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Patty Dirienzo 2

Connecting the Dots: An Interview with Creative Resident Patty DiRienzo

December 12th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

As his time at Mountain School comes to an end, 10-year-old Avi writes a letter to himself reflecting on his time in the North Cascades wilderness. Two weeks later students will open these letters at school and remember what was special about their time away from home and out in nature.

All photographs and captions by Patty DiRienzo

This photo was just one of the many images Patty DiRienzo captured during her Creative Residency at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. As a photographer, Patty focuses on capturing a person’s connection to environment through relationships with land and community. For her residency, she collected a series of photographic vignettes for her project, “Connecting the Dots”, with the goal of showcasing the relationships that develop between individuals and the North Cascades. Many of her portraits were of 5th grade students participating in the Mountain School program this fall.

I was able to speak with Patty about her residency and work and have transcribed our conversation below. If you would like learn more, please visit her website or Facebook page.

Was there anything in particular about the North Cascades Residency Program that influenced your decision to come out here?

When I lived in Washington, I had always heard about the park and seen pictures and knew it was rugged and a true wilderness. I had initially looked into the National Park Service, they used to have an artist in residency program, and then my research brought me to the ELC Residency. I like the idea of what you all are doing here, bringing and introducing children and adults to this wilderness. Giving them the opportunity to come out and to raise awareness on what they can do to preserve it-that’s why I was interested in coming to the North Cascades Institute. 

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Mountain School student Nigel says ‘I love hiking and being out in nature —I think I’m becoming my grandmother. She loves windstorms. And she’s not even afraid of spiders!’

Can you tell me about your history with photography and how you started out?

Photography really started out as my career, over twenty or thirty years ago. I began using film as a newspaper photographer and that’s why I still enjoy telling a story with my pictures. It’s been a transition of course, with photography. I like relating it now more to a community. I also like turning some of my images into more nostalgic looking watercolor type prints. Along the way, I’ve also tried some fine art techniques like handcoloring, black and white pictures, and now polaroid image transfers. I enjoy using these techniques because they all give you different effects and can put a kind of stamp on the work you do. Mine is trying to show how even the past and present can look alike sometimes and those different techniques help me accomplish that. 

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“A naturalist leads Andrew and his classmates in a game of ‘camouflage’ during a forest hike at Mountain School. After playing this educational version of hide and seek students come away with a better understanding of the role of predators and prey in the forest.”

 

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Isaiah, a fifth-grader from Bellingham, WA listens to a naturalist while on a hike during Mountain School in the North Cascades. “I like getting to learn things about the animals and trees.”

» Continue reading Connecting the Dots: An Interview with Creative Resident Patty DiRienzo

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Integral Ice : A Creative Residency reflection

June 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Manasseh Franklin

For much of the lower 48 states, it’s easy to consider glaciers as distant, sometimes extraordinarily so. A great deal of my research and writing focuses on closing this distance in order to give access to the beauty, vitality and total importance of ice on the decline throughout North America. To do this, I rely on intimate first hand experiences, scientific counsel and the compelling narrative of the landscapes themselves.

I came to the North Cascades Institute to write about ice. Fittingly, this region is home to the largest concentration of glaciers remaining in the lower 48. What I didn’t realize prior to arrival, however, is just how much that ice is integral to the livelihoods of people in this region, and how accessible that makes it on a day-to-day basis, both on the ice itself, but primarily off.

Being stationed at Diablo Lake provided the perfect starting point: glacial waters flowing through hydro-electric dams that power neighboring cities. Waters that, without glaciers, would not be able to provide the growing capacity of electricity needed in those places.

Through conversations at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, I was able to see the bigger picture not only of water and electricity but also glacial melt and how both its temperature and flow are integral to salmon runs. Glacial melt and its contribution to irrigation for orchards that supply fruit to the entire country. Glacial melt and the incredible milky emerald hue Lake Diablo took on during the final weeks of my stay in early June.

Not only did the landscape provide access to these integrated systems, but my encounters with the Environmental Learning Center did also, both for me and for the many groups of children and adults who were stationed there when I was. I found the mission of the center to resonate with my own mission in writing: using intimate and educated experiences in the outdoors to inspire conservation (and appreciation) of diminishing resources.

Of course, the landscape provided that connectivity as well. Evidence of ice resounds in the countless waterfalls, hanging valleys, and the glaciers themselves—roughly 300 in the park alone—perched in high valleys and cirques. They, like glaciers throughout the world, are diminishing, but still very physically present in the lush landscapes of the North Cascades.

I can’t express enough how much I appreciated my time at the Environmental Learning Center. Not only was I able to be physically proximate to actual ice, but I was also able to integrate in a community of people passionate about sharing the intricacies of this incredibly diverse and inspiring ecosystem with others.

