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

December 26th, 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. The first group of pieces from this year can be found here.

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


Those great, smooth boulders
were they polished by glaciers?
or by the years of glacial melt
relentlessly flowing over and around?
or by countless salmon bodies brushing their sides
on the struggle upstream?

Death for a rock comes
when it is ground to powder by wind, waves, other rocks
and then dissolved in water
to become food for plankton and algae
in turn, food for feeder fish
who become dinner for salmon.

The next time I eat salmon patties
will I remember and praise those ancient rocks?

When I die
I too will return to molecules
that will feed the smallest to largest creatures,

Great boulders: you and I are kin.

Late Fall

The river stinks.
Dead salmon litter the banks.
Rotting fins float in the eddies.
Eyes pecked out by crows.
Whole carcasses carried into the forest by eagles,
remnants scattered on duff below tall perches.
Fat bears waddle away, fish blood on their muzzles.
Stink and happiness everywhere.

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

sitka spruce with moss

Graduate students explore natural history on the Olympic Coast

May 1st, 2013 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

My cohort-mates have heard this a few times by now, but I’ve been to the Olympic Coast four times and despite its reputation for tempestuous weather, I’ve had blue skies each time. I must be pretty lucky. But then again, so many fortunate things happened on Cohort 12’s spring Natural History Retreat that “lucky” probably should have been the theme of the whole trip.

For one, despite arriving at the ferry terminal at the exact time the boat should have been floating away from the dock, we still somehow made it on board. This initial triumph colored our moods for the rest of the trip—we beamed as the boat sailed towards menacing rain clouds that obscured most of the high Olympic Peaks.

trackingTracking, on the shores of the Elwha. Photo by Hillary Schwirtlich

» Continue reading Graduate students explore natural history on the Olympic Coast


Elwha: rebirth of a rainforest river

April 9th, 2013 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

It’s been hardly a year since the last concrete remnants of the Elwha Dam were removed and already the rebirth of the rainforest river is underway. While most people watching the Olympic Peninsula experiment have been excited about what they hope will soon move upriver—steelhead and all five species of Pacific salmon—the first chapter in the river’s restoration has been more about what is moving downriver: sediment, up to 34 million cubic yards of it in total, with the motherlode of that amount still trapped behind the 2/3rds-demolished Glines Canyon Dam.

“Scientists recently learned there was about 41 percent more sediment trapped behind the dams than originally thought,” reports The Seattle Times’ Lynda Mapes, who recently published Elwha: A River Reborn, “and that the river is transporting more mud and wood than they expected.”

The flushing of the river’s channel, after being pent up behind two dams for the last 100 years, is creating new ecological dynamics that have scientists scrambling to keep up. Fish are adapting to murky waters by pioneering new side channels and feeder streams. Riverbank erosion has been chaotic and unpredictable. And down at the river’s mouth, where the Elwha’s glacially-fed freshwater merges with saltwater at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, all kinds of interesting things are happening: dramatic loss of kelp beds under smothering sand, making way for ecologically-valuable sea grass pastures; a new sand spit emerging, one-third of a mile long and expanding; reinvigorated habitat for important species like sea smelt and sand lance.

It’s only the beginning of an audacious experiment, the demolition of two century-old dams and restoration of a river, a $325 million endeavor that will open up more than 70 miles of pristine spawning habitat. It’s the largest dam removal project in the world, undertaken in a part of the world renowned for harnessing its raging rivers for hydropower, shipping and agriculture.

» Continue reading Elwha: rebirth of a rainforest river

“Elwha Restoration Revealed” at WWU, April 10

April 3rd, 2013 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Join NatureBridge, the WWU Huxley College of the Environment and the North Cascades Institute to hear about the historic Elwha Dam removal and restoration project in Olympic National Park Wedneday, April 10, 7 pm, at Western Washington University Room AW 204.

For the first time in 100 years, the Elwha River is beginning to flow free. As the first chunks of the dams concrete were removed in September of 2011, the river and surrounding ecosystem began to heal: vegetation has emerged on the newly exposed deltas, Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
sediment and nutrients are reaching the Straits of Juan de Fuca and salmon returned last fall!  Restoration!

The dam removal is ahead of schedule with the lower dam removal now complete, with the upper dam likely to be fully removed by the end of 2013.  Each day reveals new images and insights for researchers monitoring this historic event.

Find out how the restoration efforts are progressing from:

  • John Gussman, filmmaker, shows selections from his documentary film in progress, Return of the River.
  • Dr. Jeff Duda, U.S. Geological Survey – Western Fisheries Research Center, shares current research on the freshwater, estuaries and marine ecosystems before and after the dam removal.
  • Stephen Streufert, Pacific Northwest Director, NatureBridge, explains how the Elwha Restoration project has become an ideal laboratory for schools to connect in-class learning with real world experiences at the NatureBridge campus.

FREE EVENT – Registration requested:

For more information, contact Karen Molinari at 206-382-6212 ext 12 or

Photos by John Gussman: