our “Nature in Writing” series, John Marzluff reads from Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife, Friday, April 3rd, 7 pm, in the Readings Gallery at Village Books in Bellingham. Free!


Q: You started your research studying crows, jays, and ravens. What was the catalyst for making the transition to birds and wildlife in urban areas?

JM: Moving to Seattle in the late 1990s, I was confronted with a rapidly growing urban area that was spilling into relatively wild country. When a large forest near my home became a high-end subdivision, I knew I had to take a closer look. Previously, scientific information for urban systems was mostly descriptive or nonexistent.  Researching how birds and other wildlife responded to development was a perfect way to combine my love of pure science with my desire to offer planners, developers, and others relevant ecological knowledge.

Q: Could you please define subirdia?

JM: The geography of life, or a physical place (the rich mix of built, planted, and natural lands that fringe our cities) and the web of life linking people with their natural world.

Swainsons_Thrush
Swainson’s Thursh

Q: The research you and your students and postdocs undertake requires many patient and persistent observers. How long and about how many have contributed to our understanding of subirdia?

JM: In this type of work, a year’s effort yields only a single data point. To understand the ups and downs of bird populations and the natural booms and busts of birth and death requires a decade or more of standardized measurement. For thirteen years, eight to ten of us took to the woods and streets every spring and summer. During this time, my team included many undergraduates and interns, three postdocs, eight doctoral students, and six master’s students. I am proud that they now teach in some of our nation’s top universities, contribute to the management of our wild resources, and direct research in non-profit conservation organizations.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from their experience of encountering Welcome to Subirdia?

JM: A better understanding and appreciation for the ecosystem we call “home” and the tools needed to nurture a life enriched by our wild neighbors.

Banded_Spotted_TowheeBanded Spotted Towhee

Q: What is your favorite bird or wildlife encounter you relate in the book?

JM: The great thing about field research is the collection of memories I take home each season. I can still recall the broods of hungry thrushes I measured and the extraordinarily old birds I was able to recapture. But my favorite memories from subirdia mostly involve mammals. For example, sitting quietly as a band of angry crows approached and seeing that the object of their scorn was a brash bobcat; playing bird calls by a mist net in the cold dawn and having a coyote rush in; and the look on one kid’s face as he extracted his bicycle from a (different) net and wondered what he was going to tell his mom. (Well that’s not in the book, but it was sure fun!)

European_Jay_Peppered_mothsEuropean Jay and Peppered Moth
All bird art is by Jack DeLap, taken from Marzluff’s book, Welcome to Subirdia. DeLap writes, “While I produce images in various media, from graphite, pen and ink, to acrylic and oils, the current work in its final form was created freehand using a digital tablet and stylus (Wacom Cintiq). My process involves sketching in the field, as well as from museum specimens and photographs to create an original composition that seek to capture aspects of the species’ natural history and physical form. Dr. John Marzluff and I collaborated on the conceptualization and narrative sequence of images. My primary objective for these illustrations was to utilize my passion for drawing in direct service of natural science education.”
Juvenile_American_Robin

Welcome to Subirdia: An Excerpt

March 31st, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

As part of our “Nature in Writing” series, John Marzluff reads from Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife, Friday, April 3rd, 7 pm, in the Readings Gallery at Village Books in Bellingham. Free!

by John Marzluff

My research and that of other urban ecologists suggest that, despite the great loss of biodiversity caused by our actions, we also have a lot to celebrate. I’ve spent most of my spring and summer mornings counting birds in national parks, industrial parks, and suburbs. It is not surprising that the most-heavily paved portions of the city hold few birds, but it is not the case that the least-disturbed places on Earth always hold the most birds. Wild reserves provide shelter for unique birds not found in the city, and they are absolutely essential. But the greatest variety of birds is often found in the suburbs. [1]

With my graduate students I have counted birds from Seattle’s urban core to its fringing forests nearly every spring and summer morning for the past decade. We expected the suburbs between the city center and the forested reserves to support an intermediate number of species, but when we listened as these neighborhoods awoke each morning, we were astonished by the dawn chorus of thrushes, tanagers, wrens, towhees, finches, crows, and woodpeckers. Here we often tallied 30 or more species in a single count. We found birds from the industrial city mixed with some from the protected forest, and we encountered a whole new set of birds that use more open country. [2]

Black_throated_gray_warblerBlack-throated gray warbler

Compiling standard bird surveys from more than 100 locations in and around Seattle revealed to us a consistent, but unexpected, relationship between the intensity of development and bird diversity. The greatest diversity was not in the most forested setting. Instead, bird diversity rose quickly from the city center to the suburbs and then dropped again in the extensive forest that eases Seattle into the high Cascades.