* * * * *

Top photo of Mount Baker by Skagit photographer Andy Porter, available for purchase on his website at www.andyporterimages.com

Manasseh Franklin was a Creative Resident at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center in the Spring of 2016. She is a writer, mountain guide, educator and adventurer who seeks big, hearty landscapes, and then writes about the experience of them. Franklin graduated from the University of Wyoming with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing and Environment and Natural Resources and seeks to bridge the gap between science and experiential narrative. Her words have appeared in AFAR, Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, Western Confluence, Aspen Sojourner, Yoga International and Suburban Life River Towns magazines, in addition to several newspapers, blogs and websites. Learn more about her work at http://glaciersinmotion.wordpress.com and http://manassehfrass.wordpress.com.

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Véronique Robigou: Artistic Mapper in Residence

February 18th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

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

As described by the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Northwest, Véronique is an “artist, scientific illustrator, geologist and educator.” She launched the Ocean et Terra Studio in 2011 to “create visual stories of the world around us.” Trained as a geologist she has worked on scientific crews illustrating undersea vents far, far beneath the surface. She now mostly uses her gifts to educate students about how to capture the essence of nature in their own work.

Véronique discussing the Sea Vents she illustrated.

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Véronique’s illustration of the Godzilla Vent. Note the submersable that she drew from located on the left hand side of the illustration. Retrieved from marine-geo.org

» Continue reading Véronique Robigou: Artistic Mapper in Residence

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Kristin Musgnug: Artist in Residence

December 4th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Kristin Musgnug

I am a landscape painter whose goal is to make paintings of the kind of places that don’t usually show up in landscape paintings – places that are not conventionally beautiful. While I thoroughly enjoyed the extraordinary beauty of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center’s surroundings, it was a particular challenge to find places that evoked other responses.

My project while at theEnvironmental Learning Center involved close up painting of the forest floor, particularly in the lush undergrowth of old, wild forests. This project’s emphasis on intact, mostly un-interfered-with location represents a bit of a departure for me. For years my work has investigated the relations between humans and the natural world by painting in places where the results of this interaction were visible. Much of my work has been generated by considering such questions as: how our attitudes towards nature affect our actions towards it, how and why we shape the environment, and how we in turn are shaped by it. To do this I have often focused on landscapes shaped by a particular type of land use, such as campgrounds, parks, gardens, logged forests, parking lots and miniature golf courses.

» Continue reading Kristin Musgnug: Artist in Residence

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Creative Residency: Paul Willis

June 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

by Paul Willis

Last fall I was lucky enough to serve as an artist-in-residence for North Cascades National Park. They gave me a room in the ranger cabin at the entrance to the Newhalem Campground, and most days I was out hiking around, fishing for poems. Most of them swam into being on the trail, not at my desk, a sort of literary version of plein air painting. As Rebecca Solnit has said, the mind works best at three miles an hour.

As an English professor for the last thirty years in New York and California, I have missed the Northwest. I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, across the Willamette Valley from the shining peaks of the Cascades. My brother and I began to explore them in high school, and the mountains planted something inside us that has remained. He now lives near Ashland, Oregon, and was one of the prime movers for the designation of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. While in graduate school at Washington State University, I did my part by helping to gain protection for the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, the last home of the mountain caribou in the lower forty-eight.

But unlike my brother, I did not find pleasure in the dogfights of politicking for wilderness. Writing about it has felt much better to me, first in a series of eco-fantasy novels now published as The Alpine Tales, and more recently in the occasional essay and the more frequent poem. So my brother and I have slipped into a symbiotic relationship: he does the dirty work of fighting for wilderness preservation, and I do the easy work of actually enjoying the wilderness. I would like to think, however, that the things I write are some sort of encouragement to him, so that’s my side of the symbiosis. Our mutual friend David James Duncan, the novelist, complained to me that he feels torn between his activist side, wanting to save rivers, and his contemplative side, wanting to write novels. What you need, I said, is a brother who saves the rivers for you.

But back to last fall in Newhalem. The Park Service did want me to earn my keep by offering a couple of writing workshops for visitors. One I led at the Newhalem Visitor Center, and another at the Environmental Learning Center. The latter workshop was part of an adult weekend organized by Katie Roloson and Chris Kiser of the North Cascades Institute. These two young women were extraordinarily adept, I thought, at gently leading us into situations of discovery. No information dumps. Just tact, patience, and the right word at the right time. I found that I liked these people.

So when the opportunity came to return to the North Cascades this spring as a creative resident here at the Institute, I was very happy to do so. It is now the end of May, and I have been here for a month. The berries of fall have been replaced by the flowers of spring, all begging to be written about. I have gone on a couple of five-day saunters, one on the East Bank Trail to Desolation Peak, and one down Bridge Creek to Stehekin. On the Bridge Creek Trail I met a total of two people and five bears. A pretty good ratio, actually.

Here at the ELC I have enjoyed eating meals, washing dishes, and swapping stories with the staff. Such youth! Such energy! Such devotion! Their lively presence sweetens my days. We all did a hike-ku together one afternoon, writing down a few things in response to our surroundings, and a few days later I gave a talk to the grad students on John Muir’s theology of glaciers, complemented the following week by a very substantive lecture given by Jon Riedel on glaciers of the North Cascades. In another couple of days I will give a farewell reading of some of my work-in-progress at an afternoon staff meeting. And already I dread my departure. There might be a better sabbatical in the world, but I cannot imagine one.

