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Natural History Field-Excursion: Migrating Raptors over Chelan Ridge

December 18th, 2017 | Posted by in Field Excursions

This post is the first of a 3-part series describing graduate students’ ten-day field excursion to the Methow Valley, as part of their fall Natural History Course. Below is writing by Brendan McGarry, graduate student in the North Cascade Institute’s 17th cohort

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was frost coating the inside of the rainfly. I could hear the crepuscular stirrings of my fellow campers, and gave myself a silent pep talk to get moving despite the chill. This was going to be an exciting day after all, we were here to see raptors. 

My cohort and I were part way through the field section of our Natural History of the North Cascades course when we trundled up to Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch Station. It was only October, but we’d seen the hints of winter coming to the high places. The hawks we hoped to see migrating were another hint that the seasons were changing.

The rugged terrain stretching down toward Lake Chelan; photo courtesy of Brendan McGarry

The Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch station was established in 1998 in a partnership between the Okanogan-Wenatchee District of the US Forest Service and HawkWatch International. The goal was to learn more about the raptors migrating through Washington, down the Pacific Coast Flyway. Here, starting in late August, ending in late October, intrepid biologists scan the skies, and count hawks. With luck, they also lure them into traps to band the birds and release. While we were grumbling about the cold, they were already out doing their jobs.

The first bird, an immature Cooper’s Hawk that zipped by during breakfast, was spotted by Kent Woodruff. This was apt because he was our host. Kent, a retired Forest Service biologist who established the station, was full of stories about the wildlife of the North Cascades. Yet, never was he more animated than when he spoke of the birds overhead.

» Continue reading Natural History Field-Excursion: Migrating Raptors over Chelan Ridge

What Gives Life to the Wild Ginger Library?

December 13th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Libraries have long served as places of refuge from the world, where enlightenment and knowledge surround one in the form of books. They are a place to exercise our minds as thinking beings, and to contemplate the words of great authors within the comfort of a cozy, hushed building. Here, within the walls of brightly-colored book spines, is endless inspiration for those who take a moment to flip open the pages of a book (remember books?).

No, reading is not a dying art, but a way to let the imagination run free during the cold, winter months, or to acquire information for a graduate school project. Reading is a conversation with a much wiser friend, who knows all the right things to say, or the best hikes to try, interesting histories of a place, how-tos, and so forth. When was the last time you visited a library?

At the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center we have the Wild Ginger Library, nestled by the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake. In fact, Wild Ginger is arguably one of the most peaceful and beloved places on campus. Its mission is to help people of all ages learn about the literary and oral stories of the North Cascades. Wild Ginger brings people together around the power of the written and spoken word and supports the mission of the North Cascades Institute: to inspire and empower environmental stewardship for all through transformative experiences in nature.

Photo courtesy of Rick Allen

In essence, the history of the Wild Ginger Library began more than 10,000 years ago as Ice Age glaciers receded and the North Cascades’ first people ventured into local mountains and river valleys. After all, it’s the stories of this place – from Native legends and explorer journals to Beat poetry in fire lookouts – that give Wild Ginger its life.

More recently, the library took shape with design of the Learning Center in the late 1990s. Architects from The Henry Klein Partnership led staff members from the Institute, North Cascades National Park and Seattle City Light in detailing the needs of each building on campus. When the Learning Center opened in July 2005, the Wild Ginger Library – named, like other buildings on campus, for a local native plant – remained empty of books and materials.

Photo of empty shelves courtesy of Lara Swimmer

Initial books were made possible by a generous donation from Mac and Linda MacGregor. Dr. Fred Darvill, a Northwest writer, outdoorsman and lover of books, pledged significant support, and gifts from other individual donors soon followed. In addition, early in-kind donors of natural history books included University of Washington Press, Lone Pine Publishing, Sasquatch Books and the Mountaineer Books.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

Oversight of the library is provided by Institute Staff and Graduate Students at the Learning Center. Today, Kira Taylor-Hoar serves as the Library and Office Graduate Assistant for her Work Study position. It is an opportunity for her to understand and improve a library that is used for graduate studies, as well as for environmental education; learn about research methods and cataloging systems; work with staff to develop book collections.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

To understand more about the library and her job as the assistant, I’ve included an interview with Kira that reveals both the whimsical nature of her mind and the beauty of Wild Ginger.

Who uses the library?

Visitors, staff and graduate students all come by Wild Ginger for a place to study, for meetings, and to check out books or simply to relax. The big windows and high ceilings make the tiny room feel a lot bigger, and let in plenty of natural light. Chairs are placed under the awning outside, so on nice days you can read under the majestic tops of the surrounding mountains while lounging in an Adirondack chair.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

What are three things you like about the librarian work study position?

Coming into the library on a cold December morning, I’m surprised to see light filtering in through the high windows. The sun doesn’t make it into too many buildings at the NCI campus in the winter, but as I write this I have a sunbeam shining right onto my desk. The building was built beautifully, with fabulous views. Peering out a window to my right I see the mountains rising into the clouds, a sprinkling of snow dotting these subalpine forests.

One thing that I wanted from my work study was to be able to spend time outside, and I never expected to be a librarian. But once I started working here I realized that I felt just as connected to the natural world in the library as I would outside. Plus, I get to make plenty of trips to the printer in the main office building, which means I get to breath fresh air frequently. The in-floor radiant heating doesn’t hurt for cold feets, either.

On days like this I have the library to myself, a quiet sanctuary of solitude. I am doing inventory, which takes a while pulling books off the shelves, entering them into the system, and then going back and doing it all over again, until I get through nearly 3,000 titles. You would think this boring, no? Ahh, but you see I have a trick up my sleeve. I have been listening to books on tape to make the time pass more easily. Lately I’ve been following some Hobbits across Middle Earth, delivering one particular ring to the fires of Mount Doom…while taking inventory. Other common tasks are cleaning, entering new books into the system, taking old books out, and checking in and re-shelving books people borrow.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

When I’m not listening to books about little people, I’m reading some of the wonderful knowledge and tales this library has to offer. The periodicals, fiction, nonfiction, kids section, poetry…so much to read and so little time! I recently turned in Water: A Natural History, Yurts: Living in the Round, and Spell of the Sensuous. A natural history of water is a fascinating tale of hydrology in North America, told in narrative form to make it an easy read. Yurts are beautiful natural buildings and this book has some good tips on how to build and decorate your own. And Spell of the Sensuous is an excellent foray into the world of philosophy, science, and how we as human beings relate with the natural world through our senses.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Bluestein

I recently checked out a book of fiction, anticipating having time over winter break. It’s called The Cookbook Collector and it’s about two sisters who are total opposites but are bonded by blood and cooking. I haven’t gotten into it yet, but once I’ve finished all my readings for graduate classes, I’ll be sure to crack it open by the fire one of these blustery winter evenings.

History of Wild Ginger was obtained from the Library Guidelines of the Wild Ginger Library from March 27, 2006. The original vision of the library has been slightly modified to reflect the North Cascades Institute’s current mission. 

(Top Photo) graduate student Kira Taylor-Hoar re-shelving a book borrowed; photo by Marissa Bluestein

Welcome New Graduate Students, part 3

November 6th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

This is part three of graduate student introductions. Here is part one and part two of the series. 

The goal of this series is to welcome the Class of 2019, and learn more about why they chose the Master of Education degree program through the North Cascades Institute. Below are the reasons folks are here, and what they hope to take away from a year-long residency. They have also shared their most memorable experiences so far. Enjoy!

Liz journaling with a view of the North Cascades; photo by Montana Napier

Liz Grewal:

I had to decide which direction to take my education in. At first, I considered a master’s degree in ecology, but then I felt inspired to study environmental education. Researching different options and programs, I remember gasping aloud with excitement when I came across the Graduate M.Ed. program through the North Cascades Institute. I felt like I’d found my people: people who are passionate about connecting others to nature through place-based education. After visiting in January 2017, I knew that the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center was exactly where I wanted to be. I appreciated the kindness and openness of the community. It was my first time visiting the North Cascades, and I was taken aback by the beauty of the landscape. This is the only graduate program that I applied to because its mission aligns with my goals in environmental education.

» Continue reading Welcome New Graduate Students, part 3

Welcome New Graduate Students, part 2

November 1st, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

This is part two of graduate student introductions. You can find part one here. 

The goal of this series is to welcome the Class of 2019, and learn more about why they chose the Master of Education degree program through the North Cascades Institute. Below are the reasons folks are here, and what they hope to take away from a year-long residency. They have also shared their most memorable experiences so far. Stay tuned for the final installment!

Charlee and Zoe Wadkins paddling the Skagit River

Charlee Corra:

I feel most connected to learning when I can do it outside in an experiential setting. So I looked for an opportunity to join a learning community with people committed to becoming effective educators. I also wanted first-hand teaching experience through Mountain School. The North Cascades Institute offers a rich and immersive program emphasizing place-based learning, nonprofit skill development, and Pacific Northwest natural history. To top it all off, who wouldn’t want to do a year-long residency in the breathtaking North Cascades National Park?

The obvious answer to what I hope to gain during my time at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is to develop my skills as an environmental educator. But on a deeper level, I am here to learn about who I am and to uncover the most meaningful way for me to give back and serve the larger community, especially through an environmental and social justice lens.

» Continue reading Welcome New Graduate Students, part 2

Stinging Nettle 1

Two Burning Houses: A Natural History of Stinging Nettle

October 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

I clearly remember my introduction to the mystery and power of stinging nettle. On a late summer day, I found myself, alongside my graduate cohort, at the Northwest Indian College. Located on the Lummi Indian Reservation in Bellingham, Washington, the college caters exclusively to tribal members across the country and includes a number of programs focused on traditional skills and knowledge. Through their Traditional Plants and Foods program, instructors educate students on native medicine and healing foods. Vanessa Cooper, the program coordinator, spoke to us at length about the healing power of several native plants. I will never forget the transformation of Vanessa’s face when her talk turned to nettle. She became deeply serene and her eyes half-closed as she murmured, “Oh, I just love nettle. She reminds us to pay attention.”

What was it about this much-maligned plant that inspired such reverence in her? What power did this plant hold? I needed to find out.

» Continue reading Two Burning Houses: A Natural History of Stinging Nettle

Binocs

The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

June 21st, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

For the members of Cohort 14, everything is starting to come full circle. The Learning Center looks as it looked when we arrived last July: Pyramid’s faces are bare, Sourdough Creek has slowed to a trickle, the air is warm, and the winds are strong. Many things have changed in the intervening seasons. We taught two seasons of Mountain School, the latter of which ended just one week ago, completed final projects, and attended our last natural history retreat. As I have remarked in previous blog posts (and to anyone I talk to), these retreats have been one of the highlights of this graduate residency. They are a break from our hectic teaching schedule, a chance to reconnect as a cohort, and an opportunity to learn from passionate naturalists and scientists.

While our fall and winter retreats took us to the Methow Valley, we expanded our reach on our spring trip, traveling up to the Sinlahekin Valley. En route, we camped in Winthrop to hike up Tiffany Mountain. On Monday May 25th we hiked up about a mile before meeting large hail and stormy skies.
Foreboding skies over Tiffany.

Tiffany Hail
A sample of the hail

» Continue reading The Trifecta: C14’s Last Natural History Retreat

C13

Passing the Paddle: Cohort 13 Graduation

April 3rd, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Time has a variable quality when you live in the mountains. Spring can descend on you with no warning, like it happened overnight, but a day can stretch on eternally when staring at the umpteenth draft of a project. When I worked as a wilderness therapy guide, the students had a saying: “The days go by like weeks but the weeks go by like days.” So it is here, too, sometimes.

Somehow, without us noticing, the students of Cohort 14 have completed nearly nine of our thirteen month residency. An even bigger milestone hit; one that served as a reminder of our trajectory and where we’ll be in exactly one year: graduation.

In the two days leading up to graduation on March 19th, the members of Cohort 13 presented their capstone projects to an audience of friends, family, North Cascades Institute staff, and Cohort 14 students. These capstone projects focus on “a topic that has intrigued [the students] throughout their graduate school experience, connecting their experiences within environmental education, natural history, sense of place and the future of education” (quoted from ncascades.org).

As a relatively new graduate students, and never having seen a capstone presentation before, I had no idea what to expect. Frankly, I still don’t. Cohort 13’s projects spanned an incredible range of presentation styles and topics. Due to a change in the schedule of the graduate program, and the flurry of activity that C13 was in the midst of when we arrived at the Environmental Learning Center last July, the two cohorts have had very little interaction. But these capstone presentations gave me excellent insight into each student’s passions and values.

Kaci Darsow’s Doing.Myself.Justice. felt like a true performance piece. One that intimately explored Kaci’s identity, sense of justice, and shifting perspective during their time in graduate school.

Katherine Renz’s No More Icebreakers: Environmental Education for the Rest of Us took us inside the walls of Phyte Club: a visionary bar with the goal of educating customers about the natural world through botanically infused libations and weekly events.

Phyte Club
Did I mention that Phyte Club also plays heavy metal?

» Continue reading Passing the Paddle: Cohort 13 Graduation