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Sharing Home: Three days of adventure in Washington

May 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Having moved into the North Cascades Eco-region in July for the graduate residency program, these mountains are finally starting to feel like home. Month after month I have been engaged in the cycle of the seasons, the habits of natural neighbors and the rhythms of the Skagit. So when I knew my family was coming for only a three day visit, I panicked. How can I show them all that I have learned about this amazing place in only three days? I couldn’t, and I didn’t, but we crammed as much as we could and went to four main locations for an amazing adventure: around the Environmental Learning Center, the Methow Valley, the Salish Sea and the City of Seattle.

While my family feels at home in the outdoors, Washington is a completely different beast than our wilderness. Coming all the way from Pittsburgh, PA my parents (Kurt and Pam) and older sister (Abby) reminded me of my general first reaction when I arrived: “Washington is just like Pennsylvania, except exaggerated. The mountains are higher, the rivers purer and the trees much, much taller.” My mother even remarked that it was as if I was living in a fairy tale, the scenery taken right out of a book.

Our first stop on this fairy tale adventure was a place I don’t even notice anymore. On my daily commute to work I drive past the Gorge Creek Falls, an amazing 242 ft. cascade. Since I see it every day, it fell into the backdrop of the commute. Only when my family was seeing it with new eyes, did I stop and remember how beautiful of a place I get to study in.


Dad enjoying the view at Gorge Creek Falls.

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When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

June 20th, 2012 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Guest post by Terry Tempest Williams, who will be reading in Bellingham on June 21 as part of our “Nature of Writing” series with Village Books. More info at

“I thought I was writing a book about voice. I thought I would proclaim as a woman that we must speak the truth of our lives at all costs.”

— Terry Tempest Williams in When Women Were Birds

On her deathbed, Terry Tempest Williams’s mother told her, “I am leaving you my journals. But you must promise me that you will not look at them until after I am gone.” Weeks later when Williams went to read them, longing to hear her mother’s voice again, she found each one was blank—three shelves of blank journals. Throughout When Women Were Birds, Williams meditates on why her mother might have left the journals unfilled. What did that signify to her mother? What was her mother telling her?


In the arid foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, the Milky Way arched over us. It was the nightly path our eyes crossed before we went to sleep. This was my personal universe, with its own inherent truths. Truth, for me, was based on what I could see and hear, touch and taste, more trust­worthy than any religious doctrine. Indoor religion bored me; outdoor religion did not. Rufous-sided towhees scratched in the understory of last year’s leaves; lazuli buntings were tur­quoise exclamation marks singing in a canopy of green; and blue-gray gnatcatchers became commas in an ongoing nar­rative of wild nature. My inspiration was winged. Magpies, evening grosbeaks, and scrub jays were family. Turkey vul­tures soared overhead, casting unexpected shadow s during summer heat. Rattlesnakes were our complication to a life lived outside. We heard them first; saw them second, coiled; and before we counted to three, we ran. Clouds became our focal point for change.

The minute school ended, our game of “Capture” began. It was our form of Treasure Island in the mountains. Chil­dren in the neighborhood begin building and rebuilding last year’s tree houses in the scrub oak.

I cannot tell you what the point of this ongoing game was, only that it consumed us from the moment we awoke until dinnertime. We spied on one another, girls against boys, from the vantage point of trees. The sweet pleasure of imag­ining I was someone else living somewhere else was enough to capture me for an entire summer.

We made up our own language. We drew maps. We bur­ied them. We created a community with our own currency from found pieces of glass. Green and brow n shards were common. Lavender was sought after, blue glass was rare, but red was the gleam you looked for beneath the hot desert sun shining through the understory of sage.

One day, however, as I was sitting in our tree house, I spotted a white bird perched directly above me. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I went into the house to call my grandmother, still watching the ghost bird through the glass sliding doors that faced the trees. I explained the size and shape of this mysterious bird to be that of a robin, only with­out a brown back, black head, and red breast. She listened carefully. We both had our bird books in hand. “Perhaps it is an albino,” she said. “A bird without pigmentation, even its eyes without color.” That very word, albino, was a revelation to me. She might as well have said of the spirit world.

It was indeed a robin, the most common of birds, free of its prescribed dressings, white with red eyes. I was inspired and called her “the Holy Ghost.”

When I reported this finding to our local Audubon chap­ter as an eight-year-old bird-watcher, the president said that because of m y age, he could not legitimately count it as “a credible sighting.”

My grandmother simply shook her head and said, “You know what you saw. The bird doesn’t need to be counted, and neither do you.”



What needs to be counted on to have a voice? Courage. Anger. Love. Something to say; someone to speak to; someone to listen. I have talked to myself for years in the privacy of my journals. The only things I’ve done reli­giously are keep a journal and use birth control. My first jour­nal had a lock and key. It was a diary made of light blue leather embossed with a gold border. My thoughts and secrets were safe from my brothers. It was a gift from my great-grandfather Lawrence Blackett, Mimi’s father, to commemorate my eighth birthday and baptism into the Mormon church.

A diary differs from a journal in expectations. A diary asks for a daily entry. This I could not do. Almost immediately I transformed my diary into a journal, where I could write in its pages at will. I still recall one entry in particular because it was written in code:

Decisions . . .

Decisions . . .

Decisions . . .

We finally made it to Jackson Hole.

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