We had discovered “subirdia.”

» Continue reading Welcome to Subirdia: An Excerpt

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

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 www.re-sources.org/events/workshops-events.

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

www.climatesolutions.org

www.powerpastcoal.org

www.thischangeseverything.org.

Gary Snyder Nobody Home

Notable Environmental Books of 2014

January 1st, 2015 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

As a book reviewer for the Cascadia Weekly, I pay close attention to what’s being published, with a special focus on books on regional topics, releases from regional publishers and titles that explore natural history and environmental issues. I’m extremely fortunate to receive dozens of complimentary review copies through the year, and try to read as many of them as I can. Here at the end of 2014, I put together a list of what I consider to be noteworthy and important environmental books released over the last year. It isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but hopefully will provide you some inspiration for future reading!

One more thing, I strongly encourage you to purchase any of these titles that interest you from your local independent bookseller. We need community hubs like Village Books, Elliott Bay Books, Trail’s End Bookstore and Watermark Book Company to continue to promote literary diversity, local flavor, community economics and opportunities for grassroots free-thinking and creativity.

Without futher ado…

ecopoetry anthology

The Ecopoetry Anthology
Edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street (Trinity University Press)
In this new anthology of poetry, the editors are quick to explain that poetry has involved itself with the natural world since the very first poems were written, and that their collection is focused on poetry that is influenced by contemporary developments: the birth of the environmental movement, the incredible discoveries made in the natural sciences and the growing awareness and magnitude of ecological crises enveloping us. So while the book opens a historical foundation provided by the likes of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers and Kenneth Rexroth, it soon dives in to a great tangle of recent works — “praise songs, incantations, narratives, meditations, lists, elegies, rhapsodies, jeremiads” — which the editors hope contain power to “move the world — to break through our dulled disregard, our carelessness, our despair.” Poets like Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Robert Hass, Jane Hirschfield, Linda Hogan and W.S. Merwin — and better yet, poets you haven’t discovered yet — are called in to do the heavy lifting.

The Sixth Extinction Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt)
When I received a copy of this book, I thought “why would I ever spend my precious time on such a grim topic?” I dabbled in the first few pages and, before I knew it, Kolbert’s well-built narrative and engaging prose swept me up and through to the end. The Sixth Extinction is engaging and informative and even kind of fun, like a good, long New Yorker article, which is where Kolbert holds her day job. Each chapter is based around investigation of a species that is either long-extinct or currently endangered, with Kolbert traveling around the world to explore jungles, zoos, ice regions, coasts, caves and islands, interviewing scientists, citizen activists, anthropologists, climatologists and other front-line experts along the way.

The author explores the history of our understanding of extinction — how the very concept of species disappearing from the planet challenged science at the time, and how discoveries of mammoth bones and ammonites, plate tectonics, natural selection, climate change and evolving concepts on the origin of homo sapiens have come together to illuminate life on Planet Earth over the past 3 billion years.

As the narrative reaches our modern times, what many geologists are starting to call the Anthropocene, the unfolding understanding of how many species Earth is going to lose is grim indeed. The Sixth Extinction is unfolding right now, primarily because of us, and it’s an open question what will survive our disastrous reign.

spanish-revival mining-towns exotic-plants

How to Read the American West: A Field Guide
William Wyckoff (University of Washington Press)
We are all familiar with field guides that interpret the natural world for us, like Sibley’s Guide to Birds and Pojar and MacKinnon’s Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. But a field guide for dude ranches, strip malls, grain elevators, cloudscapes, ski towns, farmworker settlements and gay and lesbian neighborhoods? William Wyckoff, a professor of geography at Montana State University and talented photographer, has created a strange, fascinating and often humorous book that surveys our modern American landscape, both natural and human-built.