As a sample of that work-in-progress, I’ll leave you with the draft of a poem I happened to catch two weeks ago:

Pyramid Creek

Clearest stream, you wander here
from gravel bed to gravel bed,
napping in pools along the way.

You lave the roots of dusky cedars,
leaning with age, and reassure them
they have many years to leave.

Thick green moss describes your banks,
saplings of hemlock, little hands
of soft vine maple raised in air.

They want to ask if there is any other
place you’d rather be, but off you go,
down to the river, down to the sea.

                       —Ross Lake National Recreation Area

Paul J. Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and a former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His most recent collection is Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013). Learn more at pauljwillis.com.

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Creative Residency with Sharon Birzer, natural history illustrator

December 6th, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Sharon Birzer, artist and natural history illustrator

My Creative Residency journal  @ North Cascades Learning Center, Diablo Lake, July 11-18, 2014

July 11-13

The first three days I interacted with a class held at North Cascades Institute’s Learning Center on lichens: “Frog’s Pelt, Pixie Cup and Old Man’s Beard: Lichens of the North Cascades.” Taught by Daphne Stone, the weekend was rich with lectures, hikes and lichen identification. The class hiked to Rainy Lake and Washington Pass. We also took a hike up a service road to Buster Brown, a rocky outcropping covered in lichens.
This is a group that I brought back to look at under the dissecting scope and draw. This group has two lichens- Cladonia cervicornus with the double cup and Cladonia bellidiflora, and 2 mosses–Racomitrium elongatum and Polytrichum piliferum.

 

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July 14 Thunder Creek

Today is hot, in the 90’s. I hiked up Thunder Creek and spent time in the cool shade of an old cedar and Douglas fir forest. A cool breeze wafts down from the mountains and everywhere are ferns, lichens, fungus, and life.
July 15 Sauk Mountain

Hiked up Sauk Mountain today, 4.2 miles, 5537 elevation. Annabelle told me it would be beautiful. Wow. Alpine meadows. Wildflowers abound. Ice fields at the top and glacier lilies and avalanche lilies (finishing) and many others species of wildflowers in full bloom everywhere. Afterwards I was dusty and hot so I dipped into Diablo Lake before working on lichen illustrations.

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» Continue reading Creative Residency with Sharon Birzer, natural history illustrator

Forest by Molly Hashimoto

Encounters: a Creative Residency at the North Cascades Institute

October 22nd, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

by Ilona Popper, North Cascades Institute Writer in Residence, Summer 2014

I was lucky enough to enjoy a brief writer-in-residency at the North Cascades Institute in May 2014. I gave two talks: one about wolves from the book I am writing and a joint talk on creativity with artist Molly Hashimoto. I attended Molly’s print-making class and heard her speak about the “surprises” of wildlife encounters that she captures in her prints and paintings. That sense of wonder was a large part of my time at the Institute.

I felt part of my role as writer-in-residence was to talk about writing—and writing about nature—with anyone who had an interest. I had some wonderful conversations at dinner with adult seminar students, graduate students, naturalists, and Institute staff. One man spoke passionately about how to get started on writing his memoirs. He felt he could never write well enough, even to begin. I was struck, as I often am, by how critical and severe people can be in judging their first efforts, dismissing their ideas before they are formed or condemning their craftsmanship in first drafts.

People often talk of the self-discipline of writers. It’s true that writers practice self-discipline, first in just getting the words down on paper regularly, but even more in learning to reread one’s work with open curiosity about where it might be going. Trashing your own ideas, your own writing, especially in an early draft, is easy. Sticking with revision until you’ve fully developed an idea—that takes discipline.

The bulk of my time at the Institute was filled with writing, hiking, discovering the local ecosystem and wildlife and learning about what North Cascades Institute does. I was impressed with the way that the food, the laundry, the classrooms — everything about the Institute’s campus — is part of a larger curriculum and ethic that supports the wide array of eco-educational programs at the Institute.

I’m a naturalist and I live in a rich and beautiful place, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Part of the value in being at North Cascades Institute was to see how the Northern Cascades ecosystem is so different from and yet linked with the wild lands in which I reside. I recently heard Christina Eisenberg speak of “The Predator Way” (the title of her book): the long corridor of the Rockies, inhabited by predator and prey mammals since the earliest eras. Wolves, cougar, lynx, wolverine and bear traveled the mountains as they dispersed, looking for new homes.

Predators are returning to the North Cascades and spreading throughout Washington state. I was thrilled to hear that wolves had been seen in one of the drainages not terribly far from the Institute campus. [See my my recent article, “Wolves in Washington: Lessons from Yellowstone,” Mt. Baker Experience, fall 2014.]

» Continue reading Encounters: a Creative Residency at the North Cascades Institute