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John McMillan’s Cabin: Traveling the paths of ghosts

April 14th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

By Hannah Newell, a M.Ed. Graduate student of the Institute’s 15th Cohort

Where would one place their grave in these woods? And how could one bury themselves? These two questions came to me as I was half delirious with exhaustion, wandering around on the west bank of Big Beaver Creek along Ross Lake. My cohort member and work study compliment, Joe Loviska, and I were on a two day excursion into the Ross Lake Recreation Area to document wildlife and for him, phenological stages as our season turns to spring. I was on a personal quest as well. The previous months leading up to this trip, I had been in contact with a number of resources to lend a hand in my discovery of the history of trapping in this area of the North Cascades.

The trappers and homesteaders were few and far between in this vast landscape of pinnacle mountains and dense forests. One could get lost among the giant cedars and accidentally wander into a forest of Devil’s Club without notice until their fate was sealed with this prickled plant. This is not a forgiving land to those foreign or unprepared for their travels.

I had heard John McMillan’s name in my first round of research into the topic of fur trapping and soon started to hear stories of his cabin. All that was shared with me about the location of this cabin was that it is somewhere on the west side of Big Beaver Creek, before the marsh and after the stream.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Joe and I had the advantage of hearing about first hand accounts of finding the homestead through the use of roughly drawn maps and a faint trail that was previously used by McMillan and the Forest Service before Big Beaver Trail was established.


Trail map around Diablo Lake. Photo courtesy of the United States Forest Service.

We found this faint line of a trail that lead directly into a fresh patch of fluorescent green moss and downed trees. We had immediately lost the trail, but continued on to meandering through the woods experiencing the true wonder of wandering among the old growth.

» Continue reading John McMillan’s Cabin: Traveling the paths of ghosts

SWW 2015 Mike

The Practice of Presence: Responding to Inner & Outer Landscapes Field Notes and Poems (Part Three)

December 30th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

North Cascades Institute hosted a class called Sit, Walk, Write: Nature and the Practice of Presence. Participants began their days with a sitting meditation, followed by writing and sharing poetry and short nature essays, walking meditation, and exploring the woods around the Learning Center. Here are some participant poems that came out of this unique weekend in the North Cascades. Other pieces from this year can be found in parts one and two.

Poems in Response to “Voices from the Salmon Nations” by Frances Ambrose

A Fire

By Mimi Gorman, dedicated for those who witnessed fires along the North Cascades during the summer of 2015

Wind carried sorrow
through flame illuminated skies.
Devoted hearts ache.

Waterfall Haiku

By Kurt Hoelting

Sound of mountain stream
Cuts all the way to the bone
I am water too

High ledge waterfall
Barely any flow today
Too long since it rained

Clouds swallow mountains
Big leaf maples luminous
Fresh air fills the lungs

Fancy Fall

By Holly Hughes

Vine maple leaves hang
bright yellow against green firs
becoming the sun

The sun leaves each day.
Days shorter, nights lengthening.
Look: leaves still hold the light.

SWW 2015 Looking Up

» Continue reading The Practice of Presence: Responding to Inner & Outer Landscapes Field Notes and Poems (Part Three)


Notes from the Porch: Of Predator and Prey

October 29th, 2013 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Morning tends to be an active time here at the Environmental Learning Center. Squirrels, chipmunks, and birds are always scurrying from place to place, looking for seeds and taking advantage of the relative quiet before the humans get up. As a graduate student, I am lucky enough to be able to live here for a year, to treat the local wildlife as my neighbors and closely observe the changing seasons.

A few weeks ago, we had a different sort of visitor.

My housemate, Tyler, and I had hiked up to Sourdough lookout the previous day and were enjoying a peaceful morning on the porch and in the living room. I was doing yoga on the porch when I heard the whuff whuff whuff of wings. I looked up to see a juvenile peregrine falcon perched on a tree 100 feet away. It wasn’t a big tree, mind you, but the branch was at least 30 feet in the air. The falcon was staring intently at a tree right in front of it. I called Tyler and her boyfriend out to the porch and we watched as this huge bird took a moment to investigate its surroundings. Seconds later, it dove towards the tree in front of it, spiraling around the trunk in tight formation through the few remaining branches. After two spirals it landed feet first on the ground, crouched, and took off for its perch again. A second time, the massive bird launched itself towards the tree, this time going up. We noticed a Douglas squirrel scurry up the tree at a frantic pace. It occurred to me that the falcon was hunting the squirrel, hoping to pull it off the tree. The falcon leapt towards the tree a few more times, spiraling closely against the trunk before it caught its prey.

We could only hear the final squeaks of the squirrel as we tried to get closer to see the outcome. The bird had landed on the ground behind a log to revel in its capture before deciding it needed a new place to enjoy the meal.

Later on that day I heard rumor of a falcon nest near the Diablo Dam. It was such an intriguing visit from such a majestic animal. I have had many close encounters with predators, but each time I am in awe of the grace and ease in which they perform their hunting tasks. It was a wonderful welcome to a new place and I hope to see many more amazing things as my year of residency goes on!

Leading photo: Squirrels, beware. Photo from NCI Archives.

Samantha Hale is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She has a background in marine mammal research but may start to get into porch-side observational research if the North Cascades wildlife keep(s) it up.