Nobody Home: Writing, Buddhism and Living in Places
Gary Snyder and Julia Martin (Trinity University Press)
This diminutive volume holds three lively, in-depth interviews and a trove of correspondence that transpired over three decades between a graduate student-turned-professor living in South Africa and the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet living in the mountains of California. A mutual interest in esoteric topics like bioregionalism, ecocriticism, Zen practice and poetics sparked their long relationship, and Martin’s sensitive but persistent proddings bring forth a wealth of insights from Snyder. In their letters, we eavesdrop on the development of a caring friendship, reading accounts of travels and academic conferences, all the while Snyder providing sage advice to the younger writer.

» Continue reading Notable Environmental Books of 2014

books Stephanie Burgart

Confessions of a Bibliophile

March 31st, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

It has been almost two years now since I graduated with my Masters in Education from Western Washington University (WWU) and North Cascades Institute’s unique graduate program. My memories are filled with the laughter of Mountain School students, Professor John Miles’ New “Hampsha” accent and endless views of Diablo Lake. While I miss the sunshine, quiet and darkness up there in the mountains, there are days where I also long for the library, research and studying. It may be shocking to some, but it’s true: we did actually do traditional learning and coursework during the residency. With images of the graduate students gallivanting around snowy peaks, dense forests and playing in the sunshine, it is easy for parents and friends to wonder if we were actually trying to “learn anything” in the program. Of course, it’s a very big “yes”.

We were all there to learn. Sure, Dr. Miles did an excellent job of getting us out into the world we preach about, but there were also the necessary times of studying inside. You can’t read heaps of homework out in the rain, at least not everyday. Deer Creek Shelter, for example, is a wonderful place for respite, but I doubt a LAN cord to connect to the servers will reach that far (though I’ve no doubt Nick Mikula, one of my fellow graduates, tried it at least once). Large portions of curriculum writing, nonprofit work and research for various projects all happen in front of the screen or book, but one of the best parts was the individuality of all this learning.

The amount and types of research varied from student to student. Taken out of context, some of the reading we do as experiential environmental educators could come across as crazy. For me, I’m pretty sure the WWU library has me flagged, and with the recent National Security Agency and “Big Brother” news going on, I wouldn’t blame them. I’m into some pretty amazing stuff.

» Continue reading Confessions of a Bibliophile

the shack 1

The Shack

January 6th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

I’m a nerd, always have been. I’ve never been one to shy away from that. I’m a music nerd, a book nerd, a Doctor Who nerd…and growing up with parents who are all about “the nature,” I’m also a nature nerd.

One of my favorite books is Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. I first read it in sixth grade, and then again as an assignment during my first summer of graduate school. I love the way this book is written, like you’re reading someone’s nature journal. I love the stories he tells and the images they conjure up in my mind. I loved reading about this far away ecosystem, so different from the only one I’ve ever really experienced here in the Pacific Northwest.

Last winter I received an invitation to my cousin’s wedding in Madison, Wisconsin. Hmm, Wisconsin. Never been there. But something went off in my brain. On a whim, I googled Aldo Leopold and realized why my brain had jumped—his shack, the geographic location of A Sand County Almanac, was about 45 minutes northwest of Madison. I called my dad. “We should go,” I said. “Come on, when will we get another chance to see Leopold’s shack?” He didn’t need much convincing. “Let’s keep this in mind so we can plan our flights around it,” was his response.

Fast forward to the end of August. My mom, my dad, and I are driving to a little Wisconsin town called Baraboo. We’re on our way to the Aldo Leopold Foundation. It’s hot outside. Our rental car has fancy air conditioning and we’re all glad for it. Us Pacific Northwesterners aren’t used to this weather.

Arriving at the Aldo Leopold Foundation campus, we walk around the native vegetation and an outdoor classroom building, then head into the office. The woman at the front desk gives us a map and explains how to get to the nearby Leopold property. I see a picture of Estella Leopold, Aldo’s youngest child and the only one still living, and wonder what it must be like to be Aldo Leopold’s offspring. Estella lives in Seattle and I was fortunate enough to meet her once at a gathering of the Natural History Network.

inside the leopold foundation buildingThere’s a small museum with writings and artifacts from the Leopold family. Photo by the author
bench with plaquePlaque by the entrance to the Leopold Foundation building reads:
Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm
has been designated a
National Historic Landmark
This property possesses national significance as the outdoor laboratory for Aldo Leopold’s pioneering work from 1935-1948 in wildlife management and ecological restoration, and as the inspiration for his seminal work, “A Sand County Almanac.”
2009
National Park Service
United States Department of the Interior

» Continue reading The Shack