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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

Liz Beaver home

Giving a “Dam”: A Natural History of Beavers

February 8th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Liz Blackman, graduate student in the institute’s 14th cohort.

As I slide over the edge of the raceway and landed knee-deep in water I can barely see the almond-colored nose of the buoyant beaver as he floats beneath his cinderblock temporary home behind a large pile of aspen cuttings. He seems minimally threated by my presence, exhibiting none of the displays one would expect from a recently captured wild animal. No tailslapping or aggressive presentations as I slop through the water toward him, awkward and weighed down by the oversized boots and waders protecting me from the cool water. The closer I get the more aware I become of just how gentle this creature must be. We make eye contact before he dips his torpedo-shaped head beneath the water and begins to swim smoothly away from me toward the wall of the raceway. His waffle-pattered leathery tail is smaller than I expect and moves both vertically and horizontally as he alternately propels and rudders himself through the water. It takes only a few minutes of following Chuck around the raceway for him to swim directly into the cage being held in the water ahead of him. No wonder these animals were trapped nearly to extinction. In less than five minutes and with no struggle whatsoever the young male is securely caged and ready to give some third-graders an unrivaled first-hand experience with the country’s largest rodent. The musky smell of castor is unmistakable in the morning air and although entirely new to me, the scent quickly becomes familiar. I am hooked.

Beavers are nature’s most misunderstood rodents. Docile, diligent, tidy and familiar, Castor Canadensis does more to shape waterways and landscapes than any of their mammalian relatives and plays an integral role in the delicate riparian balance of Washington’s diverse ecosystems. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Beavers have an ancient history with damns dating back over 10 million years and there are estimates of more than two hundred million beavers historically residing in the continental US. Indigenous American stories describe the beaver as co-creator of the land and sea alongside Great Sprit. Beaver appears in countless ancestral stories of Eastern Washington including the Confederated Tribes of the Coleville Reservation Upper Columbia River Book of Legends. Published in March 2007, the Coleville Book of Legends is full of references to the Beaver Tribe. Beaver is credited with a variety of great feats including stealing fire from the Sky People and bringing firewood to the tribes (How Beaver Stole the Fire) as well as marrying Coyote at Kettle Falls on the Columbia River and becoming the salmon chief (Why Coyote Changed the Course of the Columbia River).

Liz holding beaver

Liz holding a beaver at the Methow Beaver Project.

» Continue reading Giving a “Dam”: A Natural History of Beavers

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


Howling to be Heard: Wolf Folklore

February 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“My grandmother what big teeth you have.”
“The better to eat you with, my dear!”

Myths and legends, both positive and negative, have surrounded the wolf for centuries. This is without a doubt where many of our opinions and general notions of wolves originated. Most cultures throughout history have held the wolf as a revered, distinguished animal. In fact, most Native American tribes saw the wolf as an animal closely related to humans and a carrier of strong medicine. Native Americans viewed the wolf as courageous, strong, loyal, and a successful hunter. Even some of our Northwestern tribes such as the Quileute and Kwakiutl included the wolf in their stories of origin where their first ancestors were transformed from wolves into men. European history and mythology, which has its origins in Rome, also has a positive connotation of the wolf. Many people are familiar with the story of how Romulus and Remus, sons of the war god Ares, came to found the city of Rome after being orphaned and raised by a female wolf.

Why then has the wolf been portrayed in such a negative light for past several centuries? Why is an animal that was so revered in indigenous cultures put on trial in a quick turn of events? Why do we never hear these stories with the wolf as the hero? To answer these questions we must look at the time period in which these negative myths and legends began to surface. It was during the Middle Ages when Europeans started moving out into the countryside to raise crops and domesticate animals.

The first image most people today have of the wolf is from the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, where a wolf cunningly disguises itself in order to eat a helpless little girl. The wolf is then killed by the heroic hunter who slices open the wolf’s belly, saving Little Red Riding Hood. In our western society we have created an image of the wolf as an evil, bloodthirsty and voracious killer. In Norse Mythology, the god Odin had two wolves named Geri and Freki, both meaning “the ravenous” or “greedy one.” But where and how did these stories enter into our culture? For the answer, let’s take a trip back in time to the Middle Ages: a time when the human species started cultivating crops and raising domestic livestock; a time when the Catholic Church exerted the greatest influence on how people thought and acted.

As man entered into a new age, a new way of thinking and living emerged. Civilization and cultivated land became the norm and way of Christian living. Man began demonstrating dominance over the natural world by clearing the forest, cultivating the land, and raising domestic livestock. It was thought that it was God’s will for man to have dominion over all the earth and anything that stood in the way of that was evil. If something went awry, humans needed some sort of scapegoat for their own faults and shortcomings. They quickly turned to an animal that was highly intelligent, shared the same social structure, and hunted as humans did. An animal living in close proximity to them that remained wild and untamed: the wolf.

» Continue reading Howling to be Heard: Wolf Folklore

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.”
National Park Service
United States Department of the Interior

» Continue reading The Shack

2c6a NCas cover copy 2

The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps

September 1st, 2013 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Jack McLeod

Meet Jack and hear him present from his new book The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps, published by University of Washington Press, on Saturday, September 7, at 4 pm at Village Books in Bellingham; free!

It’s easy to fall in love with the North Cascades. Many writers in this blog have expressed wonder and joy with forest discoveries, amphibians, seasonal changes, canoe trips, the magic of winter, and connections to people and place. I delight in ephemeral beauty like unfolding fiddleheads and evening sunlight but as a nature-lover, I have to confess an odd love affair. It’s this road. Highway 20. The asphalt ribbon. It slices the wilderness and carries up to 1,000 vehicles a day. It’s invasive. A scar. Yet I’ve spent way too much time standing on the side of the road thinking about this place and taking pictures. It’s what brings us passage to trails and flowery meadows and alpine lakes and autumn’s feast of golden larch. A conundrum.



My interest in Highway 20 started with a question. A friend asked about the names of the peaks. I made a labeled picture which led to unearthing stories behind the views. I found myself eating breakfasts, lunches or dinners in a folding chair at choice roadside pullouts. Love that mountain air, but really? A few more photos, more research and ten years later, a book appeared: The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps (University of Washington Press).

Colonial_whiteSUV copy 2

For most travelers, the road is a transparent tunnel guiding their car efficiently from end to end. Admire the view through glass but keep moving. As readers of this blog know, beyond the glass is an extraordinary realm, understood best on foot. This book is an attempt to bring familiarity and curiosity and perhaps the desire to slow down, get out and appreciate a deeper beauty and connections to a world more intricate than we had imagined. The book is based on a highway, but it’s about what’s on the sides: geology, natural history, and how miners, climbers, and poets have been inspired by the North Cascades.


HIGH ON THE RIM of Sourdough Mountain, evening light replenishes my soul. This is why we visit the North Cascades. To slow down, to decompress, to revive. I watch summer’s glow illuminate sepia cliffs and a kaleidoscope of blossoms while across the valley, steep, snow-covered pinnacles soften in warm pastels. The tiny road I left five thousand feet below twists around turquoise Diablo Lake. Alpine fragrances hang in the air—sun baked fir mingles with ephemeral aromas of wildflowers and the earthen smell of sixty-nine-million-year old Skagit Gneiss trail dust. I’ve arrived. I’ve walked into a miraculous convergence of August sun, a thousand blooms, and a North Cascade ridge looking over the world.

silvgl_unknown glacier b

» Continue reading The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps

letters from yellowstone book cover

Letters from Yellowstone: Natural History in the Nation’s Park

April 12th, 2013 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Letters from Yellowstone is an account of a fictional 1898 botanical survey of Yellowstone National Park, written entirely through letters. Howard Merriam, a professor from Montana is the leader of the group, which includes an entomologist, someone from the Smithsonian, an agriculturalist, and a botanist.

As Professor Merriam is setting up this field study and looking to finalize his team, he receives a letter from an A. E. Bartram at Cornell University. Bartram studies medicine and is very interested in botany, having extensively studied the Lewis expedition (currently, more commonly referred to as the Lewis and Clark expedition) for several years. Professor Merriam is delighted and extends A. E. Bartram a warm invitation to join the team. At the arrival in Yellowstone of said Bartram, however, Professor Merriam is frustrated and discouraged to find that Bartram is in fact a woman, not a man as he had previously assumed from their written correspondence.

monkey flowerMimulus Lewisii, or Lewis’ Monkey Flower. Illustration from the book

The book continues as they set out into the front-country and backcountry to draw, observe, record, name, and take specimens of as many plants as they can find. This is not, however, a story without adventure—throughout their summer, the characters encounter hypothermia, snowstorms, exciting botanical discoveries, sabotage, and wildfire.

» Continue reading Letters from Yellowstone: Natural History in the Nation’s Park